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Responses to the Problem of Street Robbery

Once you have analyzed your local problem and established a baseline for measuring effectiveness, you should consider possible responses to address the problem. The following responses provide a foundation of ideas for addressing your particular street robbery problem. We have drawn these responses from a variety of research studies and police reports. Several of them might reduce the number of street robberies in your community. It is critical that you tailor responses to local circumstances, and that you can justify each response based on reliable analysis of your local conditions. In most cases, an effective strategy will involve implementing several different responses. Law enforcement responses alone are seldom effective in creating sustainable reductions in street robberies, although they can, in some circumstances, produce short-term reductions.37

Do not limit yourself to considering what police can do: carefully consider whether others in your community share responsibility for the problem and can help police better respond to it. In some cases, your agency may need to shift the responsibility to those who can implement more-effective responses. For example, clearing a vacant lot of overgrown trees may be the most effective response to reducing the number of hiding places for offenders. In such a case, a nonpolice agency such as the city planning department must do most of the work in carrying out the response. For more-detailed information on shifting and sharing responsibility, see Response Guide No. 3, Shifting and Sharing Responsibility for Public Safety Problems.

Many have written about robbery, but there are very few careful evaluations of interventions against stranger-perpetrated street robbery. Much of what we recommend here is based on information from other nonevaluative research and from informed judgments about what will likely prove effective.

General Considerations for an Effective Response Strategy

You should tailor your responses to street robbery problems as specifically as possible to the particular types of street robbery occurring in your jurisdiction. General robbery-reduction strategies are less likely to be effective.

Any comprehensive intervention should address at least two sides of the street robbery triangle: offender, victim and location (see Figure 1). Addressing more than one side of the triangle ensures that you modify at least some of the opportunities robbers exploit. In addition, it helps build in some redundancy, so that if one part of the intervention fails, then other parts of the intervention can still operate.

A comprehensive intervention should address multiple stages in the robbery process, particularly the earlier two stages (see Figure 2). This provides a layered approach that increases the likelihood the intervention will work.

Situational crime prevention provides multiple ways to influence offender decision-making (see www.popcenter.org).38 A comprehensive intervention should take advantage of several methods to discourage offenders.

Collaborative initiatives involving multiple partner agencies and organizations are often more effective than police efforts alone. Several of the responses mentioned below require partnerships among multiple agencies. Be sure, though, that collaborations have clear leadership, goals and management.

Specific Responses to Street Robbery

We have organized the following specific responses to street robbery around the robbery triangle. We have also classified them by whether they have their influence long before, just before, during, or after a robbery. For example, providing emergency call boxes (blue lights) on campuses helps victims, but only after a robbery. By contrast, educating college students about displaying valuables influences potential victims long before a possible robbery.

Offender-Oriented Responses

1. Deploying visible foot/vehicle directed patrols (just before, during and after). Directed patrols appear to greatly deter street robbers and reduce street robbery (see sidebar for an example). Directed patrols might work best as part of a robbery task force. The task force should be proactive, should be highly visible, should focus only on reducing street robberies, and should not handle service calls unrelated to robbery. You should use detailed crime analysis to station patrols at robbery hot spots and hot times. Directed patrols should be just one part of a larger initiative that focuses on other street-robbery aspects. For example, you might combine directed foot patrols with a robbery awareness program, a media campaign covering the patrols and the installation of CCTV cameras. Finally, you should not consider crackdown techniques, like directed patrols, a long-term strategy because these responses' impact is often temporary (see Response Guide No. 1, The Benefits and Consequences of Police Crackdowns).

Hull's Anti-Robbery Patrols

Researchers analyzed high-visibility foot patrols in the city of Hull between April 2000 and March 2001. These highvisibility patrols consisted of 12 additional public-order foot patrol officers at specific high-robbery times (Friday and Saturday nights). One of the purposes of these high-visibility patrols was to deter potential offenders. Compared with the previous year, robbery fell by 16 percent during the year of the initiative. Further, a 5 percent increase occurred across the police force and a 15 percent increase occurred in the United Kingdom as a whole for the same period. Hull police used this type of directed patrol to keep the city center safe in general.

