Friday, June 29, 2012

60 Steps Revisited: Step 19 - Research Your Problem

Back in 2009, I did a series of posts covering the excellent book Crime Analysis For Problem Solvers. The book is published by the US DOJ's Problem Oriented Policing Center (POP Center). Because of the value I think this book has for crime analysts, and policing in general, I am going to re-post this series on here on the blog.


We're up to Step 19 in our walk through Crime Analysis For Problem Solvers and we're going to cover Step 19 - Research Your Problem in this post.

When I first started in law enforcement 19 years ago, researching was a lot more time consuming. Back then, the Internet was in it's infancy and was mainly confined to academics. If you wanted to read about new policing approaches, you subscribed to magazines, read the few police science textbooks out there or went to a conference. Now with the proliferation of the Internet, you can do meaningful research in your patrol car on an iPhone.

That being said, the Internet is a big place and much of the information out there should be looked at with a highly critical eye. A couple of really good places to start are with a couple of websites from the US Department of Justice. The COPS Program website and the Center For Problem Oriented Policing have a wealth of information there or linked from there.

Step 19 - Research Your Problem also lists a few other places you can find information to help you with researching your problem. I'm not going to list them all here but I encourage you to read the whole article at the link.

I do want to point out Limitations of the Information from the article. In it the authors offer two caveats:

  • "Most criminologists are more interested in crime and delinquency in general than in specific forms of crime. They are also more interested in distant causes of crime, such as social disadvantage and dysfunctional families, than the near causes of a problem, such as poor security or lack of surveillance. So even when you find academic articles dealing with your problem, you might find the causes they identify help little in developing an effective response."
  • "Unless your problem is very common, do not expect to find many relevant police projects. Be skeptical about claims of success unless supported by evaluative data. Even projects that have received Goldstein or Tilley awards may not have been well evaluated. Be warned also that a response that worked in a particular town or neighborhood might not work in yours because of specific circumstances that make your situation different. However, past police experience of dealing with the problem is always an important source of ideas about what might be helpful in your situation." Source: Crime Analysis For Problem Solvers 
The reason I point these out is that there is quite a gulf that exists between those criminologists that live in academia and cops and crime analysts that work in the real world. Don't be discouraged if you find that the only solution offered to your particular problem is some lofty sounding platitude such as "improve the social cohesion of the family unit". I don't know about you, but I can't affect the social cohesion of the officers I work with much less the socially deviant criminals that we encounter.

That being said, it is important to examine all aspects of your problem thoroughly before trying to develop a solution. I know that when your Chief is getting heat from City Hall he or she is likely to want a suggested solution "yesterday", but if you rush this you are liable to end up with a solution that is ineffective and wastes your limited resources.

Next time: Step 20 - Formulate Hypothesis.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Strip Malls Are Dangerous For Grandma

This is kind of weird. There was a story over at The Atlantic Cities that looked at a traffic safety study that found that strip malls and big box stores were dangerous for older drivers.

According to a new report [PDF] from the Texas Transportation Institute at Texas A&M University, the nearly ubiquitous giant-parking-lot-plus-giant-retail outlet is associated with higher risks of injurious and deadly traffic accidents among people 75 and older. Seventy-five is the age when older adults become substantially more likely than other age cohorts to experience injury or fatality as a result of a traffic accident, mainly because of their increasingly frail bodies, but also due to their waning hearing and eyesight.

Of course the dearth of public transport in suburban communities where strip malls and big box stores proliferate probably doesn't help matters. It's a lot harder to convince grandma to stop driving to these areas when there are no alternatives such as public transport.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

60 Steps Revisited: Step 18 - Learn If The 80 - 20 Rule Applies

Back in 2009, I did a series of posts covering the excellent book Crime Analysis For Problem Solvers. The book is published by the US DOJ's Problem Oriented Policing Center (POP Center). Because of the value I think this book has for crime analysts, and policing in general, I am going to re-post this series on here on the blog.


For quite a while now I have been walking through the excellent book Crime Analysis For Problem Solvers one step at a time. In this post, we'll cover Step 18 - Learn If The 80 - 20 Rule Applies. While I have been summarizing and commenting on this book, it should in no way substitute you, as a crime analyst, actually reading the whole book. You can read it on the web, download a PDF copy or even order a printed version. There are so many good things in this book that it's worth keeping a dead trees version in your office.

