Thursday, August 2, 2012

60 Steps Revisited: Step 31 - Know The Products That Are CRAVED By Thieves

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 the excellent book Crime Analysis For Problem Solvers. In this step, we're going to look at Step 31 - Know The Products That Are CRAVED By Thieves.

In the crime analysis unit at my agency, we get a pretty good idea of what products are popular just by looking at the types of things that are frequently stolen. In fact, we have half jokingly talked about creating an "thieves commodity index" to track the popularity of these items just like the stock market tracks commodities futures. For example, in my jurisdiction we can tell that certain designer's clothing such as Mark Ecko is popular because it's frequently stolen. Conversely, we're not seeing a lot of polyester leisure suits listed in theft reports.

The author's use the acronym CRAVED to describe the dynamics that drive the "thieves commodity index".
  • Concealable. Things that can be hidden in pockets or bags are more vulnerable to shoplifters and other sneak thieves. Things that are difficult to identify or can easily be concealed after being stolen are also more at risk. In some cases, thefts may even be concealed from the owners of goods, as when lumber or bricks left lying around on building sites are stolen.
  • Removable. The fact that cars and bikes are mobile helps explain why they are so often stolen. Nor is it surprising that laptop computers are often stolen since these are not only desirable but also easy to carry. What is easy to carry depends on the kind of theft. Both burglars and shoplifters steal cigarettes, liquor, medicines, and beauty aids from supermarkets, but burglars take them in much larger quantities.
  • Available. Desirable objects that are widely available and easy to find are at higher risk. This explains why householders try to hide jewelry and cash from burglars. It also helps explain why cars become more at risk of theft as they get older. They become increasingly likely to be owned by people living in poor neighborhoods with less off-street parking and more offenders living nearby. Finally, theft waves can result from the availability of an attractive new product, such as the cell phone, which quickly establishes its own illegal market (see box).
  • Valuable. Thieves will generally choose the more expensive goods, particularly when they are stealing to sell. But value is not simply defined in terms of resale value. Thus, when stealing for their own use, juvenile shoplifters may select goods that confer status among their peers. Similarly, joyriders are more interested in a car's performance than its financial value.
  • Enjoyable. Hot products tend to be enjoyable things to own or consume, such as liquor, tobacco, and DVDs. Thus, residential burglars are more likely to take DVD players and televisions than equally valuable electronic goods, such as microwave ovens. This may reflect the pleasure-loving lifestyle of many thieves (and their customers).
  • Disposable. Only recently has systematic research begun on the relationship between hot products and theft markets, but it is clear that thieves will tend to select things that are easy to sell. This helps explain why batteries and disposable razors are among the most frequently stolen items from American drug stores.
Knowing what types of items are taken may help you in focusing your enforcement efforts. Using are example above, we probably don't need to target polyester leisure suit thefts. Just as we learned when we talked about the 80/20 rule, we can get the most benefit from our limited resources when we focus them on the problem solving that will have the greatest effect.

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