Tuesday, July 31, 2012

60 Steps Revisited: Step 30 - Consider Repeat Offending

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.

Last time we looked at repeat victimization, in this post on our journey through Crime Analysis For Problem Solvers we're going to look at Step 30 - Consider Repeat Offending. Back in Step 18 we covered the 80 - 20 rule, the old adage that 80% of crimes are committed by 20% of offenders. Now, we know that the numbers aren't often literally 80 - 20, but it is true that a minority of offenders commit a majority of the number of offenses.

The authors discuss a couple of explanations as to why this is true from the point of view of the offender. While this is well and good I'm not sure that most police departments can do anything to prevent weak social attachments in impulsive individuals. However, in order to craft appropriate prevention strategies, we should consider repeat offender's objectives and motivations.

The authors state that there are three ways that successful offending can lead to more offending. They are:

  • Offenders, like others, learn from doing. A successful crime teaches important lessons. This can lead to the offender attacking the same target again (see box). But offenders, like everyone else, can generalize. So they learn that they may be successful if they attack similar targets (see Step 29).
  • Offenders learn from each other. Information can spread through individuals working in small groups, group breakup and new group formation. This underscores the need to understand offender networks. Police can use networks to spread information that enhances offenders' perceptions of risks or of the undesirability of the target or place. Part of the effort to reduce juvenile homicides in Boston, Massachusetts for example, involved highly targeted messages to gang members.
  • Successful offending can erode prevention, thus making subsequent offending easier. A small break in a fence, for example, will become larger with use. If the influx of offenders and offensive behaviors is faster than the responses of guardians and place managers, then a small problem will become worse.
If you have been in law enforcement for any time, I am sure that you can think of examples for each of these three. The important thing to take from this is that if you concentrate your efforts on targeting these prolific offenders, you'll get the most bang for the buck when it comes to impacting your crime problem. Your analysis should take into account the Crime Triangle to determine the best strategy to use. The authors do have an interesting caution though. They state:
Conversely, creating crime opportunities to catch offenders can make things worse. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, a number of U.S. police departments experimented with "sting" operations in which they created fake markets for stolen goods, documented who sold such goods to them, and then arrested many thieves. A number of these operations were evaluated. There is no evidence that these operations reduced crime. There is some evidence that they may have increased crime by providing lucrative and convenient ways to sell stolen goods. Throughout this manual we have noted the strong influence facilitating environments can have on promoting criminal behavior. So one should be very cautious about creating artificial crime opportunities to round up unknown prolific offenders.
Now that's an interesting assertion. How many times at your agency has the response to a specific crime problem been met with a suggestion to set up a "sting operation"? While some sting operations may not have the dynamic the authors mentioned above, we should conduct our analysis and develop strategies that actually target our prolific offenders and not just create an environment that an opportunist may take advantage of.

Next time we'll look at Step 31 - Know The Products That Are CRAVED By Thieves.

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