Fundamentals of Policing
Adam J. McKee, Ph.D.
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Many proactive solutions to crime problems require officers (and citizens) to understand what types of property are irresistible to criminals. Crime scholar Ronald Clarke developed the acronym C.R.A.V.E.D. to aid practitioners in determining what “targets” should be “hardened.”
The acronym CRAVED will help you remember which goods are most stolen. These are Concealable, Removable, Available, Valuable, Enjoyable, and Disposable:
Concealable. Things that can be hidden in pockets, purses, or bags are more vulnerable to shoplifters and other “sneak thieves.” Things that are difficult to identify or that can easily be concealed after being stolen are also more at risk (because the item cannot be detected, and if it is, it can’t be identified as stolen). 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, tablets, and smartphones 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.
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.
The Chemistry of Crime
If you have ever taken a criminology course, you know there is a preoccupation among criminologists as to what factors turn people into criminals. That is, the focus is on the offender. Because criminology is dominated by sociology, there is an emphasis on social factors. Many of these social factors that are theorized to cause crime are at the “macro” level—they include things like the economy, education, and urban poverty. These theories have proven difficult to test empirically because of scale.
The biggest problem with criminology from the police practice perspective is that individual officers and even whole departments can do little to impact such factors. They are matters of national policy and are better left to extremely powerful governmental organizations such as Congress and the Federal Reserve. Some theorists have revolted from the classical view of criminology for this reason. These researchers have gone so far as to reject the label “criminologist” and prefer to think of themselves as “crime scientists.”
Still, much of crime science comes to us from the subfield of environmental criminology. It is very helpful to think of crime science as being different from criminology because the distinction helps us remember the difference in focus. Criminologists tend to focus on the offender, while crime scientists tend to focus on the criminal event. Crime science demands specificity and focuses on the immediate situational causes of crime. It is worthy of note that both macro level social theories and highly focused crime science explanations of crime can both be correct. Many notable crime scientists lean toward rational choice theories of concerning why people commit crimes, but these theories are largely irrelevant to how crime science helps police officers explain, predict, and control crime.
One of the most influential theories to arise out of crime science is the Routine Activities Theory, originally developed by Lawrence Cohen and Marcus Felson. The basic premise of the theory is that crime occurs when a likely offender and a suitable target come together in the same space at the same time and there is no capable guardian present. Professor Felson spends some time in his important book Crime in Everyday Life developing a rational choice theory as to why certain persons are “likely offenders,” but it plays little role in understanding and preventing crime. Police officers can safely use the model in crime prevention efforts by merely assuming that there are likely offenders in every social situation. The ancient character flaws of selfishness and greed are sufficient to explain this. Routine Activities Theory is very versatile in that it explains both crimes against people and crimes against property.
The idea of guardianship is based on the premise that bad guys don’t want to get caught and punished. The theory holds that the Utilitarians (e.g., Jeremy Bentham) were at least partially correct—swift and certain punishments will usually dissuade likely offenders from offending, no matter how trivial the punishment. The term guardianship has become popular in policing in recent years as a recasting of the police role as differentiated from that of “warrior.” Guardians in Routine Activities Theory don’t have to be police officers. Anything that makes detection and reporting of a crime more likely counts as a guardian. People going about their daily business (thus the name of the theory) can serve as guardians. Security equipment such as alarms and cameras have also been included under the guardian umbrella.
Training materials developed by the Center for Problem-Oriented Policing visualize the three primary components of Routine Activities as a triangle, with the three sides being formed by the three elements. When police officers are using the crime triangle to create responses to crime problems, they are well advised to consider all three elements. This is counterintuitive to the traditional model of policing. Officers are trained to detect and apprehend offenders, usually in a reactive way. When officers see the bigger picture of crime and take the entire crime triangle into account, they can more easily develop proactive strategies that keep crimes from happening, even when a willing offender is present. Within this framework, victims, places, and times all become important factors in prevention.
