What Happens in the Shadows: Streetlights and How They Relate to Crime
After finding in a previous report, “Streetlights in the City: Understanding the Distribution of Houston Streetlights,” that the city of Houston’s more than 173,000 streetlights were not evenly distributed throughout the city, this next report answers the question: do places with more streetlights have lower crime rates? The findings complicate the common perception that more streetlights lead to fewer crimes. While there was some evidence that a particularly high density of streetlights can provide protective benefits, excluding those extremes provides a much muddier picture, suggesting that crime is a reflection of other neighborhood contexts. As such, cities should be cautious in expecting direct reductions in crime with the introduction of more streetlights.
Houston has more than 173,000 streetlights across the city, and those are just the ones maintained by CenterPoint Energy. In conversations about public safety, people often point to streetlights as a possible way to deter crime. But in what CityLab called a “seemingly endless debate,” the evidence is mixed. This report confirms that, in Houston, more streetlights don’t necessarily mean less crime.