We can all help with Crime Reduction.
There has been a lot of talk on the village forums in the last few months about the risks of crime and in particular the risk of burglary.
Would it surprise you to learn that simple things that society could do can reduce everybody’s chances of being the victim of crime to about 1/2 of the current rate?
Would it surprise you to learn that some houses have a risk of being burgled of 0.71 while the safest have a risk of 0.001 (a factor of 700 times)?
The monetary value of an average burglary is low (probably around £2000), but it costs about £50,000 to investigate and clean up. That is not the real cost to our village, though. Burglary is an insidious crime – it breaks up society and greatly harms its victims.
“Even where the monetary value of stolen goods is low, burglary often produces severe psychological effects for up to 12 months. Victims feel their personal space and sentimental valuables have been violated. Insomnia, depression and insecurity are typical symptoms (Nicolson 1994). Women report longer term anxiety (Coupe and Griffiths 1996:4). Burglary keeps home insurance costs high and, along with other ‘street crimes’, accelerates neighbourhood decay, retreat into private fortresses and recourse to private security services (Taylor 1995).”
When looking at crime it is ever so easy to fall into the “Daily Mail” knee-jerk reaction: to demand increasing tougher responses, and to cry out (at a very personal level) for retribution. Yet all the evidence shows that there is no solution down that road.
I would put it to the village, however, that what we really want is not retribution, but to be safe in our own homes, and for our lives to be free of the worry that crime causes. If this is true, then it would be reasonable for us all to support methods of crime reduction that actually work.
So we should take burglary seriously in our village, and work together as a community to try to reduce, if not eliminate it.
…But what works?
What Most People Believe Is (Partly) Wrong
What is surprising, given the importance of the subject, is when looking at effective crime reduction and home security, that the public perception of what is effective, and the newspapers’ view of what is effective are rarely linked back to reliable studies.
There is a common perception that having more police officers on the street, having more supervision through such things as CCTV, street and home lighting, and punitive treatment in jail will act to deter crime. That is mostly wrong. Study after study shows:
- that there is almost no correlation between the number of police officers on the street and most sorts of crime.
- CCTV has either no significant effect, or an effect which is an economic burden rather than a benefit.
- street lighting and exterior home lighting not only fails to reduce crime, but can actually increase it.
- punitive treatment in jails actual increases the general level of crime.
Number of Police Officers
There is no general correlation between the number of police officers and crime levels. No studies have shown a causal link between the numbers of police officers in an area and reduced crime.
There is, however, a small beneficial correlation emerging between increased police officer numbers and reduced property crime:
“Up until the mid-1990s there was very little evidence that increasing the number of police officers might result in a reduction in crime – or that reducing the number of officers might lead to an increase in crime. However more recent studies, using more robust methodologies, have suggested that there is indeed a link between the two. The weight of evidence is strengthened by the fact that the extant studies use a variety of methods. However the causal claims made by many of them are somewhat doubtful, and care should be taken when interpreting the results. Most of these recent studies converge on two key findings:
- Higher levels of police are linked to lower levels of property crime.
- Evidence for an association between police numbers and violent crime is weaker.
A summary of existing studies would put the elasticity of property crime in relation to police numbers at approximately -0.3 – that is, a 10% increase in officers will lead to a reduction in crime of around 3% (and vice versa).”
There is, however, very good evidence that more effective policing has a direct effect in reducing crime, although nobody can actually define what “effective” means.
A 2010 Report from Civitas said says there is “unequivocal” evidence that more sustained and effective policing cuts crime. “More detection is associated with substantial reductions in crime. It plays a sustained role in preventing crime,” says the study, which found that a 1% increase in the detection rate would prevent 26,000 burglaries, 85,000 thefts, 2,500 robberies and 1,800 frauds a year.
The conclusion that I would draw for our village is that we should support our local police force and encourage them to visit the village on a regular basis, that we should support Street Watch because it provides additional eyes and ears on the road, and we should all work to provide evidence and help to make our police more effective in what they do.
The evidence for the effectiveness of street or communal level CCTV is extremely poor, other than in car parks, and inside office buildings.