Hot Spots & Crime Mapping
As far back as Peel’s Met, observers of crime and disorder have noticed that crime tends to concentrate in specific geographic areas. Put another way, calls for service to police tend to be from the same addresses. While criminologists argue over the “why” of the geographic concentrations of crime, there is little argument that these “hot spots” exist and police can use that fact to initiate and improve proactive strategies. A hot spot, then, is a small geographic area where crime tends to be concentrated over time. The thrust of law enforcement hot spot strategies is to allocate limited resources where they have the chance to do the most good. The appeal of focusing limited resources on a small number of high-activity crime areas is based on the belief that if crime can be prevented at these hot spots, then overall rates of crime across the jurisdiction will also be reduced.
Contemporary interest in hot spots policing is due in large part to changes in policing that have occurred over the last several decades and the emergence of theoretical perspectives in criminology and crime science suggesting the importance of “place” in understanding crime. As previously discussed, the observation that the distribution of crime varies within neighborhoods and is not spread evenly across areas has existed for a very long time. However, with the development of powerful computer hardware and software capable of carrying out sophisticated spatial analysis, crime analysts are now able to identify and track spatial concentrations of crime. Moreover, police reforms like Compstat revealed the strong linkages between spatial analyses of crime patterns and police operations meant to disrupt those patterns. Criminologists have also relied on spatial analysis tools to point out that much of the crime in a community is committed in a small number of criminogenic places.
The “units of analysis” in hot spots policing can vary dramatically in size. Hot spot zones can include very small areas (such as buildings or addresses, block faces, or street segments), or bigger units (such as clusters of addresses, block faces, or street segments). There are also several crime mapping techniques that can be used to identify and test for crime hot spots using various GIS software packages. Hot spots can also be displayed in varied formats, including point mapping and spatial ellipses. There is no universal standard for identifying and defining crime hot spots. Because of the technical nature of crime mapping, most hot spot analysis is performed by law enforcement analysts trained in Geographic Information Systems (GIS).
While some departments consider themselves doing “hot spot policing” as a strategy, this is probably not the best framework. A better framework is to consider the powerful tools of geospatial analysis as part of a larger, more comprehensive policing framework. Hot spots policing has been used within a variety of enforcement frameworks to control crime in problem areas, including order maintenance and drug enforcement crackdowns, increased gun searches and seizures, and zero-tolerance policing. These strategies have been categorized into two fundamentally different types of approaches.
The most basic approach relies primarily on traditional policing activities, such as vehicle patrols, foot patrols, or crackdowns concentrated at specific hot spots to prevent crime through general deterrence and increased risk of apprehension. The other approach, which is more closely aligned with innovative, modern best practices, is to use crime mapping within the context of police problem solving within the community policing context. This strategy is characterized by police-led efforts to change the underlying conditions at hot spots that lead to recurring crime problems. It requires police to look past traditional strategies and include other possible methods for addressing crime problems.
Focused Deterrence Strategies
Another strategy that concentrates police resources on high-impact crime precursors has been referred to as Focused Deterrence. These strategies, also referred to as “lever pulling policing,” target specific criminal behavior committed by a small number of chronic offenders who are vulnerable to sanctions and punishment. As a concrete set of police practices, the focused deterrence framework was first developed in Boston during the 1990s. Operation Ceasefire (Boston) was a problem-oriented policing project to stop serious gang violence by directly communicating to gang members that violence would no longer be tolerated, and backing up that message by “pulling every lever” legally available when violence occurred. At the same time, youth workers, probation and parole officers, and other community-based organizations offered services and resources to gang members.
Within this strategic framework, offenders are directly confronted by officers and informed that persistent criminal behavior will not be accepted. Targeted offenders are also told how the police (and prosecutors) will respond to continued criminal behavior; mainly that all potential sanctions (levers) will be applied. The theoretical basis of this policing strategy is Deterrence Theory. Deterrence theory can be thought of as a “carrot and stick” approach. In focused deterrence, the deterrence-based message is reinforced through crackdowns on offenders, or groups of offenders (such as gang members), who continue to commit crimes despite the warning. In addition to deterring violent behavior, the strategies also reward compliance and nonviolent behavior among targeted offenders by providing positive incentives, such as access to social services and job opportunities.
