Secretary of Energy Rick Perry recently returned from a trip to Africa and noted a relationship between the availability of energy and Crime Prevention. According to the Houston Chronicle, Perry recounted a conversation with a young girl in South Africa who noted that her family needed electricity so that she could read without using an open fire. He stated, “--"those fumes literally killing people. But also from the standpoint of sexual assault." He also noted that street lighting helps to reduce crime such as sexual assault and that electricity can be easily generated by fossil fuels.

The media and environmentalists go crazy

The Washington Examiner noted that the Hill’s Timothy Cama made a caustic tweet about Perry’s statement.

Cama later quoted the full Perry statement in context.

Even so, the Sierra Club demanded that Perry immediately resign his position before he “does more damage.” In fact, Cama and the Sierra Club beclowned themselves from their ignorance of the use of street lighting to prevent crime.

How electric lights cut down on crime

The blog Ace of Spades notes that before the use of street lighting, first gas then electrical, crime was rampant after dark in big cities in Europe and North America. One ventured out at night at one’s peril, with armed servants carrying torches if one could afford them. Some towns had curfews that prohibited going out after dark unless one was on some urgent business, like a doctor seeing a patient

When gas lighting became available, London and Paris went to the high expense of putting in street gas lights solely as a crime prevention measure.

The fact that it also increased the time in which commerce could happen, by making streets safer, was a happy side effect.

The National Institute of Justice indicates that street lighting decreases crime for two reasons. First, it increases a potential offender’s perceived risk of apprehension. If the street is well lit, someone bent on robbery or worse, thinks twice for fear that he will be seen while committing the crime.

Second, street lighting sends a signal to a community that investments are being made, thus providing a motivation for cohesion and pride that in turn leads to people working together to tamp down on crime.

But, fossil fuels?

In theory, any reliable source of electricity will provide power for street lighting and thus reduce crime. Some rural areas of India are turning to solar power backed by batteries to offer both street and home lighting. Perry, however, is noting that as of now, fossil fuels are more reliable given a well-functioning power grid. That last can be problematic in the developing world and is thus a possible flaw in Perry’s reasoning.