There is a little evidence that CCTV on individual properties, particularly in the entrance points of properties, has a slight deterrent effect when burglars are able to choose between properties.
Evidence from the UK shows that its use may reduce theft of motor vehicles in car parks where there was also improved lighting and security guards, and some other forms of acquisitive crime. There is also evidence that it works best in small enclosed areas (Gill & Spriggs 2005). Research suggests that CCTV is most successful in reducing or solving crime when there is an active police interest in:
- providing surveillance information to inform the setting up of CCTV
- being involved in monitoring the CCTV
- using the evidence it can provide.
But currently, the UK evidence suggests that because of the very low quality of evidence that most CCTV provides, it costs around £28,000 per crime in which CCTV evidence is bought court. Given that greatly exceeds the cost of other methods of crime prevention and detection, it is hardly effective.
The conclusion that I would draw is that CCTV does not form part of the solution to burglary in our area.
Street and Home Exterior Lighting
The evidence is mixed. The largest survey conducted in the United Kingdom said as follows
“The principal conclusion is that no evidence could be found to support the hypothesis that improved street lighting reduces reported crime
“The very wide extent of the study, covering some 3500 new street lights introduced over a period of nearly three years, was unprecedented in the UK. The change in street lighting standard was considerable; typically a four-fold increase in the intensity of lighting was achieved, with more lighting columns and white light sources being introduced throughout.
“The main database for the study consisted of over 100,000 reported crimes, although analysis was principally focused on some 9500 allegations in the most relevant locations and time periods. The area studied, an inner London Borough, has a high crime rate in a national context and thus represented a fair test for environmental crime prevention measures. In short, if street lighting does affect crime, this study should have detected it.”
However, another review showed that there was a reduction in local crime in areas that had high levels of modern street lighting, but, paradoxically, the reduction in crime, mostly occurred during the day and not at night. They found a complex mix of outcomes with criminals finding it easier to move around and select targets where areas were well lit, but the overall reduction was probably caused by other factors. In their words:
“Since these studies did not find that night-time crime decreased more than day-time crime, a theory of street lighting focusing on its role in increasing community pride and informal social control may be more plausible than a theory focusing on increased surveillance and increased deterrence.”
Indeed, studies in Bristol show that improving street lighting in areas around the town centre actually resulted in an increase of night-time street robberies of up to 50%. Not something we are likely to want in a semi – rural village.
Brighter external lights in gardens and driveways have been linked with an increase in crime, possibly because they allow criminals to see the best routes in and out, to see in through windows, and they dazzle witnesses and CCTV cameras, while providing contrast in areas of extremely deep shades to hide in. Overly bright garden and driveway lights are also very strongly linked with arguments between neighbours and a declining cooperation between neighbours.
The conclusion that I would draw is that increased street lighting or home security lighting is not likely to result in a reduction in burglary, and may well have a paradoxical effect of encouraging burglars to visit areas they currently ignore.
Again, there are very few good studies that show a positive correlation between prison (numbers in jail, or length of sentence) and reduction in crime overall.
However, there is now some emerging evidence that because most burglaries are committed by very small number of people, then keeping those people in jail for longer will directly reduce the number of crimes that the country, as a whole, suffers. Since burglars tend to work a “patch” then having your local burglar locked up in jail has a dramatic effect on the reduction of crime in your particular area.
“The research, carried out for Civitas, an independent thinktank, used local sentencing data released by the Ministry of Justice under freedom of information requests to track the effectiveness of penal policy and policing on recorded crime across the 43 forces in England and Wales between 1993 and 2008.
The researchers concluded that prison was particularly effective in reducing property crime when targeted at serious and repeat offenders. They concluded that an increase of just one month in the average sentence length for burglaries – from 15.4 to 16.4 months – would reduce burglaries in the following year by 4,800, out of an annual total of 962,700.”
Most famously, Steven D Levitt appeared to be able to show in 1996 that keeping one burglar in jail in the USA for one year implied 15 fewer crimes would be committed.
