Monday, December 24, 2007

Proactive policing

Last Thursday, Capt. Kim Koluch, who commands our Southeast Team, handed me a Lincoln Police Department Problem-Oriented Policing Project Summary. I was on my way out the door at the time, to a speaking engagement at the Lincoln Chapter of the Association of Information Technology Professionals.

The POP Project Summary gave me a great example to demonstrate how we use information and analysis to inform good police work. At our November 21st ACUDAT meeting, we had discussed a rash of burglaries occurring at apartment complexes, with entry through sliding glass doors. In many of these, the simple expedient of a broomstick in the track would have prevented the burglary. Capt. Koluch's team was already on top of this trend before the meeting, and three of her officers had initiated a POP Project two days earlier. It had just concluded when Capt. Koluch handed me the summary.

In the parking lot of the restaurant where the AITP meeting was being held, I cracked open my laptop, and used CrimeView to make a year-to-date map of these offenses, and a bar chart by month. For once in my life, I was actually five minutes early, and a good current example is always so much nicer than a PowerPoint.

Here was the strategy employed by officers Spencer Behrens, Matt Tangen, and Joe Yindrick: They contacted managers at 22 large apartment complexes, to make sure they were aware of the pattern. They handed out over 100 informational fliers for posting at entryways and communal mailboxes. Some complexes publish tenant newsletters, and included this information in the next issue. The information provided included the advice of a bar in the door track--something several complexes make available for their residents. The Southeast Team also beefed up patrol time in these complexes, as workload allowed. Finally, we got this information out to the news media, and several stories highlighting prevention resulted.

The results are impressive. In the six weeks prior to the project, 24 of these burglaries occurred. In the six weeks after, there were 8. On Matt, Spencer, and Joe's beat, where they did the door-to-door work, these burglaries fell from 9 to 2. Whereas there were 16 sliding glass doors citywide in October, and 20 in November, as of today there have been only three in December.

Dr. Susan Welch, who taught my research methods class, would point out the problems with the methodology of this simple pre-post test. First, the n is quite small, making statistical significance hopelessly elusive. Second, the effect of history compromises the internal validity of this quasi-experiment. I'm a huge believer in basing strategies on sound scientific evidence, but in the real world you must sometimes act on incomplete information and imperfect knowledge.

"Nothing will ever be attempted if all possible objections must first be overcome."

-Samuel Johnson


Anonymous said...

Don't be so quick to assume there is a lack of statistical significance! If you can post the historical six-week average and standard deviation for the sliding glass door thefts, we can take it from there....

Anonymous said...

I'd certainly be pleased with those results. Was there any increase in burglary of single-family residences and duplex/townhomes in the general area near these large apt complexes, during the same time period that the apt burglaries were decreasing? It would be interesting to see if the proactive measures reduced burglary, moved it elsewhere in the neighborhood, or a little of both.

You mentioned the very informative Center for Problem-Oriented Policing website, so may I suggest adding that site as your 5th "Lincoln Police Link" on the main blog page? Considering your own CPOP involvement, it's sort of an LPD link. In any case, much like this blog, the CPOP site materials might help many people to see that police work involves more than many TV depictions.

Anonymous said...

I think the bottom line wins, who cares about internal validity if burglaries are on the down. Whatever gets the job done.

Tom Casady said...

POP Center link has been added.

In a nutshell, residential burglaries overall declined 19% in the period 34 days before and after the project from 143 to 11. The decrease was greatest (27%) for apartment complexes with seven or more units (60 to 44). Burglaries at single-family dwellings actually went up 12% (43 to 48).

My experience has been that these effects are temporary, but we do projects like these quite often. You'll find other descriptions in past blog posts. The cumulative effect of regularly analyzing patterns, developing and implementing strategies, and assessing the results is what we're after.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, and I do wish they had a guide on apartment burglaries. Criminals do tend to adapt to improved defenses, but it's well worth doing the improvements anyway. For starters, when you harden your residence, the perps usually move on to non-hardened target, rather than risking apprehension by spending more time on target.

One can't always think of career criminals as wild predators, or even as semi-wild scavengers, but the "bear and trash can" analogy roughly fits here. They want whatever meal is easiest to get. If you harden your trash can, they might move on to the neighbor's trash can. They might tear off your back porch door and eat Fido's dry dog food. They might even head to a nearby river and do some honest work fishing for their food.

Once they find something easy, they'll generally stay with it, until it becomes significantly more difficult, or they feel something else would be easier. In this respect, bears and career criminals are a lot alike (except the bear has an excuse for their behavior, because they are just a bear).

Anonymous said...

It's always possible that the POP project didn't work but the individual responsible for the burglaries was put in jail on an unrelated charge, moved onto an different town or found an easier crime to commit.

Anonymous said...

I remember a comment an inmate made to me when I was doing a strip search. He had removed his shirt and I noticed several scars that looked suspiciously like bullet holes. I asked him about them. His reply," I used to be a burglar. I had just climbed into a second story window of a house when an angry homeowner shot me.

My next question was: "Did you learn anything from this?"

His reply:"Yes, I decided I would get into a safer line of work when I get out. Maybe stealing cars!"

I have a feeling he is back behind bars.