The authors describe the 80-20 rule as:

This phenomenon is commonly called the 80-20 rule, where in theory 20 percent of some things are responsible for 80 percent of the outcomes. In practice, it is seldom exactly 80-20, but it is always a small percentage of something or some group involved in a large percentage of some result. Source: Crime Analysis For Problem Solvers
They also quote a number of crime studies that found similar results. Many in law enforcement have similar anecdotal accounts of a small number of prolific offenders being responsible for a large number of offenses. We see this when we clear a large number of cases by arresting one or two offenders.

None of us have an unlimited number of resources to fight crime, or at least no law enforcement agency that I am aware of does. (However, if you work for an agency with an unlimited number of resources, let me know so I can send you my resume.) With a limited number of resources, we should use those resources where they will have the greatest effect. Applying the 80-20 rule to this, if we can identify the small number of causes that have the greatest number of outcomes and then apply our limited resources to them we will have the greatest effect.

As an example, the authors point to an analysis of construction burglaries in Jacksonville, Florida. In their analysis it was determined that only 20 percent of the builders were victims of 85% of thefts and burglaries. If your analysis of problems in your city uncovers a similar disparity, it should cause you to look for the reason they are such a prolific victim. If you can get the victim to modify the behavior that makes them such an easy target you can have a significant impact on the number of crimes reported. As any police chief will tell you, lower crime numbers are always good.

Next time we'll look at Step 19 - Research Your Problem.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Sacramento Police Find Hot Spot Policing Effective

The Community Policing Dispatch had an interesting piece that looked at Sacramento Police's Hotspot Experiment. This experiment looked to test a theory of hotspot policing to determine just how effective it would be in Sacramento.

Within a 90 day time period that started on February 8 and ran through May 8, 2011, Sergeant Renee Mitchell of the Sacramento [California] Police Department designed a research methodology that she hoped would test out the Koper curve theory of hot spot policing. This theory proposes the notion that certain specific locations or neighborhoods can harbor an unequal distribution of crime in comparison to other locations in that same area. Additionally, this theory goes on to explain that police officers who are highly visible in these areas for 12–16 minutes can cause a reduction in crime as well as calls for service (CFS) within that hot spot. With her knowledge and experience in evidence-based policing and hot spot policing, Sergeant Mitchell used her training to conduct research in order to find if such a theory proved true within Sacramento.

According to the piece, the experiment proved to be effective in driving crime down in these hotspots. The article is worth the read.

What is your agency doing to tackle crime hot spots?

Monday, June 25, 2012

60 Steps Revisited: Step 17 - Know How Hot Spots Develop

Back in 2009, I did a series of posts covering the excellent book Crime Analysis For Problem Solvers. The book is published by the US DOJ's Problem Oriented Policing Center (POP Center). Because of the value I think this book has for crime analysts, and policing in general, I am going to re-post this series on here on the blog.


Our journey through Crime Analysis For Problem Solvers takes us to Step 17 - Know How Hot Spots Develop. With the increased use of GIS in law enforcement it becomes more common to see these tools used to determine crime "hotspots". The authors point out:
Analysts often examine hot spots by use of geography alone. This can often be a useful starting point, but to reduce or eliminate the hot spot you must look deeper to understand why it is a hot spot. Source: Crime Analysis For Problem Solvers
Just because your whiz bang software says that there is a hotspot at a particular location, this isn't necessarily the end of your work as an analyst. The authors believe you should dig a little deeper and try to determine why this is happening at this location. They list three types of situations that cause a hotspot. They are:
  • Crime generators
  • Crime attractors
  • Crime enablers
The main difference in these situations is the dynamics that cause the hotspot to occur. Is it because a large number of potential victims congregate in one place such as a shopping center? Is it because a large number of offenders tend to congregate in or near a prostitution stroll? or is it because there is a lack of effective behavioral controls at a location? In reality, a hotspot could have a combination of any of the three.

Hit the link to read the definitions. Also important is the chart at the bottom with suggested strategies should you make a determination of the situation(s) that led to your hotspot.

Next time we'll cover Step 18 - Learn If The 80 - 20 Rule Applies.

Friday, June 22, 2012

60 Steps Revisited: Step - 16 Study The Journey To Crime

Back in 2009, I did a series of posts covering the excellent book Crime Analysis For Problem Solvers. The book is published by the US DOJ's Problem Oriented Policing Center (POP Center). Because of the value I think this book has for crime analysts, and policing in general, I am going to re-post this series on here on the blog.