Source: Jones B. and Tilley N., 2004.

2. Using covert directed patrols. In some cases, it is possible to use both covert (i.e., "not openly shown") directed patrols and overt directed patrols to deter and catch offenders. U.K. police combined these strategies to reduce robbery at underground stations.39 First, London's Metropolitan Police deployed highly visible uniformed officers in the streets surrounding the target area to deter potential offenders. Second, plainclothes officers both targeted observed known robbery suspects and responded to robberies as they occurred. Overall, this strategy increased the number of people charged with street robbery by 30 percent after one year.40

3. Using intelligence to target repeat robbers (long before). Your agency can gather intelligence to reduce street robbery in several ways. First, your agency could work with other organizations to build "intelligence databases" to learn more about repeat street robbers and their patterns. Ideal databases might include arrest data, probation and parole information, surveillance and CCTV footage, and hot-spot maps. Operation Eagle Eye,41 a U.K. robbery reduction strategy, used an intelligence database called "CRIMINT." The database included several layers of data used to create suspect and target profiles. In addition, CRIMINT could map offenders' robberies and play surveillance footage. You need to consider the additional training officers will need to use intelligence databases. Your agency could work with a local IT organization to create a database and train users. However, to avoid the potential for civil liability, check with your legal team before using this response.

Second, you could also gather street robbery intelligence by examining other robbery-related crimes.42 For instance, investigations into theft or drug rings could reveal useful information about street robbery.

Third, you could pay informants to gather intelligence on offenders not yet known to police, popular target search areas, and products that robbers seek (such as MP3 players and mobile phones).43 Informants could also help your agency identify repeat robbers through network analysis (e.g., diagrams of offender associations). Network analysis could also reveal the individuals or groups robbers use to dispose of stolen items.44

4. Disrupting stolen goods markets (long before). Police do not usually consider disrupting stolen goods markets as a way to reduce street robbery.45 This strategy, however, may make sense when street robbers often take valuable noncash items. Street robbers have several options for handling stolen goods: they can sell the items to known fences or friends, use the items themselves, trade the items for drugs, or give the items away.46 Depending on offenders' levels of sophistication, they may also use the Internet to sell stolen goods (e.g., via eBay and Craigslist). Your agency could work with local business owners, neighborhood groups, residents, or informants familiar with the community to identify potential groups or networks related to these transactions.47

Your agency could also increase the risks and reduce the rewards of selling stolen items by focusing investigative attention on transporting, storing or selling them. Furthermore, you could work with consumers to register/mark valuable items to reduce the rewards of using stolen goods markets. For instance, U.K. police and mobile phone companies have teamed up to address stolen mobile phones. When someone reports a registered phone as stolen, the phone company blocks it within 48 hours, making it unusable. They also launched a marketing campaign to inform the public about this program. See Problem-Specific Guide No. 57, Stolen Goods Markets, for further information.

5. Publishing photos of known robbers (long before). This strategy might deter repeat robbers if police place photos in areas where robbers spend a lot of time. Posting photos would probably work best if you put them on robbery-specific "WANTED" posters (rather than posters including various crime types). Your agency should pursue legal advice before publishing offender photos.

6. Improving robber identification methods (after). Agencies are no longer limited to relying on stationary CCTV cameras to identify offenders. Technology advances have improved robber identification. Some innovative identification methods include the following.