It took a few more years work for others to show that this was only true where the system was able to accurately identify and incarcerate recidivist criminals who made a career out of crime. Other researchers were then able to show that it was equally important that the justice system should also be able to educate, support, counsel, treat, and maintain younger people who were just setting out in criminality, and who could be deterred and helped to avoid this in future.
No study has shown that increasing the levels of retribution, harshness, or punishment in jails has any effect on reducing crime. Jail does not have a deterrent effect. On the contrary, harsher jail regimes are highly correlated with increased levels of recidivism, reoffending, and gang formation.
The conclusion that I would draw for our area is that whilst we should be delighted when career burglars are caught and served lengthy jail time, we should also be keen to ensure that they and their families receive education and support to encourage them not to return to a life of crime afterwards. In order to do this, we should provide information to our local police forces, be ready to act as witnesses. We should also challenge our local politicians to avoid retributive policies and ensure that a balance of detention and support for criminals is maintained.
So what does work?
The reality is that most crime, and especially burglary, is driven by perceptions of wealth and income inequality, lack of education, untreated mental illness, and breakdowns in family structures and untreated drug addiction. It is in tackling those things nationally, and in our environment, that the underlying benefit of crime reduction is likely to be found.
At a national level, the top 6 things (those correlated with more than 10% reduction in the relevant crime rate) are:
- Intervening from birth with low income and troubled families through nurse/family partnerships (38%)
- Providing proper care for the mentally ill (20%)
- Providing and ensuring education programs for offenders (20%)
- Having an effective foster care policy to take at risk children away from high-risk families (18%)
- Providing direct intervention for “troubled” families of criminal (18%)
- Intensively supervising treatment programs for drug users (17%)
- Ensuring access to playgroups for children from low income families (17%
- Providing access to psychotherapy for offenders (16%)
- Helping the families of offenders while the offenders are in jail (10%)
- Having specific courts providing access to treatment for young and first offenders (10%)
We may not be able to affect the whole of the United Kingdom, or the larger cities that surround us, but we are able to support our neighbours. All of the evidence shows that being good neighbours, and in particular being good neighbours to those who we might perhaps at first pass regard as “trouble”, is far more effective at reducing the risk and rate of crime in our village than any retribution, isolation, and name-calling.
We can volunteer in support organisations, we can work with and volunteer to help young people, we can encourage people to seek help when they first show signs of distress, we can look after the victims and the families of criminals. We can encourage local authorities to ensure that they provide all of the services required above to those in our village who need them.
The conclusion that I would draw for our village is that being ‘good neighbours’ is the single greatest thing we can do to be safe, and feel safe.
The shape of our village.
One of the harsh realities of crime reduction in the home is that an awful lot of the risk is created by the structure of the built environment around us, the designs and implementation of the homes in it, and our shared environments (including woodlands and common land). The design of footpaths, alleyways and road junctions all have a dramatic effect on the risks of burglary.
“Architects have suggested that crime can be prevented by manipulating the design and placement of many simple items, such as doors, bus stops, and park benches. Today’s airports prevent crime by replacing bathroom entrance doors with right-angle entrances that permit the warning sounds of crime to travel more freely and that reduce the sense of isolation. Countries throughout the world, such as Australia, Canada, Great Britain, Japan, and the Netherlands have used architectural design techniques to prevent crime. The 2000 Sydney Olympics self-consciously employed architecture to reduce crime by modifying landscapes, restricting access to sites, changing parking patterns, and creating visibility around stadiums.
Unfortunately, for the past six decades, criminal law has focused on the specific characteristics of offenders (such as economic status, race, age, employment status, and mobility) and has largely ignored the location of crime. Yet just as individuals can be recidivists, so too can certain places. In City X, for example, three percent of locations are responsible for fifty percent of calls to which police respond, and similar patterns occur in other cities.”
While we cannot retrospectively change very many of these points in our built environment, we can take small steps to improve alleyways, footpaths, hedgerows, junctions, and shared amenity spaces so as to encourage public use whilst discouraging criminal access.
