Wednesday, February 22, 2012

If A Crime Happens In The Woods And Nobody Reports It, Did It Really Happen?

This is an interesting situation; the Fitchburg, MA Police Department has seen an uptick in larcenies reported to their agency. Crime numbers going up is never something a police chief wants to hear. But Fitchburg PD's crime analyst had this explanation for the reason behind the increase. From the story over at the Sentinel and Enterprise:
"It went up because of better enforcement," said Kristi Andrews, crime analyst for Fitchburg. She said a large amount of the 2011 shoplifting cases were in the Kmart store. Andrews and DeMoura said Kmart management hired a small security team to catch shoplifters, where in the past the store had no focus on shoplifting.
Of course this brings up a minor problem with better enforcement efforts; often times your efforts at reducing a crime problem by increasing enforcement efforts will cause your crime numbers to go up instead of going down.  The thing to keep in mind is that initial bump in crime numbers doesn't mean that your efforts are counterproductive. The crime was already there, you just weren't aware of it likely because it wasn't being reported.

The key is not to let your Chief panic over the increased numbers in the short term. Your initial efforts are yielding a more accurate picture of the numbers behind your crime problem. Stay the course with your efforts long enough and you will likely see those numbers go back down and if your strategy is well thought out, you will hopefully see them go down below what you though they were initially.

In fact, we aren't worried about random fluctuations or cyclical trends but are worried about our efforts having a long term change on the crime problem. Step 26 in the excellent book Crime Analysis For Problem Solvers is all about determining long term change and is worth the read.

Have you ever had an instance where your enforcement efforts led to an increase in reported crime? How did your agency explain the increase?

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