We've been looking at the book Crime Analysis For Problem Solvers. In this post we'll cover Step - 16 Study The Journey To Crime . I must admit I'm kind of on the fence about this step. Essentially the authors are saying that people generally travel in or occupy three areas, their home, their work and their place of recreation. They also theorize that the crimes they commit are ordinarily in an area that intersects these areas or the routes between them.
The concept of activity spaces is central to crime pattern theory, which was developed by the Canadian environmental criminologists Pat and Paul Brantingham (see figure). They use the concept to describe how offenders find targets in the course of their daily routines. Starting with a triangle, they consider offenders going from home to work to recreation. Around each of these three nodes and along each of these three paths(excepting a buffer zone where they might be recognized) offenders look around for crime opportunities. They may find these a little way off the path, but they usually do not go far beyond the area they know. This is because it is easier to commit crimes in the course of their daily routine than by making a special journey to do so. Source:Crime Analysis For Problem Solvers
My problem with this is that I think it's kind of over generalizing. It'd be kind of like saying criminals will only commit crimes where they are located at the time the crime is committed. You get the idea from the article that criminals operating areas are small and adjacent to where they live, work or play. However, in the city where I work, we see burglars who are very mobile and traveling throughout the city to various residential neighborhoods to commit burglaries. While juvenile burglars who lack access to vehicles may only prowl their own neighborhoods, the older burglars in vehicles will often prowl large swaths of the city looking for suitable targets.

For this theory to be relevant in most mid-sized American cities, you may need to open up your idea about criminal's operational area. I work for a city with a population of around 100,000 that covers an area of about 54 square miles. There is a smaller neighboring city that shares a common border with ours while the other sizable cities in our county are about 10 to 20 miles away. If we think of our burglars area of operation as our city and maybe even the adjacent city, the author's theory probably holds water. The cities 10-20 miles away are usually not in our crooks area of operation. Several of the quotes in Step 16, attribute a very short average distance journey to crime such as 1 to 2 miles though one example has a parenthetical caveat that states:
In most U.S. studies the journeys might be a little longer because of lower population densities and greater access to vehicles. Source: Crime Analysis For Problem Solvers
None of this is to say that Step 16 is irrelevant, in fact there are quite a number of good points made about the study of the Journey To Crime. I do think that the article gives the idea by implication that a criminal's area of operation is much smaller than it probably is in real life.

Next, time we'll cover Step 17 - Know How Hot Spots Develop.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Crime's Down, But For How Much Longer?

The FBI recently released the preliminary UCR crime numbers for 2011. It was no surprise that for most parts of the country, crime is down. There was a story over at the Austin public radio station KUT that had this rather pessimistic assessment of just how long this decline would continue:

Though recent years have been good, Lauderdale explains that Texas might be in a transitional phase where crime rates could escalate soon.

“In the last couple of years, we may be starting to see some indicators that suggest that we may see increasing crime rates,” he says. “If you look at crime rates over a 50 or 60 year period, you’ll see a decade when they will rise and a decade when they will fall. And I think we are probably at the end of a decade, maybe 15 years of declining crime rates, but we may have reached the end of that.”

So what's your guess? Will crime continue to go down or are we about to turn the corner on this?

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

60 Steps Revisited: Step 15 - Know What Kind of Problem You Have

Back in 2009, I did a series of posts covering the excellent book Crime Analysis For Problem Solvers. The book is published by the US DOJ's Problem Oriented Policing Center (POP Center). Because of the value I think this book has for crime analysts, and policing in general, I am going to re-post this series on here on the blog.


In this post in our journey through the 60 steps outlined in the book Crime Analysis For Problem Solvers we're up to Step 15 - Know What Kind of Problem You Have. 

One of the main focuses of this book is to use the principles taught here to solve specific crime problems in your jurisdiction. While many jurisdictions are unique, often times the problems in your jurisdiction is not. In this step, the authors help you to define your problem into one of two basic categories, Environment or Behavior and then to sub-classify it further into more specific categories. The purpose for this is to help you determine if there are similar problems that may have already been solved.
This classification scheme can help you precisely define the problem. It helps separate superficially similar problems that are really distinct. It also allows you to compare your problem to similar problems that have already been addressed, and it helps identify important features for examination. For example, an extensive set of guides to addressing common problems are available from the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services and the Center for Problem-Oriented Policing websites (Step 19). Knowing the type of problem you are investigating can help you identify guides that might be helpful, even if they do not directly address your problem. Source: Crime Analysis For Problem Solvers
If someone else has successfully solved a similar problem, why reinvent the wheel in trying to solve yours? The Center for Problem-Oriented Policing website has a wealth of materials that may give you insights or directions in dealing with your problem. The authors list 11 different environments and 6 types of behaviors. Rather than "reinvent the wheel" I encourage you to hit the link to the original article and look at the different categories.

