Study Tries to Disrupt Burglary Pattern
If a burglary has occurred near your house within the week, your home is at an elevated risk for crime.
This is a phenomenon known as Near Repeat, and policing and research experts recently collaborated on a program to prevent it.
The consequent study just won the Redlands Police Department the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) Excellence in Law Enforcement Research Award.
Dr. Travis Taniguchi was a research criminologist with the RPD when he and Dr. Liz Groff (Temple University) had the idea in 2012.
They had been talking about Near Repeats, and how, at least in the United States, there had not been good implementation of crime prevention around the area of burglarized homes.
Research indicates, that, once that burglary happens, homes in the area surrounding the crime are at higher risk of being burglarized in future, and yet there were no plans to use that information to prevent it.
The study, which was conducted in the city of Redlands, Ca., and in Baltimore County, Md., relied on an existing force of trained law enforcement volunteers.
The volunteers were receptive to this. It worked through their enthusiasm and dedication, that’s really what got it done.
They went to addresses within a 500-foot radius of the previous day’s burglary and conducted crime prevention activities.
They told residents there had been a crime, gave tips on securing property, and told them what to do if they became a victim of a crime and how to reach out to police if a crime occurs.
The point is to get out there quickly to reduce the risk of future burglary.
If there’s going to be another burglary in the area, it typically happens within a week.
The goal was to break up the pattern of events that might happen.
Not only did we educate residents and give out crime prevention fliers, we were a visible presence. We were having conversations with people.
The volunteers had uniforms with badges, in a car clearly marked “Police.” People knew it was a trustworthy agent coming to the door.
We worried the community might feel more fearful if we told them what happened in their neighborhood. They did not.
Instead it had a wonderful consequence. It enrolled the public in the “co-production of public safety.” The idea of co-production in public safety is important and often overlooked, but having the public engaged in preventing crime is really key. Police can’t do it alone.
This was the first systematic test of a policing strategy designed to disrupt the near-repeat pattern of residential burglary.
We hoped to show that Near Repeat residential burglary decreased among homes in the experimental program during the high-risk period.
The results did not show a difference in Near Repeat crime instances between the experiment homes and the control homes, but there were positive takeaways.
We got a lot of people who might not have thought about securing their home to do so. And the community really liked this program. It opened up a new channel of communication. People called when they saw the door hanger and it started a good and important conversation.
Every opportunity we have to engage the community is a good thing. Sometimes a caller would say, “Hey, I wasn’t going to call, but since I have you on the phone, there’s a suspicious car on my street.”
Also, volunteers really felt like they were out there doing something tangible in their community. Getting out and interacting was valuable.
Policing is a people business. We thrive best when we get to talk to people.
And if you train and vet a volunteer, you want to retain him, like an employee. You want them to be happy. You have to give them what they perceive to be meaningful work to do. That was a huge positive for us.
The next step is to replicate the test. We need to do another study at least before we say the program doesn’t reduce near repeats. These were not strong enough tests.
The challenge of doing rigorous scientific research in a community the size of Redlands is that sometimes there isn’t enough crime to overcome a statistical requirement to meet the goal of “rigorous” scientific evaluation. In Baltimore County, there was as different challenge in that there were are not enough resources to do more than one address a day in the treatment area.
We need to find more high-volume police departments to test this. This is how policing will advance the notion of “evidence based policing.” This is the idea that the police should use the best available rigorous science to inform their crime control strategies. Generally, the police have extremely limited resources.
It is vitally important that they focus on the strategies that science shows are effective and limit their involvement with those proven not to work. Resources aren’t growing. We have to maximize what we have. At its most basic level, evidence based policing is a force multiplier for the police.
One more takeaway: the program establishes police-community relations we really need right now.
We’re confident suggesting it’s a good thing to do.
Cmdr. Chris Catren has been a police officer with the Redlands Police Department in Redlands, Ca. since 1994. He started his career with the department as a crime analyst in 1993.
This essay is part of a series published by the The Police Foundation, the nation’s oldest think tank committed to advancing policing.