The conclusion that I would draw from this larger issue is that we should engage with our Parish and Central Bedfordshire Council, as well as with each and every proposed development in the village to ensure that it is designed in the safest possible way and does not increase the risk for people around it.
Crime reduction schemes
The village has a range of crime reduction schemes in place and currently operating. Farm Watch in the rural area, Street Watch in the village, Neighbourhood Watch in many areas of the village, Pub Watch, and a Safer Communities programme.
The evidence for effectiveness of each of these programs is very thin. There have been no long-term studies of the effects of Farm Watch, Street Watch, or Safer Communities. That is not surprising as they are relatively new.
Given that Street Watch is effectively an extension of police supervision, it might be expected that there would be the same, small, impact and crimes against the home as from increasing police officers in the same area. That is, a 10% increase in presence caused by Street Watch patrols might likely reduce the level of burglary by around 3%. This is, however, still to be proven.
There was a study of the programme and its effectiveness in Birmingham that appeared to show small reductions in on street crime, and drug taking in public places, and a smaller reduction in burglary in the areas monitored. That survey also highlighted some of the risks of a Street Watch program in that it had also resulted in complaints and civil action from members of the public who felt they had been unjustifiably targeted by Street Watch.
The conclusion that I would draw from this is that Street Watch should be supported, its effectiveness monitored, and that it should continue to report to both the police and the community as a whole and what it is doing and what its priorities are.
The evidence from Pub Watch is not of good quality yet, and it may be displacing alcohol-related crimes and violence from public places (where peer pressure restrains behaviour) to the private home, fuelled by cheap alcohol from supermarkets.
No conclusion yet
Neighbourhood watch is the oldest of all of the community security and safety schemes. One would expect, therefore, that it would have excellent evidence for its effectiveness. Sadly, this is not the case. There have been no reliable studies done since the 1990s, and no studies that compare the effectiveness of the scheme with, say, merely putting stickers in windows of homes at random.
“The main finding of the narrative review was that the majority of the schemes (19) indicated that neighbourhood watch was effective in reducing crime, while only 6 produced negative results. The main finding of the meta-analysis was that neighbourhood watch was followed by a reduction in crime of between 16% and 26%. This review concludes that across all studies Neighbourhood Watch was followed by a reduction in crime. However, it is not immediately clear why Neighbourhood Watch is effective.”
Most extensive studies of the scheme, done in the last 10 years, have increasingly begun to conclude that the effectiveness of the scheme is actually due to an improvement in “community pride” and its visual expression in terms of more obviously cared for and maintained areas of homes.
The conclusion that I draw from this is that neighbourliness is, of itself, a great way of reducing crime in an area, and that joining a Neighbourhood Watch scheme probably has an additional small but important benefit in terms of reducing crime, and especially burglary.
In terms of our own homes.
Some of the factors that lead homes to be burgled are very difficult to change once you live in them. It is well understood that expensive home standing alone on the corner near a main road with quick access to concealment are very much more likely to be the subject of a burglary attempt than others. Your first home security decision comes when you buy the house. Having bought the house, there are still very many things that you can do, alone and in combination with your neighbours that have a dramatic ability to reduce the risk that you face.
There is a well understood list of factors that make home is much more vulnerable to crime, and if you have any of these factors, it is urgent that you deal with them because in one study of 1000 incident reports of burglaries committed against single-family homes, it was clear that:
- Doors without deadbolt locks were targeted
- Windows with single panes were targeted
- Windows with simple stock latches were easily defeated
- Sliding glass doors without specialized pin locks were easily rocked off their tracks
- Almost all targeted properties had numerous hidden points of entry concealed by high shrubbery or solid fencing
The difference that you can make insecure in your own home is incredibly dramatic – you can reduce your chances of being burgled by around 700 times through a careful choice of home, careful choice of anti-crime measures, and crime reducing behaviour:
“The highest probability of burglary of 0.712 exists when the following uncontrollable factors exist. The house is expensive, is not located on a dead-end street, is a detached single family corner home located within a quarter of a mile of an exit from a major thoroughfare, and is adjacent to woods or a playground. As controllable factors are concerned, the house does not have an alarm nor a motion sensor or timer to turn lights on and off at night, and does not normally have a car parked in the driveway. To conclude the homeowners do not have a neighbour to pick up mail and newspapers when the house is vacant.