Next time, we'll look at Step - 16 Study The Journey To Crime.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Wilmington Police Adopt DDACTS To Make Their Community Safer

The Wilmington, NC news outlet Star News Online had a piece on Wilmington Police's adoption of the Data Driven Approach To Crime and Traffic Safety or DDACTS. This approach is founded on the idea that high crime and high traffic accident areas often overlap and by conducting high visibility traffic enforcement in these areas you can drive crime down and improve traffic safety.

The model is based on the notion that crimes such as burglary and robbery are frequently committed using vehicles to travel to and fro, so the chances of intercepting someone en route to a crime or leaving one is greater when police stop more cars.

But it is also based on a documented statistical relationship between crime and crashes.

"There's a huge correlation," said Barry Coburn, the Wilmington Police Department's analyst. "So the benefit is you can work these areas very much like would a high accident area, using high visibility and high traffic enforcement to reduce both accidents and crime because they occur in the same locations."

This model is one of the many policing models that law enforcement agencies are adopting to make their communities safer by focusing their efforts where they will have the greatest effect.

Has your agency explored DDACTS? Was it effective in your community?

Monday, June 18, 2012

60 Steps Revisited: Step 14 - Use the CHEERS Test When Defining Problems

Back in 2009, I did a series of posts covering the excellent book Crime Analysis For Problem Solvers. The book is published by the US DOJ's Problem Oriented Policing Center (POP Center). Because of the value I think this book has for crime analysts, and policing in general, I am going to re-post this series on here on the blog.


In today's post about Crime Analysis For Problem Solvers we're going to cover Step 14 - Use the CHEERS Test When Defining Problems. The CHEERS test refers to an acronym that will help you to understand a crime problem you need to analyze. The authors describe CHEERS this way:

A problem is a recurring set of related harmful events in a community that members of the public expect the police to address. This definition draws attention to the six required elements of a problem: Community; Harm; Expectation; Events; Recurring; and Similarity. These elements are captured by the acronym CHEERS. Source: Crime Analysis For Problem Solvers
The article goes on to more fully describe each element. I would encourage you to hit the link back to the original article and explore them. It is also important to understand that everything police are called upon to deal with is not a problem suitable for the Problem Oriented Policing (POP) approach. The authors indicate there are six questions that need to be answered in the affirmative, if the answer to anyone of them is "No" then it may not be a "problem" even though your agency may need to deal with it. These questions are:
  • Who in the community is affected by the problem?
  • What are the harms created by the problem?
  • What are the expectations for the police response?
  • What types of events contribute to the problem?
  • How often do these events recur?
  • How are the events similar? Source: Crime Analysis For Problem Solvers
The Problem Oriented Policing strategy is only suitable for situations with certain elements. For instance, it would be nearly impossible to apply this approach to a single event such as a barricaded gunman call. For most agencies thankfully, these types of events are pretty rare. Because they are so rare they fail the Recurrence test. While your agency is going to have to respond, a full blown POP strategy will in no way help you to deal with it.

Additionally, you don't want to define an area with multiple problems as one problem. For example a blighted neighborhood is not suitable for POP strategy. The component problems that make up the blighted neighborhood may be suitable for a POP approach, but if you try to lump them all together as one big problem your strategy won't be successful.

The authors also stress that Status Conditions such as homelessness or truancy are not problems. Based on experience with my agency I can almost guarantee you that citizens in your community are going to turn to your agency to "fix" the problem. However, homelessness in and of itself is not suitable for POP strategy. If the condition was defined a little less broadly such as "homeless persons squatting in abandoned buildings on X street" then this may be more suitable for POP.

Next time we'll cover Step 15 - Know What Kind of Problem You Have.

Friday, June 15, 2012

60 Steps Revisited: Step 13 - Expect Diffusion of Benefits

Back in 2009, I did a series of posts covering the excellent book Crime Analysis For Problem Solvers. The book is published by the US DOJ's Problem Oriented Policing Center (POP Center). Because of the value I think this book has for crime analysts, and policing in general, I am going to re-post this series on here on the blog.


