Crime reduction toolkit for the security professional
The more professional you become the more complex your thinking and the less certain you are that you know everything!
There is a lot of talk at the moment about ‘professionalisation’. One of the things professionals are expected to know is ‘what works’. What is the research evidence telling them? The evidence of what works in policing is thin on the ground despite decades of research on crime and criminals.
At UCL we have just come to the end of a major project looking at what works in crime reduction. The conclusions are that nothing works everywhere; lots of things work somewhere; nothing happens just because someone said it should, and initiatives are sometimes expensive – but sometimes the same initiatives are free.
So where does this leave the security professional? Basically, there is no easy answer to the question of ‘what works?’. Security professionals, like other professional groups, need to know how initiatives might work, where and at what cost; they need to use their experience and judgement together with the lessons learned from continuous professional development courses and other training to develop their initiatives taking account of the local context and available budget.
To assist in this process, we worked with the UK College of Policing and developed a crime reduction toolkit for the professional (see http://whatworks.college.police.uk/toolkit/Pages/Toolkit.aspx), which looks at some of the many initiatives that are used to try to reduce crime.
To date, 45 initiatives are described there. In providing this research evidence the toolkit uses the acronym EMMIE – Effect (did it reduce crime?), Mechanism (how did it work?), Moderator (under what conditions or in what context?), Implementation (how was it implemented?) and Economics (at what cost?). Taking the information from the toolkit and combining it with experience should lead to more effective decisions.
Crime reduction toolkit for the professional
Of course, the toolkit can only report on research that is available and there is a real need for more and better studies. One of the systematic reviews that has recently been completed is on the tagging of goods in the retail environment. This provides a good example of the difficulties we had in this project. Much of the published research is quite old, and this matters in the fast-changing technological world. New tagging technologies are constantly being developed and many of them are evaluated in-house by major retailers, who don’t have the time to share their results even if they had the inclination. This meant that we had to contact selected retailers directly and try to find more recent studies that might provide evidence on the effects of tagging and, of course, the cost. The results suggest that overall it is better to tag items than not to tag them and (not surprisingly) conspicuous tags were better than inconspicuous tags.
However, there appear to be differences in the effectiveness of different types of tags depending on how they were presumed to work. Three mechanisms were proposed – the first refers to increases in the risk of detection where the tag includes an alarm component.
The second mechanism refers to reductions in rewards or denying the benefits to the offender, which happens when ink tags, for example, are used. The third mechanism relates to increase in the effort required by offenders to remove tags and circumvent the wider alarm system (in the case of EAS tags). It is plausible that the extra effort required to remove the tag (either in store or elsewhere) and/or circumvent the alarm system would be enough to deter some offenders from stealing tagged products.
So when deciding what kind of tags might work in your store, you need to think through how these various mechanisms might or might not ‘work’ for your target population of potential thieves.
CCTV crime reduction
We have far more information available on the effect of CCTV on crime reduction. As you will see from the toolkit, CCTV is found to be effective in reducing crime BUT you need to read the detail. There you will find that most of the effect comes from studies in car parks where CCTV really does seem to deter offenders. There is not much evidence that it is effective in reducing crime in other contexts. That does not, of course, mean that you should stop using it – CCTV may be helpful in assisting the police in detection, in managing police deployments on Friday and Saturday nights in town centres or in monitoring the movements of people in crowded spaces. The research results were solely concentrating on the effect of CCTV on crime reduction.
In summary, most of the research evidence on what works in crime reduction may not be surprising to the experienced practitioner – indeed we would need to worry if it were – but in an ideal world those initiatives that are introduced need to be based on reliable evidence, not just what it suits us to believe.
If I had a pound for every time I have heard someone say ‘I know exactly what the problem is and I know what to do about it’, I could retire tomorrow. The more professional you become, the more complex your thinking and the less certain you are that you know everything!
Gloria Laycock, OBE, Professor of Crime Science, UCL Jill Dando Institute