• Center for Problem oriented policing

previous page next page

Understanding Your Local Problem

The information provided above is only a generalized description of theft in cafés and bars. 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.


In addition to criminal justice agencies, the following groups have an interest in the problem of theft in cafés and bars and should be considered for the contribution they might make to gathering information about the problem and responding to it:

  • Elected and appointed local government officials
  • Community planning organizations
  • Insurance companies
  • City planning agencies
  • Liquor licensing agencies
  • Cell phone companies
  • Agencies with an interest in identity theft
  • Chains of and independent cafés, coffee shops, and bars
  • Business associations and economic development organizations
  • College and university campuses

Asking the Right Questions

Following are some critical questions you should ask when analyzing your particular theft problem, even if the answers are not always readily available. Your answers to these and other questions will help you define and understand your local problem and choose the most appropriate set of responses later on.


  • Are incidents of theft in cafés and bars recorded in a way that aids analysis of your local problem?
  • Are there alternative administrative means of logging minor crime reports that might cause you to be unaware of them?
  • How much of the problem goes unreported or unrecorded?
  • What is stolen during thefts? Does this vary by time of day? Are identification cards "hot"? Do thieves discard certain items? If so, is it clear what they are targeting?
  • What is the financial value of recorded losses?
  • Are stolen ATM cards used post-offense? If so, how quickly are they used? Where are the ATMs that thieves use? Are they near offense locations?
  • What perpetrator techniques are common? Do they vary by venue type or location?
  • Is the theft of entire bags a substantial problem? If so, where were the bags placed (e.g., table, floor) when they were stolen?
  • Do cafés and bars themselves record incidents of theft? If so, are the data available?


  • Who is harmed by theft in cafés and bars (e.g., customers, business owners)?
  • Are there any noticeable patterns in victim demographics? Age? Gender? Occupation?
  • Are women at a greater risk than men?
  • Are particular individuals repeatedly victimized? If so, why?
  • At the time of theft, are victims intoxicated? Are they in large groups?
  • Are victims sitting or standing at the time of the offense?
  • In nightclubs, are victims on the dance floor at the time of the offense?
  • Are different types of items stolen from different types of victims (e.g., males and females, younger and older)?

Locations and Times

  • Are some types of venues riskier than others?§ Are certain venue chains riskier than others? Are particular venues repeatedly victimized?
  • How do high-risk facilities differ from low-risk venues? Are bags/items frequently left unattended? Is there a lack of secure storage? Are there few capable guardians empowered to act? Do they have a higher volume of patrons?
  • Are there spatial hotspots? Does the area have a feature, such as a large number of ATMs, that attracts thieves?§§
  • Are there spates of incidents at bars and cafés that are near each other?
  • Are there theft hotspots within cafés or bars (e.g., near the door or at the bar)? Why do thefts occur at these locations?
  • What type of clientele frequent risky locations (by time of day)? Workers? Shoppers? Students? Young people? Mixed groups?
  • When do most thefts occur (by time of day, etc.)? Is the timing related to the number (or crowding) of customers in the café or bar?§§§ Do patterns vary across different types of venues?
  • Are there local seasonal variations in the problem?
  • Are discarded (stolen) items routinely recovered at particular locations? For example, are they found in restrooms? If so, this may provide insight into the sequence of steps thieves take, which may inform crime reduction.

§ See Problem-Solving Tools Guide No. 6, Understanding Risky Facilities, for further information.

§§ Anecdotal evidence suggests that some thieves watch people at ATMs (sometimes referred to as shoulder surfing) to acquire their PIN number and then later attempt to steal their purse or wallet when, for example, they leave their bags unattended or in vulnerable locations in cafés and bars.

§§§ Smith et al. (2006) found that thefts in a chain of bars tended to occur when the bar was at around 60 percent capacity or above (as estimated by the victim), at around 6:00 p.m., and within 75 minutes of the victim visiting the bar. Where there are hot times, an increase in guardianship at that time of day is more likely to be effective than when the risk of crime is more uniform over the course of the day.


