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.

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