Our journey through the book Crime Analysis For Problem Solvers continues with Step 13 - Expect Diffusion of Benefits. Diffusion is the opposite of Displacement in this context. An example of diffusion of benefits from the city where I work deals with Red Light Cameras.


The cameras were installed at a small number of intersections. They capture images of people running red lights and then the owners of the vehicles caught running the lights are assessed a civil penalty. During the time the cameras have been in operation, the total number of accidents throughout the city has declined even at intersections with no photo red light cameras. One plausible explanation is that the increased public awareness of the enforcement effort has led drivers to modify their behaviors citywide and not just at the few intersections with cameras.

The authors of Crime Analysis For Problem Solvers also list a number of other examples of diffusion of benefits. They theorize that diffusion takes place for this reason:

It seems that potential offenders may be aware that new prevention measures have been introduced, but they are often unsure of their precise scope. They may believe the measures have been implemented more widely than they really have, and that theeffort needed to commit crime, or the risks incurred, have been increased for a wider range of places, times, or targets than really is the case. Source: Crime Analysis For Problem Solvers
This explanation goes back to the cost/benefit ratio of Rational Choice theory that we talked about in my last post. If the benefit to the offender does not outweigh the cost (risk or effort) the offender will likely modify their behavior until the benefit outweighs the cost.

One way to enhance diffusion of benefits is to heavily promote your crime initiative as widely as possible. We all know that in many cases, perception is more important than reality. If the public perceives that the cost of committing a crime is greater than the benefits to be obtained they will be less likely to make that choice to commit the crime. However, once they learn that the cost is less, then the benefit is more attractive to them.
This may mean that ways will have to be found of keeping offenders guessing about the precise levels of threat, or about how much extra effort is needed if they are to continue with crime. Source: Crime Analysis For Problem Solvers
Next time we'll examine Step 14 - Use the CHEERS Test When Defining Problems.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

What's This World Coming To When People Steal Your Trash?

The Atlantic Cities had an interesting piece about an unusual crime trend, that of the theft of used restaurant grease.
So where is all this illicit oil ending up? Biofuel companies, it seems, via the hands of criminals. Once processed, the stuff that fries your food becomes a substitute for diesel fuel. And with the price of gasoline going through the roof, used grease has become a hot commodity. The pricetag for a pound of it went from 8 cents before 2000 to 18 cents today, or as much as 45 cents after processing. One report has it that a gallon of grease goes for $4 "on the street."
The increase in recycling has created new opportunities for both entrepreneurs as well as thieves. Not only are thieves stealing used restaurant grease, but also copper and scrap metals. Businesses with these kinds of valuable refuse are going to have to take measures to protect it or they're liable to find that a crook has "taken out the trash" literally.

Have you seen these types of thefts in your community? What measures have you found to be effective in combatting these types of crimes?

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

60 Steps Revisited: Step 12 - Don't Be Discouraged By The Displacement Doomsters

Back in 2009, I did a series of posts covering the excellent book Crime Analysis For Problem Solvers. The book is published by the US DOJ's Problem Oriented Policing Center (POP Center). Because of the value I think this book has for crime analysts, and policing in general, I am going to re-post this series on here on the blog.

Every workplace has them, those people who always see the glass as half empty as opposed to half full. In this step in our journey through Crime Analysis For Problem Solvers, we'll tackle the naysayers in Step 12 - Don't Be Discouraged By The Displacement Doomsters.

