Illuminated Signs Help McGruff Take a Bite Out of Crime
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Illuminated Signs Help McGruff Take a Bite Out of Crime

The National Crime Prevention Council sanctions illuminated signs as a crime prevention tool. Find out how on-premise signs can help your business ­ and your community.

By Jennifer LeClaire

Need a new angle to sell on-premise illuminated signs? Several studies that show lighted signs help reduce crime are good weapons in your sales arsenal.

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  • McGruff the Crime Dog is barking about research that gives teeth to what sign makers have been saying for decades: lighting reduces crime. The National Crime Prevention Council (NCPC) is using the British study to shed new light on crime deterrence techniques.

    It has long been "common sense" that crime hides in darkness and that light can keep a place safer at night. Now, the NCPC is pointing to studies that prove lighting can cut crime rates by up to 20 percent.

    Indeed, numerous studies over the past 30 years have confirmed that improved lighting is an inclusive intervention that benefits the whole neighborhood and increases perceived public safety.

    The bottom line is that with a little consumer education, you could advance your illuminated sign sales to area businesses.

    “Thoughtfully placed lighting can significantly change a dark environment to one in which people can see well enough to avoid everything from muggers to potholes,” says NCPC Director of Research and Evaluation Jean O’Neil.

    “If you position your illuminated sign so that light falls on the parking lot to augment street level lighting, then it absolutely will make a difference. Lighted signs help prevent theft and pilferage and can reduce the business owner’s premise liability.”

    Catering to community needs
    O’Neil said lighted signs are good for your business and for the community. Put it to your customers this way: By choosing illuminated signage you can boost your nighttime business and help take a bite out of crime after you close up shop. Customers appreciate well-lit commercial areas and police officers appreciate local business’ contribution to keeping the community safe.

    Your customers may ask just how improved street lighting can be a feasible, inexpensive and effective method of reducing crime. That’s when you can offer up some studies to back up your sales pitch.

    For starters, London’s Home Office Research attempted to explain why street lighting has an impact on crime. At its most basic level, the organization determined that lighting is used to make visible that which, undetected, could result in crime. Intuitively, the general public tends to endorse increased lighting as an anti-crime measure, so you can play to this angle in your sales call.

    Experts say lighting ought to play one or more of five crime prevention roles: surveillance, deterrence, detection, liability reduction, or fear reduction. Illuminated on-premise signage fulfills all five roles, according to O’Neil.

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    Illuminated signage acts as a deterrent against shoplifting and robbery, makes surveillance by those looking on to the property easier, facilitates detection and identification of criminals, reduces the business’ exposure to liability claims in the event a patron becomes a crime victim, and often reduces customers’ fears.

    “Dark space is dangerous in a city,” notes O’Neil. “But when a street is well lit and has an active appearance at night, International Sign Association research indicates that criminal activity is reduced and people feel safer.”

    Using light appropriately
    Of course, not just any lighting will do. The key to using light as a crime deterrent is to use light appropriately. For example, if you are trying to prevent theft from autos, then improved sidewalk illumination is unlikely to help. If a convenience store experiences shoplifting, then more light in the parking lot probably isn’t going to make much of a difference. But illuminated signage that lights up the general vicinity of a problem area will enhance the lighting and thus typically deter crime.

    “Illuminated on-premise signage needs to be in good working condition in order to take a bite out of crime,” O’Neil says. “Performing regularly scheduled maintenance on your sign will ensure it has a long life and helps prevent crime for the long-haul.”

    Does every sign everywhere prevent crime? O’Neil says she doesn’t know for sure. But what her research does prove is this: If you use light wisely so that it augments rather than competes with the available public lighting then it is beneficial. O’Neil is also sure that illuminated on-premise signage offers measurable benefits for businesses and the communities in which they market their products and services.

    The conclusion: signs offer added security
    O’Neil points to British studies demonstrating that thoughtfully placed lighting prevented enough crime to pay for itself in 12 months. If criminals visit your customer’s property at night with the intent of breaking in, she says, your illuminated sign could provide enough extra light for people to observe the thief and call the cops.

    Study authors said lighting increases community pride and confidence and strengthens informal social control. The study concluded that improvements in street lighting offer a cost-effective crime reduction measure and should be considered an important element in crime reduction programs.

    “Lighting can’t prevent disasters or attacks, but it can increase security and safety,” O’Neil asserts. “Illuminated on-premise signage is one way business owners can contribute to the community’s well-being. McGruff the Crime Dog isn’t barking for no reason. Lighting makes a difference.”

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