Monday, November 17, 2008

Theory and practice

I am going to write a series of posts this week about the application of criminological theory to police practice. Most everything we do about crime is guided by theory in one way or another. Some of those theories are untested or unproven, but they are theories nonetheless. When you operate under the belief that people won't steal stuff if they see you giving them the hairy eyeball, that's an activity based on a theory. If you think cruising through the lot at a nightclub will deter drunk drivers, that's grounded in a theory, too.

There are many theories about the causes of crime. Two of the primary competing schools of thought (at least in my little oversimplification) are routine activities and social disorganization. Actually, I don't think they compete at all, and both have power in explaining certain aspects of crime.

Social disorganization is basically the concept that crime emerges from deprived conditions, such as poverty, urban decay, unemployment, lack of opportunity, and so forth; and the lack of capable institutions of social control: strong families, cohesive neighborhoods, and other kinds of "social capital." You might say that our efforts with Stronger Safer Neighborhoods are consistent with social disorganization theory. Other popular police strategies, such as weed and seed, police athletic leagues, and "broken windows" policing have a strong leaning in that direction. Community redevelopment, urban renewal, early childhood education, mentoring, neighborhood organizing, leadership development, and similar strategies are grounded in social disorganization theory. When LPD was engaged in Free to Grow, it was a good example of social disorganization theory turned into police practice.

Theory number two, routine activities, was originally framed by Larry Cohen and Marcus Felson. Routine activities theory essentially says that crime occurs when there is a motivated offender meets up with a suitable target in the same place and time and in the absence of a capable guardian . If you believe routine activities explains crime, you try to reduce the supply of motivated offenders and suitable targets, while increasing the supply of capable guardians. You can build a whole range of strategies around offenders, targets, and guardians. The approach geared towards increasing the risk to offenders while decreasing the vulnerability of targets is generally known as situational crime prevention. A useful model of how routine activities theory is turned into action is the crime triangle:

Offenders are impacted by handlers--police officers who make arrests, probation and parole officers who supervise offenders, and so forth. Places are impacted by managers--landlords, store managers, barkeeps, and the like. Victims (or targets) are impacted by guardians, or by guardianship. The convergence of offender, victim, and place has been cleverly characterized by John Eck and others as ravenous wolves (motivated offenders), sitting ducks (suitable targets), and dens of iniquity (criminogenic places). Remember that for the exam in Sociology 209.

Wolves, ducks and dens. You can build police strategies aimed at any or all of them, and when you do, your strategy is based on the underlying routine activities theory and situational crime prevention--whether you realize it or not. In the next few days, I'll review what we're doing about wolves, ducks, and dens.

The Series:

Theory and practice
Evidence-based policing


Anonymous said...

Hmm...sounds a lot like the wolf-sheep-sheepdog theory put forth by LTC(RET) Dave Grossman, RANGER.

Not to harp to loudly on an old subject, but this is where I begin to scratch my head over Chief Casady's opposition to the concealed-carry law. If theory (and criminal testimony) demonstrates that many criminals (wolves) select their victims (ducks) and seek out a proper location (den) to carry out the crime, then why would ANY police officer be opposed to arming the 'duck'? The duck can't always avoid the den, and the wolf doesn't always wait for the duck to enter the den.

I guess my point is that 'suitable target' and 'capable guardian' can be the same person depending on your viewpoint. The keyword being 'capable' the guardian cannot protect his or her own self or others if he/she doesn't have the proper means to do so.

Anonymous said...

I feel I have a responsibility to protect myself and my family. To do that I need the proper tools. Open carry is legal in Nebraska and I hope it stays that way. However I want the option of concealed carry because I think that many people are intimidated by open carry and I do not want a law abiding citizen to feel threatened by my display of a weapon..

I don't know what the average response time to a 911 emergency is in Lincoln. I do know that I can react to a situation in less than a second.

Chief you seem to have a pretty good grasp of statistics. I would like to pose a couple questions for you from stats you have compiled over the years in Lincoln

1. What percentage of violent crimes like muggings, armed robberies, murders, armed assaults have been stopped while in progress by an officers response?

2. In situations where a victim has defended himself/herself what percentages of those attempts have resulted in death or injury to the victim? To the perpetrator?

3. In situations where a victim has resisted an attack how many of the situations resulted in apprehension of the perpetrator or a stoppage of the attack?

4. Now a question for all citizens. How many times have you stopped an attack or dangerous situation just by letting a perpetrator of a crime KNOW that you are armed and willing to defend yourself? Was that incident reported to the police or any news organization?


Gun Nut, a private citizen.

Anonymous said...

Since I have a young child in the house I thought it best to ease my mind by getting rid of the fire arm. I have replaced it with a loaded Easton.

What can a home owner do if a person tries to break in? Sometimes a phone call to police may take to much time if your thinking of protecting your family or property. Property can be replaced but my wife and child cant.

I guess my question is, do I have to wait for the idiot to enter my home before I rid him of his crainium or can I keep the mess outside?

Anonymous said...

Anon 1:50 wrote, "Since I have a young child in the house I thought it best to ease my mind by getting rid of the fire arm."

Hmm...I would have thought a safe or a trigger lock would be the way to go, but to each his own.

Anonymous said...

Nebraska Revised Statute 28 is relevant to the deadly force issue, but as you can see, it's apt to be interpreted in many different ways, depending on the attitude of your local and county government. In other words, you'd probably be granted a little more leeway (as far as use of DF to protect persons) way out West in the sticks than you would in Lincoln or Omaha.

ARRRRG!!!! said...

I prefer open carry.

Anonymous said...

the other night I had nothing to do so I took advantage of your crime by neighborhood. All this crap about "the core" is getting tiring. According to your map the core has had no narcotic arrest,no murder,no gang related activities, no ongoing prostitution other then the police woman running their stings. I have noticed that most of the major meth arrests have been in brand-new neighborhoods such as the links for example-that place isn't even a year old and already has had a major drug bust.Perhaps all the tweakers have made enough money to move from the core-allowing the crack heads to take over.I for one enjoy living in the core-I like my neighbors-there are several that have lived here for more then 10 years. The people here in the core are alot more friendlier then the snobs that live in other parts of town.And yes I grew up in south Lincoln. The people here in the core are not quick to judge you for the way that you may look. There are more random acts of kindness everyday here in the core then any other part of Lincoln.Everyone have character flaws-even you Chief, I have lived in several different neighborhoods in Lincoln, and I really enjoy all the different people here. Yeah we have crazies that live here-after all its not like you could round them all up and put them in red top. What I do know is that when someone moves to the core lpd investigates on the spot-at times it feels like harassment. And the harassment goes on and on. Intimadation is not the best choice in some situations. I'm not the only new person here,I feel sorry for the old mexican man that gets surrounded by lincoln's finest at any given time. Heck I shared my garden with him. Just sometimes you need to put the shoe on thje other foot becauser even if you are a police officer-you still are a sinner. Thanks for letting me vent.