You've probably heard the argument before, if you work to reduce the opportunity to commit a particular type of crime, "all you are going to do is move it to another place". In fact you can substitute 'other place' with another time, another crime, etc. All these are types of displacement. In fact the authors, state there are five types of displacement:
  1. Crime is moved from one place to another (geographical).
  2. Crime is moved from one time to another (temporal).
  3. Crime is directed away from one target to another (target).
  4. One method of committing crime replaces another (tactical).
  5. One kind of crime is substituted for another (crime type). Source: Crime Analysis For Problem Solvers
The problem with this is that it isn't always true. Even if it was, can we afford to give up on trying to reduce crime due to the fear that the crimes will move to another neighborhood, or another time? In any case, displacement naysayers assume that all offenders "compelled to commit crime, whatever impediments they face". But this isn't always the case if it were, no criminal would ever go straight and in spite of our often jaded perceptions, there are many who do give up their criminal ways.
This does not mean that we can ignore displacement. Indeed, rational choice theory predicts that offenders will displace when the benefits for doing so outweigh the costs. Source: Crime Analysis For Problem Solvers
When we work on solutions to persistent crime problems, we should factor this Rational Choice Theory Cost/Benefit ratio into our study of the problem. The good thing for us is that as a whole criminals are lazy. This probably is the reason they are a crook in the first place. It probably doesn't take that much to make the cost outweigh the benefit.
Displacement is usually limited because offenders have difficulty adapting quickly. If they do make changes they are most likely to change to places, times, targets, methods, and crime types that are similar to those the prevention program blocks because these are the easiest changes for them to make. This suggests that displacement can be predicted by anticipating the easiest changes for offenders to make. If there are obvious easy changes, then you should consider how to incorporate these in your prevention plan. And if you cannot include them, then you should consider monitoring them to detect possible displacement. Source: Crime Analysis For Problem Solvers
Next time we'll look at Step 13 - Expect Diffusion of Benefits.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

When Tires & Wheels Become CRAVED, They Soon Disappear

Last week there was this interesting piece over at the New York Times that looked at the increase in tire and wheel thefts. In the story was this bit:
The sight of partially dismembered cars left up on blocks was fairly common decades ago, when it came to symbolize cities lost to crime. But wheel and tire thefts are now resurgent around the country, thanks to anonymous online marketplaces that provide easy access to customers, and advances in power tool technology that allow thieves to remove them with the speed of a Nascar pit crew.
Several times over the years I have spoke about the acronym CRAVED. The acronym stands for Concealable, Removable, Available, Valuable, Enjoyable and Disposable. Tires and wheels, especially expensive custom rims meet these criteria and have become a hot commodity for thieves.

In the sleepy little burg where I work, we have seen a number of these types of thefts. There are lots of custom tire and wheel shops and plenty of customers for them in a military town. We've even seen thieves from other cities come to our community to steal these rims, often times taking orders for specific ones from their less than scrupulous customers.

Because there are so many places these thefts can occur and so many possible thieves, it's important for victims to increase their own guardianship over these CRAVED items to avoid becoming victimized.

Has your agency seen an increase in these types of thefts in your community? What are you doing to encourage your citizens to increase their guardianship over these CRAVED items?

Monday, June 11, 2012

60 Steps Revisited: Step 11 - Expect Offenders to React

Back in 2009, I did a series of posts covering the excellent book Crime Analysis For Problem Solvers. The book is published by the US DOJ's Problem Oriented Policing Center (POP Center). Because of the value I think this book has for crime analysts, and policing in general, I am going to re-post this series on here on the blog.


In this section of the book Crime Analysis For Problem Solvers, we'll cover Step 11 - Expect Offenders To React. In previous sections we've looked at ways to develop a strategy to combat specific crime problems. Hopefully our strategy is well thought out and will bring about the intended result, that we'll reduce the problematic crime activity that we set out to solve. Unfortunately, this isn't always the case. Sometimes what we hoped was a well thought out strategy has the effect of changing a criminal's behavior in a negative way. Two ways criminals react negatively are displacement and adaptation. The authors of Crime Analysis For Problem Solvers define them this way:
Displacement occurs when offenders change their behavior to thwart preventive actions. Displacement is the opposite of diffusion of benefits. Displacement is a possible threat, but it is far from inevitable. Reviews show that many situational prevention programs show little or no evidence of displacement, and when displacement is found, it seldom fully offsets the prevention benefits (Step 12).
Adaptation refers to a longer term process whereby the offender population as a whole discovers new crime vulnerabilities after preventive measures have been in place for a while. Paul Ekblom, Ken Pease, and other researchers often use the analogy of an arms race between preventers and offenders when discussing this process. So, in time, we can expect many crimes that have been reduced by preventive measures to reappear as criminals discover new ways to commit them. Adaptation may occur as the original offenders slowly discover new methods, or it may occur as new offenders take advantage of changing opportunities.
The general consensus among criminologists, is that displacement isn't as common as it's thought to be. However, adaptation does occur fairly often.

