Center for Problem-Oriented Policing

Step 38: Embrace your key role at response

The first inclination of police, even when they have been involved in a detailed analysis of a problem, is to try to solve it by beefing up enforcement. You should expect this and not oppose it, even if the impact is usually short-lived. But from the beginning you should be helping your police colleagues find more permanent solutions. Local community partners could provide this help, but instead they often promote their own agendas and push solutions with limited impact. The result is often a compromise package of measures, none of which is effective, but each of which may satisfy one or other of the parties. In fact, the disagreements over solutions may lead to a loss of momentum and nothing may be properly implemented.

You can help to stop this from happening, but you must first become an expert on solutions. For example, if the problem is one of car theft, you must be able to speak authoritatively about the ineffectiveness of decoy vehicles or "lock your car" campaigns. If it is a burglary problem, you must know the results of research on burglar alarms or improved street lighting, both of which may be suggested as solutions. You should also be thoroughly familiar with findings on displacement, since innovative solutions are often blocked by knee-jerk invocations of this theory.

To become an expert on solutions you must know how to find out more about particular responses by undertaking rapid literature searches (Step 19). You must also become an expert on situational crime prevention, the science of reducing opportunities for crime. Situational prevention uses the same action-research methodology as problem-oriented policing and has dozens of evaluated successes to its credit. Much of the knowledge about displacement, diffusion of benefits, repeat victimization, and many other concepts discussed in this manual have been developed by situational prevention researchers. The next five steps discuss the 25 techniques of situational crime prevention, which fall into five main groups (see box). These are defined by what Nick Tilley of the University of Nottingham Trent in the U.K. calls the mechanism through which the techniques achieve their preventive effect: increasing the effort of crime, increasing the risks, reducing the rewards, reducing provocations and removing excuses.

At this point, you might be asking yourself why you should assume this responsibility for identifying solutions. Isn't it enough that you carry most of the burden at the scanning, analysis, and assessment stages? And even if you did take on this role, why should anyone pay attention to you? But to become a problem-solving analyst you must go beyond your traditional analytic function. You must become a full and equal member of the problem-solving team. You may be relatively junior, but your authority comes from your expert knowledge, not your position. People will listen if you make novel suggestions, or if you provide supporting evidence for other people's good ideas.

Twenty-Five Techniques of Situational Crime Prevention

Increase The Effort 1. Target harden
2. Control access to facilities
3. Screen exits
4. Deflect offenders
5. Control tools/weapons
Increase The Risks 6. Extend guardianship
7. Assist natural surveillance
8. Reduce anonymity
9. Use place managers
10. Strengthen formal surveillance
Reduce The Rewards 11. Conceal targets
12. Remove targets
13. Identify property
14. Disrupt markets
15. Deny benefits
Reduce Provocations 16. Reduce frustrations and stress
17. Avoid disputes
18. Reduce arousal and temptation
19. Neutralize peer pressure
20. Discourage imitation
Remove Excuses 21. Set rules
22. Post instructions
23. Alert conscience
24. Assist compliance
25. Control drugs and alcohol

Seven Criticisms of Situational Crime Prevention - and Rebuttals

Criticism Rebuttal
1. It is simplistic and atheoretical. It is based on three crime opportunity theories: routine activity, crime pattern, and rational choice. It also draws on social psychology.
2. It has not been shown to work; it displaces crime and often makes it worse. Many dozens of case studies show that it can reduce crime, usually with little displacement.
3. It diverts attention from the root causes of crime. It achieves immediate results and allows time for finding longer-term solutions to crime.
4. It is a conservative, managerial approach to the crime problem. It promises no more than it can deliver. It requires that solutions be economic and socially acceptable.
5. It promotes a selfish, exclusionary society. It provides as much protection to the poor as to the rich.
6. It promotes Big Brother and restricts personal freedoms. The democratic process protects society from these dangers. People are willing to endure inconvenience and small infringements of liberty when these protect them from crime.
7. It blames the victim. It empowers victims by providing them with information about crime risks and how to avoid them.

You should always opt for solutions that could bring a rapid reduction in the problem. This means that you must focus on the immediate, direct causes of a problem rather than the more distant, indirect ones. This important distinction has been developed by Paul Ekblom of the Home Office, and can be illustrated by the problem of bar fight injuries caused by broken bottles and glasses. Distant "root" causes might include racial discrimination producing a generation of disaffected minority youths, lack of local employment opportunities resulting in widespread social exclusion, and the premium placed on a "tough" reputation in a deprived and lawless community. More immediate, situational causes might include irresponsible serving practices promoting drunkenness in local bars and taverns, and the immediate availability of bottles and glasses that can easily be used as deadly weapons.

Rapid and sustained reductions in crime can only result from addressing situational causes; addressing root causes, even if we knew what to do about them, can only pay off in the comparatively distant future - long after the current stakeholders have any remaining interest in the problem. Meanwhile, unless the immediate causes are dealt with, broken glasses and bottles will continue to claim victims.

Some situational solutions can also take a long time to implement. For example, the danger posed by glasses and bottles could be addressed by legislation requiring bars and taverns to use only toughened glasses and bottles that disintegrate into crumbs when broken. This would probably take years to accomplish. Much more realistic would be to bring community pressure to bear on local taverns to serve beer only in toughened or plastic glasses and to refuse to sell bottles at the bar. This ought to be achievable in a much shorter time. You might have a particular analytic role in promoting this solution by assembling data about the likely costs for the pubs and the reduced costs of injuries and emergency care. In fact, it will probably fall to you (who else?) to collect data about the feasibility, costs and the public acceptability of any of the measures that are being seriously considered by the problem-solving partnership.

The bottom line is that you must acquire knowledge of a broad range of solutions, and be prepared to fight for good ideas, if your careful analytic work is to bear fruit.

Read More

  • Clarke, Ronald (1997). Situational Crime Prevention: Successful Case Studies (2nd ed.). Monsey, NY: Criminal Justice Press.
  • Von Hirsch, Andrew, David Garland and Alison Wakefield (2000). Ethical and Social Perspectives on Situational Crime Prevention. Oxford: Hart Publishing.