  • How many offenders work alone? How many co-offend? How do co-offenders work together? Why do they co-offend? (Arrested offenders are a good source of information, but they may differ from active offenders in important ways and may be reluctant to talk.)§
  • Do they prefer overt or covert methods of committing thefts?
  • Do the same offenders commit multiple crimes (are they repeat offenders)? If so, how prolific are they?

§ See Problem-Solving Tools Guide No. 3, Using Offender Interviews to Inform Police Problem Solving, for further information.

Current Responses

  • What types of storage facilities are available?
  • Is there an active registration scheme for cell phones? What proportion of stolen phones is registered?
  • What proportion of and types of items are recovered?
  • What proportion of offenses results in arrest?
  • Is lighting sufficient at high-crime venues?
  • What proportion of thefts is recorded on Closed Circuit Television (CCTV)? Do cameras cover venues' high-risk locations? Is the lighting at those locations adequate for identification purposes? Are cameras overt or covert?
  • Is anything being done to encourage patrons to secure bags and other items? Are patrons encouraged to avoid leaving bags unattended?
  • Does the establishment post signs advising patrons to guard personal property?
  • Is there any post-event advice or care for theft victims? How do staff respond to victims? Are door staff trained and expected to identify vulnerable property and suspicious persons?

Measuring Your Effectiveness

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 intended results. You should take measures of your problem before you implement responses to determine how serious the problem is, and after you implement them to determine whether they have been effective. All measures should be taken in both the target area and the surrounding and/or non-target area. For detailed guidance on measuring effectiveness, see Problem-Solving Tool Guide No. 1, Assessing Responses to Problems.

The types of data collected will depend on the particular problem to be addressed and the intervention(s) implemented. For example, if the aim of intervention is to change the way customers secure bags and other CRAVED goods, then in addition to measuring what was implemented (process measures) and any changes in theft rates (outcome measures), a useful intermediate outcome measure would be the degree to which changes have been observed in the way customers secure their property.

To measure potential success, you should establish the following measures.

Process Measures

  • What was implemented? Where, when, and with what intensity (e.g., how many CCTV cameras were installed)?
  • If staff training is part of the intervention, when did this occur? Were all staff trained? Was training repeated to accommodate staff turnover?
  • Which stakeholders were involved? Did they achieve specified objectives?
  • If publicity was used, what form did it take (e.g., news articles, venue-specific media)? How widely was it distributed?

Intermediate Outcome Measures

  • Increased use of storage facilities
  • Increased degree to which any publicity reached intended audiences (e.g., measured by a customer survey)
  • Fewer bags and CRAVED goods left unattended
  • Increased staff awareness of safe-storage practices and their involvement in crime reduction activity
  • Increased number of cell phones formally registered with authorities by café and bar patrons, where appropriate (see Responses to the Problem of Theft in Cafés and Bars)

Ultimate Outcome Measures

  • Fewer reports of theft in cafés and bars to police
  • Fewer reports of theft in cafés and bars to place managers (although this may increase if bar staff take the problem more seriously and record thefts more systematically)
  • Increased number of stolen goods recovered and/or returned to their owners
  • Decreased severity of incidents (e.g., stolen property less financially valuable)

Displacement and Diffusion§

  • Increased or decreased number of thefts at other facilities (crime may be displaced, leading to an increase in other areas or nearby venues)
  • More or fewer crimes of other types at the same facility
  • Displacement of perpetrator techniques or targets (different items stolen)
  • Changes to the spatial and temporal distribution of crime within the bar
  • Offender replacement—new offenders committing theft in bars and cafés.

§ For more detailed explanations on the concepts of displacement and diffusion, see Problem-Solving Tools Guide No. 1, Assessing Responses to Problems: An Introductory Guide for Police Problem-Solvers, and No. 10, Analyzing Crime Displacement and Diffusion.

previous page next page