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All the information provided above constitutes only a generalized description of stolen goods markets. You must combine the basic facts with a more specific understanding of your local problem. Analyzing the local problem carefully will help you design a more effective response strategy.
To understand the dynamics of the stolen goods markets in your own area, interview known offenders and informants.§ It is important to talk with those who steal, sell, deal, and use stolen property, as well as those who might know about them. See Appendix B for a sample offender interview relating to stolen goods markets. You should routinely solicit the following groups for information:
§ See Problem-Solving Tools Guide No. 3, Using Offender Interviews to Inform Police Problem Solving, for further guidance.
You should also ensure that the general public can easily and confidentially report suspicious activity related to stolen goods to the police.50
Evaluation of the Market Reduction Approach in England found that reviewing old case files and interviewing officers in the field can also reveal intelligence about offenders and fencing hot spots.51, §§
§§ You can analyze qualitative data about stolen goods market locations and operators using qualitative research software.
Where possible, you should analyze at least a few years' worth of such data, because this will reduce the likelihood of making strategic decisions based on temporary and uncharacteristic data peaks or troughs.52 In addition, you should analyze crime location data for fencing incidents using crime pattern analysis techniques on geographic information system software.
The importance of both quantitative and qualitative analysis of the kind recommended here cannot be overstressed if scarce resources are to be best deployed where they are most likely to be effective. And the SARA model of problem solving (Scanning, Analysis, Response and Assessment) should be used in order to reach the right solution to your particular theft problem.
The kind of research outlined above may not be possible for police officers facing competing demands for their time. This particular expertise/time not available risk factor should be analyzed very early on in the planning and design of your stolen goods market reduction initiative. Possible solutions to this, if it is a foreseeable problem, may be to work in formal partnership with freelance academics or some other kind of crime analysis unit such as in university, police or government departments.
The best solution to a local stolen goods problem may not be the most immediately feasible and intuitive one, but may instead come as a unique breakthrough borne of complex and painstaking analysis.
In addition to local criminal justice agencies, the following groups have an interest in the stolen goods trading problem, and you should consider the contribution they might make to gathering information about the problem and responding to it:
§ See www.e-victims.org
The following are some critical questions you should ask in analyzing your particular stolen goods markets problem, even if the answers are not always readily available. Your answers to these and other questions will help you choose the most appropriate set of responses later on. Some of these questions can be answered only through in-depth interviews with thieves. It is important to note that these questions should be asked before new anti-fencing initiatives begin and then again once they have had a chance to bite. By way of example, after an anti-fencing initiative, any recorded falls in theft, accompanied by (1) a decrease in perceptions of ease of selling and buying among offenders (2) and/or increases in risks and decreases in the perception of the rewards of selling and buying stolen goods, would indicate that it is the police operations that have had the desired effect on falling theft levels rather than some other cause. Such measures are most important in finding out what works in reducing stolen goods markets and when seeking to attribute causes to falling theft figures. Similarly, such qualitative data may also explain increases in theft levels if offenders reveal the existence of new buoyant markets for stolen goods.
§ See Problem-Specific Guide No. 58, Theft of Scrap Metal, for further information.
Tips for Understanding Local Stolen Goods Markets
- Interview a sample of people who work in the wholesale and retail goods sectors. Without talking about crime, find out how and why goods are rejected by or shipped away from the retail stores that originally bought them, and where they end up.
- Map possible stolen goods market hot spots. Discuss with colleagues, informants, offenders, ex-offenders and other experts such as government officials or criminologists why certain areas might be conducive to stolen goods markets.
- Photograph store signs in your jurisdiction that seem to invite thieves to sell stolen goods there. Again, discuss with crime experts of the type listed above.§
- Conducting representative surveys of theft victims and of the general public at the county, city or town level is expensive, is time-consuming, and due to the specific characteristics of local crime problems offers little useful information for local initiatives.
§ These tips are modified from Felson (2002).
Measurement allows you to determine to what degree your efforts have succeeded, and suggests how you might modify your responses if they are not producing the intended results. You should take measures of your crime problem before you implement responses, to determine how serious the problem is, and after you implement them, to determine whether they have been effective. You should take all measures in both the target area and the surrounding area. A longer time frame is usually necessary for measuring the impact of responses to stolen goods markets.54 For more-detailed guidance on measuring effectiveness, see Problem-Solving Tools Guide No. 1, Assessing Responses to Problems.
Although seeking to reduce theft, burglary, and robbery by reducing the stolen goods markets that motivate thieves is a simple and compellingly logical idea, the reality is more complex. Stolen goods markets are remarkably adaptable to efforts to close them down. Goals are often difficult to achieve, and even if positive results are achieved, they can be hard to measure with certainty.55 It is important therefore to set achievable, measurable goals.
The following are potentially useful measures of the effectiveness of responses to stolen goods markets. These measures are divided into two groups: those that measure the impact on the problem (outcome measures), and those that measure your agency's responses to the problem (process measures).
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