  • PCFax:48 PCFax is a computerized system that scans and transmits printable body maps/images.
  • DNA and forensic kits: Officers who arrive first at robbery scenes use these tools to collect any contact materials while they are still fresh.49
  • Mobile robbery units: These vehicles pick up victims and process the scene immediately. Police drive victims around the area, and they provide information on-site.
  • Facial recognition systems: The U.K.'s Metropolitan Police use a system called "Video Sentry." They placed cameras in fixed locations near hot spots.
  • Mobile CCTV: You could install this system in an unmarked vehicle placed at different locations or in mobile units. Compared with the previous years, over six months this system reduced street robbery by 20 percent reduction in one hot spot.50 Police have also used mobile CCTV for intelligence-gathering and prosecution evidence. In fact, witnesses can better positively identify offenders from video than from lineups. 51

7. Diverting potential offenders to legitimate activities (long before). Some options include drug/alcohol counseling, employment services, education, and purposeful activity (e.g., youth groups and athletic programs) for young offenders. You could use post-arrest information to determine the best diversion tactic for specific offenders. One street robbery program in England52 used this information and found that 85 percent of offenders robbed to support drug addictions. Accordingly, police created the Drug Arrest Referral Scheme (DARS) with a drug counselor (DARS employee).53 Providing employment services could also divert potential offenders. One study, however, revealed that only one-third offenders said they would stop robbing if given a decent job.54

Your agency could also work with local schools to establish programs for young offenders who "rob out of boredom" or as part of a gang initiation. Furthermore, your agency could work with parks and recreation departments to develop additional after-school activities to divert young offenders.

8. Using probation and parole information to target repeat offenders (long before). Probation and parole officers can notify your agency when detention centers release repeat robbers into the community. You can use this information to launch other offender-based strategies (e.g., directed patrols, covert operations and published offender photos) that hinge on knowing repeat offenders' whereabouts. You could also use probation and parole information to process repeat robbers after arrest. For instance, you could flag an offender's record as "high priority" so prosecutors and judges know the offender is a repeat robber and part of a robbery reduction strategy.55, §

§ This strategy of getting buy-in from prosecutors and judges is similar to the Cincinnati Initiative To Reduce Violence and other Operation Ceasefire initiatives.

9. Removing robbery "tools" (long before). Offenders commonly use weapons as a "tool" in many street robberies. Street robbers, however, can't always get real guns and opt for fake or replica guns. If this is part of your community's street robbery problem, your agency could work with local retailers to stop or regulate the sale of authentic-looking toy guns. One Minneapolis (Minnesota) group asked a local K-Mart to stop selling replica guns offenders used in some street robberies. In response to publicity and the Minneapolis Police Department's request, K-Mart stopped selling the fake guns.56 To avoid losing profits, some retailers might resist this strategy.

Victim-Oriented Responses

10. Launching a robbery awareness campaign (long before). Some pedestrians might not accurately perceive the risk of street robbery. You could develop and hold information seminars reminding people to keep possessions well hidden and to remain alert to their surroundings (e.g., avoid speaking on cell phones and listening to MP3 players outdoors). In addition, your agency could create a website with interactive maps showing safe routes and destinations.

Your campaign could also enlist local media. Police in England, for instance, worked with radio stations to broadcast crime-related interviews.57 These interviews enabled concerned citizens to speak with police about local crime issues. The same agency also worked with the local government council to install crime prevention displays at recreation places and libraries. Finally, they distributed safety leaflets among residents and held Community Safety Days to promote robbery awareness and safe behavior.58

Awareness campaigns succeed more when they target people directly at risk of the problem (see Response Guide No. 5, Crime Prevention Publicity Campaigns). For instance, if the problem involves a particular group's routines, then the campaign should focus on that group and not on other groups. General public-safety campaigns targeting the larger community prove generally ineffective, as the problem doesn't affect most people, and the few whom the problem does affect overlook the message before they need to apply it.

11. Providing safe transportation (long before). Providing safe and easily accessible transportation from entertainment districts, bars or special events can reduce the number of suitable targets on the street at peak robbery times and days. The University of Cincinnati (UC), for instance, offers a shuttle service that picks up and drops off students from nearby entertainment venues. UC also provides an escort service for students walking to and from class or to other on- and off-campus destinations.59 Furthermore, many cities provide reduced-price or free transportation during holiday celebrations when normally safe areas could be riskier. This strategy helps remove more vulnerable, and potentially drunken, people from the streets.

