Thursday, March 15, 2012

Yes, Virginia, Displacement Does Happen

There was a story over at NPR this week that looked at criminal street gangs moving from New York City to suburban areas outside the city. In the piece was this bit:
Back in New York City, the sheer number of law enforcement officers makes it hard for big gangs to meet openly there the way they did back in the 1980s, so many gang members who have left state prison have migrated north. Less heat, more opportunity.
I previously spoke about displacement in this post when I covered a chapter of the book Crime Analysis for Problem Solvers.  In the example NPR spoke about, these criminal gangs have undergone geographic displacement in response to sustained law enforcement activity in their traditional territory.

I have heard of people who are skeptical about how big a factor displacement is in law enforcement. More often we see short term displacement as a response to short term enforcement efforts. However, in this case the displacement is more than just a temporary problem.

The Problem Oriented Policing Center has a good publication on this subject called Analyzing Crime Displacement and Diffusion that could help you understand this phenomena.


  1. "Less heat, more opportunity" is a bit of a simplistic way of looking at it, though. I haven't collected the data and done the research, but I would hypothesize that while less heat may mean more opportunity, New York City had a lot of other features--more people, higher population density, more access to trafficking sources, greater anonymity, a bigger population of likely members--that these gang members aren't experiencing in the suburbs. While it sucks for these cities and towns that they suddenly have to deal with a gang problem, I would bet that their piece of the problem isn't as nearly as high, in volume or intensity, as it was in New York City. Displacement may happen, but it usually doesn't happen to the same volume as the original problem.

  2. Chris,
    Some, but not all crooks will displace. Crooks being the lazy sort that they often are, moving requires work if they are going to stay in the game. The extra enforcement might convince some of the less criminally inclined types to go straight.

    The real motivated folks with displace rather than change their ways.


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