One example seen in the area where I work involved ATM burglaries. The first ATM's proved to be vulnerable to being cracked open inside the businesses where they were installed. As the manufacturers began to harden their ATM's even more, thieves began using stolen pickups and a chain to rip the machines out of the stores where they were installed and drag them off to a secluded area where they could spend more time opening them. Some businesses in the Dallas area installed cages around the machines to combat this problem so enterprising thieves in that area took to stealing large construction equipment such as wheel loaders and backhoes to tear the machines out of the cages.

In either case, when you work out your strategy you should be ready to modify the strategy as the problem evolves.

Friday, June 8, 2012

60 Steps Revisited: Step 10 - Put Yourself In The Offender's Shoes

Back in 2009, I did a series of posts covering the excellent book Crime Analysis For Problem Solvers. The book is published by the US DOJ's Problem Oriented Policing Center (POP Center). Because of the value I think this book has for crime analysts, and policing in general, I am going to re-post this series on here on the blog.


We're continuing our journey through Crime Analysis For Problem Solvers. In this post we're going to look at Step 10 - Put Yourself In The Offender's Shoes. Sometimes criminologists get a bad name when they publish a lofty theory about why people commit crimes usually referring to something like genetics, a lack of a nurturing environment, fetal alcohol syndrome, etc. as the reason. When the authors of Crime Analysis For Problem Solvers say this, they aren't referring to one of these theories of but instead something much more practical.
A radical critique of criminology pointed out 30 years ago that is not their genes that propel bank robbers through the doors of the bank: they rob banks because they want to get rich. Source: Crime Analysis For Problem Solvers
This is really where the rubber meets the road for us. We got into this a little bit last time I posted about Step 9. Academic theories about the root cause of crime don't always have a practical value for the working crime analyst or cop. What does have a practical value is the offender's motivation for committing the crime and the offenders method for committing the crime. Both of these can shed insight into the most effective strategy to combat the particular crime problem you are studying.
In many cases of theft and robbery the benefits are obvious, but they may not be clear for gang violence or so-called "senseless" vandalism and graffiti. In fact, graffiti can mark the territory of a juvenile gang, can indicate where to purchase drugs, or can simply be a way to show off. Knowing which of these reasons is dominant helps to define the focus of a problem-solving project and unravel the contributory
factors. It can also help the project team identify solutions. Thus, the New York City subway authorities succeeded in eradicating graffiti only when they understood the motivation of the "taggers," which was to see their handiwork on display as the trains traveled around the system. Source: Crime Analysis For Problem Solvers
The second insight, how offenders commit their crimes, is similarly useful. This information can be obtained by debriefing criminals or if this isn't practical, by trying to imagine yourself as the criminal. Given your experience, how would you go about pulling it off? With that knowledge, how do you go about defeating that modus operandi?

Next time, we'll examine Step 11 - Expect Offenders To React.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Being Shot In The Face Not A Serious As You Might Think

In case you were worried about this, there was a piece over at Austin's KUT about a recent Austin area trauma surgeons conference that had this tidbit about gunshot wounds to the face:
“These injuries are high on the wow scale,” he said. “But because they are rarely a lethal injury they are much lower on the badness scale.” 
He displayed a bar graph showing the “wow” to be at 9 out of ten, but the “badness” as only a 3 on the same scale.
I feel much better about the possibility of being shot in the face already.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

60 Steps Revisited: Step 9 - Know That Opportunity Makes the Thief

Back in 2009, I did a series of posts covering the excellent book Crime Analysis For Problem Solvers. The book is published by the US DOJ's Problem Oriented Policing Center (POP Center). Because of the value I think this book has for crime analysts, and policing in general, I am going to re-post this series on here on the blog.


In this post about the book Crime Analysis For Problem Solvers we're going to look at Step 9 - Know That Opportunity Makes the Thief. In this step the authors ask a question:
Suppose all situational controls were to be abandoned: no locks, no custom controls, cash left for parking in an open pot for occasional collection, no library check-outs, no baggage screening at airports, no ticket checks at train stations, no traffic lights, etc., would there be no change in the volume of crime and disorder? Source: Crime Analysis For Problem Solvers
The authors state that many criminologists wouldn't agree with this statement arguing that whether a crime occurs is more dependent on the personality of the persons as opposed to the opportunity for crime afforded by this situation. Unfortunately, criminologists who study a criminal's motivations don't have to work in same situations that we do. We generally can't affect a criminal's personality but we can affect the environment that gives a properly motivated criminal the opportunity to commit a crime.
Understanding that opportunity makes the thief will help direct your attention to practical means of preventing crime. Source: Crime Analysis For Problem Solvers
More than anything else, the police have the opportunity to affect the environment the criminal operates in. We'll have to leave the causes of criminal motivation to the criminologists and other pointy headed academics.