12. Improving how victims report robberies (after). The faster someone reports a robbery to your agency, the faster your agency can respond, and the better your chances are of collecting useful evidence, identifying suspects and uncovering current offender information.60 Using mobile robbery units improves information collection and encourages quicker reporting. When using this response, you must ensure that dispatchers immediately inform patrolling officers of the street crimes victims report to local stations, which dispatchers often don't do.61

Making reporting procedures easy for victims also can improve the likelihood of victims' reporting their victimization. Operation Eagle Eye used several tactics to improve victims' willingness to report robberies by encouraging involvement and providing help. First, the program automatically referred all robbery victims to a victim support group. Second, police advised victims of any developments in the investigation. (This tactic may benefit those areas where police-community relations are weak. Community members may be more willing to provide information if they believe police will follow through with a robbery report.) Police allowed victims to use pseudonyms when giving accounts to ensure anonymity in reporting and protection from retaliation. Finally, encouraging victims to report crimes committed against them will help you collect the data needed to analyze specific robbery problems. This step can provide your agency with a clearer picture of when, where and how robberies occur in your community.

13. Reducing target attractiveness (just before). Your agency could deal with "hot products" (e.g., CRAVED items) that make some people more attractive to street robbers. The Home Office, for instance, has launched several campaigns to reduce thefts from youth by encouraging them to keep cell phones concealed. For example, MP3 players may come with white or other brightly colored leads, making users obvious to potential robbers. Using a dark-colored lead, however, might reduce a target's attractiveness by preventing offenders from detecting the device from a distance.62 Concealing CRAVED items to reduce target attractiveness could also increase robbers' efforts.63

14. Reducing intoxication in high-risk areas (long before and just before). Street robbers might perceive drunken people as lacking awareness, making them more vulnerable to attack. Therefore, this response is likely most appropriate in "night life" areas where people drink. Your agency could work with entertainment venues and bars to better monitor serving practices. For instance, you could encourage bar staff to stop serving obviously drunken patrons. Or, like in the Bristol Anti-Robbery Strategy, local council members could arrange taxi and night bus services from bars to reduce the risk of student robbery (see response No. 11).64

15. Rewarding awareness and safety (long before). You could improve participation in robbery interventions by providing incentives beyond personal safety. In England, for example, anti-robbery advice cards were printed with coupons on the back. These cards were a useful tool for encouraging students to participate in their own safety. Incentives could include discounts at local hangouts or on textbooks.65 People could also earn coupons after completing a robbery education program. Regardless of the incentive, the idea is to make receiving robbery safety information attractive.

16. Redesigning certain CRAVED items (long before). Since robbers often take cash or other items not always observable before an attack, marking property might do little to reduce their anticipated rewards. However, when robbers steal items for personal use or resale, manufacturers could design Internet-dependent electronic items to stop working or become less functional once reported stolen. For example, robbers might not steal MP3 players knowing they can't connect the devices online or upload new files. This strategy would work best if people knew certain items had security enhancements. Redesigning products, however, is likely costly for manufacturers and suggests that owning their products is risky.

17. Making senior citizens less vulnerable. If offenders disproportionately rob your community's senior citizens, you could tailor responses specific to their needs. Your agency could work with senior citizen groups in your community. For example, numerous branches of the TRIAD program currently exist throughout the United States. The National Sheriff's Association, the International Association of Chiefs of Police and the American Association of Retired Persons developed TRIAD to increase awareness of crimes against senior citizens, sponsor crime safety programs and connect senior citizens with local law enforcement. The website for the Central Kane County, IL., TRIAD branch, for instance, provides information about transportation services and posts dates for upcoming personal safety events. Improving transportation might help senior citizens avoid having to walk through high-risk areas, while safety events could provide them with tips for reducing their risk of robbery.§

§ For more information on TRIAD branches, see www.kanecountytriad.com/index.html.