The intellectual heritage of this strategy can be traced back to the Utilitarian philosophers such as Jeremy Bentham. Modern deterrence theory posits (as did the early Utilitarian approaches) that crime can be prevented if potential offenders believe the costs of committing a crime outweigh the benefits. Three core concepts play an important role in deterrence theory: the certainty, severity, and swiftness (Bentham called this “celerity”) of punishment. In other words, the deterrent effects of crime prevention programs and policies are a function of a potential offender’s perceptions of the certainty, severity, and swiftness of punishment.
Focused deterrence strategies combine elements of classic deterrence with present-day elements thought to prevent crime. Focused deterrence strategies typically begin with an intense focus on particular types of crime and the chronic offenders most responsible for committing those crimes. (Historically, the most frequent target of focused deterrence strategies is gun violence). Focused deterrence strategies are often referred to as “pulling levers” strategies because they seek to apply every lever available, whether formal or informal, in deterring offenders. Unlike conventional deterrence strategies which may alter objective sanction risks, focused deterrence strategies seek to directly influence perceived sanction risks among offenders by communicating directly with them about the consequences of their actions.
An important part of altering perceived risks among offenders is administering sanctions swiftly so potential offenders can observe the immediate consequences of their actions. Finally, since many focused deterrence strategies target groups (like street gangs) rather than individuals, another key element is the idea of collective responsibility: holding all members of the group responsible for the actions of any individual member. Together, these program elements are intended to influence the perceived risk of sanctions among potential offenders, and in so doing changing their decisions about whether or not to carry out an offense.
The National Institute of Justice (NIJ) articulates several key practice components of focused deterrence:
- Selecting a particular crime problem (such as youth homicide);
- Convening an interagency working group that may include law enforcement, social service, and community-based practitioners;
- Developing a response to offenders or groups of offenders that uses a variety of sanctions (“pulling levers”) to stop continued violent behavior;
- Focusing on social services and community resources on target offenders to match the prevention efforts by law enforcement; and
- Directly and continually communicating with offenders to make them understand why they are receiving special attention
Neighborhood watch style programs have been known by many names, largely depending on the organization sponsoring them. Also known as block watch, apartment watch, home watch, and community watch, neighborhood watch programs involve citizens in efforts to prevent crime at the neighborhood or community level. The basic idea is that citizens remain alert for suspicious activities and report those activities to the police. The most frequent crime targeted is residential burglary, but other offences can be targeted as well, such as street robberies, car theft, and vandalism.
Since there are many different versions of neighborhood watch programs, specific elements tend to vary widely. However, three elements are common to most programs. The first is the “watch” component. Citizens are encouraged to vigilantly watch for suspicious activities and report those activities to the police. Perhaps the second most common strategy within the neighborhood watch framework is property marking. This element consists of neighborhood residents being encouraged to permanently mark personal property to indicate ownership. This “target hardening” strategy makes it harder for criminals to offload stolen goods.
Another common component of neighborhood watch programs is the home security survey. Residents are encouraged to evaluate their property for weaknesses (e.g., poor locks) that would allow easy access by offenders or obscure an offender’s entry (e.g., overgrown bushes near windows). Other components often include citizen patrols, educational programs for young people, victim support services, and increased police presence through foot patrols, bicycle patrols, or reserve/auxiliary units.
For most programs, a block or street captain is named, who in turn reports to the block coordinator. The block coordinator serves as a liaison between the program and the local police department. Funding for these programs varies considerably from program to program and from department to department. In many cases, participants receive only information from the police. In other cases, program participants are allowed access to police facilities for meetings and to produce newsletters.
Research has shown that the effectiveness of neighborhood watch programs is limited. This seems to be due to the reasons that such programs begin in the first place. Often, neighborhood residents want to start a watch program because of a rash of crimes, such as a series of residential burglaries. Once the problem is abated, participation starts to wane, often to the point that no one is participating. In other words, neighborhood watch programs are often a victim of their own success. This often ends such programs.
References and Further Reading
Clarke, Ronald V. (1999). Hot Products. Police Research Series. Paper 112. London: Home Office.
Clarke, Ronald V. & Eck, John E. (2005). Crime Analysis for Problem Solvers in 60 Small Steps.
Modification History File Created: 08/15/2018 Last Modified: 08/16/2018
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