Next time, we'll look at Step 10 - Put Yourself In The Offender's Shoes

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

The Glass May Be Half Full, But A Crime Analyst Can Make It Last

Last week The Atlantic Cities had a rather depressing piece on budget woes facing municipal governments. While overall, the story paints a rather discouraging picture for cities for sometime to come, there was a bit I thought worth commenting on.
However, the report notes that some local governments have been able withstand the cuts in state aid and property tax revenue by investing in new technologies or forming partnerships that allow them to maintain levels of services at lower costs. 
"That’s one of the opportunities that can come out of this crisis, is to find ways to either use technology or to partner with counties or other local governments in the region to deliver services more efficiently," Zahradnik says.
One area that cities can become more efficient is smarter policing. A crime analyst function within a police department can help that agency get the most value for their precious budget dollars. Crime analysts can help an agency focus on enforcement efforts that are the most effective at reducing crime in the communities where they work.

Is your agency facing a lean budget? Are you using your crime analyst to make the most of your precious budget dollars?

Monday, June 4, 2012

60 Steps Revisited: Step 8 - Use The Problem Analysis Triangle

Back in 2009, I did a series of posts covering the excellent book Crime Analysis For Problem Solvers. The book is published by the US DOJ's Problem Oriented Policing Center (POP Center). Because of the value I think this book has for crime analysts, and policing in general, I am going to re-post this series on here on the blog.


Step 8 in our journey through Crime Analysis For Problem Solvers is Use The Problem Analysis Triangle. Many times we hear criminologist opine about their latest theory about why crime happens. Something along the lines that if Little Johnny had better parents or got a free breakfast at school that there would be no crime. While this is nice to think about, it really has no correlation to the real world occupied by the police, criminals and their victims.

What police really need is not some abstract theory but a way to determine the best approach to problematic crime problems. One of the best things I have seen along this line is the Problem Analysis Triangle.

The problem analysis triangle (also known as the crime triangle) comes from one of the main theories of environmental criminology - routine activity theory. This theory, originally formulated by Lawrence Cohen and Marcus Felson, states that predatory crime occurs when a likely offender and suitable target come together in time andplace, without a capable guardian present. Source: Crime Analysis For Problem Solvers
It's a lot like the Fire Triangle that you learned about in science class. Without any one of the three elements, this crime won't occur. Problem Oriented Policing expands on this by adding an outer ring that points to the entity most likely to affect that element of the crime triangle. Just like they taught you in science class, remove any one element by affecting the controler and the fire, or in this case, the crime won't occur. This is complemented by another theory that classifies repeat crime problems as being "Wolf", "Duck" or "Den" problems.

Repeat crime problems are classified as Wolf, Duck or Den problems by the dynamics of how these crime are occurring. By identifying these problems in this manner, you can identify a focus in order to formulate an effective strategy to combat these problems. This step in Crime Analysis For Problem Solvers is probably the most useful in the whole book. If you read nothing else, read this one.

Next time, we'll look at Step 9 - Know That Opportunity Makes the Thief

Friday, June 1, 2012

Just How Often Does Gunfire Happen In Your City?

I've been intrigued by technological solutions to crime problems facing many communities. One interesting technology is that of gunfire detection systems. The New York Times had this piece that looked at the technology's implementation in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

The technology uses acoustic sensors to detect gunfire and then triangulates the location that the gunfire took place. Police can then be accurately dispatched to the location and respond much quicker than they would the old fashioned way, when someone picks up a phone and calls. Of course, in many cities, the old fashioned way is getting to be awfully hit and miss.
If nothing else, ShotSpotter has made it clear how much unreported gunfire takes place on city streets. In many high-crime urban neighborhoods, gunshots are a counterpoint to daily life, “as common as the birds chirping,” as Commander Mikail Ali of the San Francisco Police Department put it. But whether out of apathy, fear or uncertainty, people call the police in only a fraction of cases.
I think most cops can come up with examples of incidents where they've responded to a shooting only to discover that the problem had occurred some time past and no one had bothered to call. In the sleepy little burg where I work, it's not unusual to get a call from the hospital reporting a shooting victim and to find out that no one at the scene of the shooting bothered to call.

Would you consider using gunshot detection technology in your community if it were available and you could afford it?