18. Making immigrants less vulnerable. Robbers often target immigrants because they carry a lot of cash instead of depositing it into a bank account. Your agency could work with community social and cultural agencies to educate and help immigrants so they can avoid robbery. For example, when robberies of the Charlotte, N.C., Hispanic population increased, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department created the International Relations Unit. This multiagency unit held monthly meetings (with Spanish speakers) with the Hispanic community and built relationships between the financial and Hispanic communities, while also educating Hispanics with crime prevention literature.66

Location-Oriented Responses

19. Removing hiding spots (long before and after). You might find it useful to work with city planners and sanitation services to remove overgrowth and trash from vacant lots that could provide cover to street robbers. Similarly, your agency could work with building inspectors to either demolish or board up abandoned buildings that could provide cover to an offender before and after a robbery. Certain legitimate locations, such as parks, might also provide hiding spots for street robbers. Therefore, your agency could work with the parks department to either close access to high-risk routes or close the park during peak robbery times and days. See Problem-Specific Guide No. 9, Dealing With Crime and Disorder in Urban Parks.

20. Increasing lighting at high-risk sites (long before). Increasing lighting could decrease the risk of street robbery. Improved lighting was one part of the Home Office's Safer Cities Program.67 Specifically, police used improved lighting in conjunction with CCTV and target- hardening measures (e.g., access control). The lighting intervention included controlling lights via infrared heat detectors and using stationary lights on businesses and homes. No one has yet evaluated the Safer Cities Program. This response is more likely to be effective if your agency can install lighting at street robbery hot spots that are especially risky at night. Finally, if lights are already present at such areas, you should have their brightness assessed and increased, if needed. Researchers have conducted other studies of lighting and crime in parking garages, residential neighborhoods and markets, for example. However, the majority of these studies often examine "personal or property crimes," rather than focus specifically on street robbery.68 See Response Guide No. 8, Improving Street Lighting to Reduce Crime in Residential Areas, for further information.

21. Installing CCTV (long before and after). Installing CCTV to reduce crime is most promising if you can identify reliable hot spots.69 Once you identify them, you should regularly analyze them (either daily or weekly) to assess any changes at those locations.70 You could also improve your CCTV strategy by adding signs at the locations notifying the public to be on guard and warning would-be offenders that cameras are in use.71 Your agency might need to work with place managers to install CCTV if offenders are robbing people going to and from their establishments. Using CCTV to reduce street robberies might be challenging because offenses occur in public (e.g., on the street).

CCTV might prevent street robbery long before a potential offense, but you can also use to address a robbery's aftermath. For instance, police could use CCTV footage as evidence in street robbery cases.72 Furthermore, local police and media could use images to identify, locate and apprehend street robbers. See Response Guide No. 4, Video Surveillance of Public Places, for further information.

22. Increasing pedestrian density near risky places (long before and just before). Recall that street robbery usually occurs in "critical-intensity zones," where there are sufficient pedestrians to make robbery attractive, but not enough pedestrians to protect one another.73 Accordingly, increasing pedestrian density might reduce street robberies because targets are better guarded and the risk of apprehension is high (this may not be true for pickpocketing). You could increase pedestrian density by rerouting pedestrian traffic during high-risk robbery times and days.

23. Removing escape routes (long before and after). Robbers often look for easy escape routes.74 You could solicit city planners or place managers to increase the effort needed to escape from certain locations after committing a robbery. For example, a bar owner could install fencing around the bar's parking lot or block adjacent alleys. These obstructions might eliminate shortcuts that provide robbers with a quick and uncomplicated getaway.

24. Increasing site-specific robbery awareness (just before). You could use posters and billboards at high-risk locations, such as ATM machines, transportation stops and entertainment districts, to make people aware of safety near robbery hot spots, For example, U.K. police bought and posted four high-profile signs in robbery hot spots. The signs read as follows: "Robbery is a crime of concern in the city of Gloucester. For your safety and security, plain-clothed police officers and mobile CCTV cameras may be deployed in this area."75 Not only do such signs alert victims just before a robbery, but also they can deter potential offenders. Your agency could also encourage local bars and restaurants to provide safety information on menus or drink coasters. Increasing robbery awareness at specific sites might be less expensive and require less planning than broad education campaigns.

25. Installing emergency call stations (just before and after). Many colleges and universities have installed victim call stations on their campuses. These stations are equipped with emergency lights and telephones directly linked to campus police. Just before victimization, people might be able to quickly contact the police. In turn, police could identify the victim's exact location. Therefore, call stations could deter potential robbers or help police apprehend a robber shortly after the offense. You might apply this campus strategy to your community's robbery hot spots. Once your agency has identified high-risk locations, you could install call stations directly linked to your department.

Routine-Oriented Responses

26. Improving special event planning (long before). It is important for your community to consider safety when planning special holiday events, festivals or other occasions that draw large crowds. You could prevent street robberies of event-goers by routing them away from unsafe areas or providing warnings about intoxication and robbery risk. You should provide special training on responsible serving practices at events where people serve alcohol. Finally, you could use police foot patrols or hired security officers to provide guardianship near event edges (e.g., robbery zones). Strategies that emphasize crime and safety at special events could dissuade would-be event-goers. Therefore, it might be best to publicize affirmative safety tips for event attendees rather than dire warnings about the robbery risk.

27. Planning for holiday shopping (long before). Retail stores and other shopping venues are usually concentrated in certain areas. Therefore, people at risk of street robbery while holiday shopping are likely restricted to a limited number of areas in your community—that is, where the stores are. Therefore, you can launch a highly directed safety strategy to protect holiday shoppers. For instance, you could post signs in a shopping area cautioning shoppers to stay alert and aware of their surroundings, money and property. While this strategy has the advantage of being confined to a very specific area (which could help reduce costs), it likely has no effect on shoppers once they leave the shopping area. For example, street robbers could target shoppers as they take gifts from their parked cars to their homes.

28. Notifying parents just before the school year starts. As mentioned, the beginning of the school year marks a time when many youths converge upon a specific area carrying various CRAVED items (e.g., new electronics and clothes). School administrators could notify parents (by mail or email) that robbers view these students as attractive targets. These messages should encourage parents to work with children to reduce their target attractiveness (e.g., to conceal possessions when traveling to school and map out safe routes). School administrators could apply similar strategies to reduce robberies associated with daily school routines (e.g., starting and dismissal times).

29. Providing safe routes during construction. Your agency could work with builder associations to plan construction detour routes through low-risk robbery areas—for example, walkways with sufficient pedestrian density and minimal escape routes. Furthermore, your agency could encourage construction firms to dispose of debris and other construction materials that prospective robbers could use as weapons.

30. Encouraging businesses to use alternative pay methods. Requiring employees to enroll in direct deposit programs or mailing paychecks could reduce street robberies of workers paid in cash.

Responses With Limited Effectiveness

31. Using police decoys. Decoy operations are another form of covert directed patrol. Decoy operations involve undercover police officers' posing as potential victims in high-robbery areas. Backup officers are positioned nearby to intervene if robbers attack the decoys. There are no reliable evaluations of whether decoy operations reduce crime, even if they produce many arrests. A major limitation of this strategy is the risk it poses to decoy officers. In addition, this type of operation can be costly and time-consuming.76 To avoid these risks, placing decoy or "dummy" police vehicles at hot spots might deter some offenders.77

32. Arming potential victims. Resistance to robbery appears to have beneficial results, on average.78 Therefore, it is possible that arming potential victims with chemical sprays, electric shocking devices (e.g., Tasers) or guns may reduce robberies. However, the research on this topic is inconclusive, contradictory and controversial. Further, it is possible that offenders could escalate violence, making a bad situation worse. In addition, it is possible that potential victims might attack nonoffenders whom they mistakenly view as a threat.

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