When all these factors reverse, the probability of burglary is reduced to 0.001”.
Based on a sample of offenders, the percent of respondents rating the following factors as a deterrent against burgling a property are:
- Belief that house is occupied (84%)
- Presence of alarms outside property (84%) (around a 40% reduction in risk of burglary in UK studies)
- Presence of CCTV/camera nearby property (82%)
- Apparent strength of doors/window locks (55%)
- A convenient approach and exit routes
- There being a ready market for the goods likely to be in the property.
Let us deal with each of these in turn:
Making a home seem occupied
This is not a single step, but a group of steps and behaviours that keep your house looking as if somebody is probably in. You’ve probably seen lists of good ideas made available through a number of schemes. While the evidence for any single one of these steps is rather poor, the overall factor of having an apparently occupied home is a very important one in deterring burglary as a crime. Some of the things that you should consider might include:
- Leaving lights on timers to come on at reasonable times in various rooms.
- Leaving a radio on at normal speaking volume, but not visible from a window.
- Leaving a car (properly secured, locked, and with the keys concealed) on the driveway.
- Having a neighbour move the bins, take in the post, remove milk bottles, and otherwise ensure that nothing hangs around outside the house that an observant homeowner would not have dealt with themselves.
Having a visibly maintained and operating alarm.
Alarms work. But only if they are clearly active, visible, used, and maintained.
Looking at just one study in the UK:
“The outcome is impressive. In broad terms, in the six months between April 2003 and September 2003, there were 19 domestic burglaries per 1,000 households in the Mansfield and Ashfield police force area. The average figure for the Safe and Secure Homes neighbourhoods fell to 11.7.
The project proves to be even more successful when examined in detail. The project has effected an average 40% reduction in domestic burglary rates in six months, compared with the same six months in 2002. But two thirds of the domestic burglaries that did take place in the Safe and Secure Homes neighbourhoods were on properties that had not yet had alarms fitted.
Fewer than 8% of the domestic burglaries, just 12 in total, were in protected properties. Just one burglary took place when the property was alarmed, eight were as a result of the burglar gaining entry to an upper floor beyond the reach of the system.”
And it gets better – if lots of properties in the neighbourhood have alarms fitted burglars often avoid the area entirely:
“In the first two Safe and Secure Home areas, where a higher proportion of alarms have been fitted, the reductions in domestic burglary over the past year are even more dramatic, with one neighbourhood seeing a reduction of 80% and the other of 66%. This indicates that as the remaining properties are secured the positive impact on the five neighbourhoods as a whole will be rapid.”
Some US studies are even more dramatic, showing decreases of around 75% in the risk of burglary for a property with a simple front mounted active alarm box.
It therefore appears that the single most effective thing you can do (after buying a house in a safe place) is to deter a burglar from targeting your home is to fit an alarm and keep it working.
Fitting really good locks
Ground floor access points are all very vulnerable to a thief. Fit the best locks you can, and keep them well maintained. Pay particular attention to ground floor windows, and even more attention to windows at the rear of the house and patio doors.
The general minimum requirement for a front door is a 5 lever mortise lock and a deadlocking night latch.
There are excellent British Standards which can explain the best sorts of locks to use on each sort of door or window, and it really does pay to go around your house and have a good hard look at what is securing it.
On some older windows, the weak point is at the hinge as much as the lock.
As a general rule, 2 good locks, or a lock and a bolt are better than one.
Shutting and locking doors, windows and gates.
It may seem incredible, but nearly 34 percent of burglars enter premises through an unlocked door or window. Simply shutting and locking the front door, no matter how briefly the time you are away is absolutely essential. If you’re in the back garden. The front door should be shut and locked. If you are in the front of the house, then always ensure that the rear doors and windows are shut and locked.
That goes for the back gate as well, – a simple sliding bolt or latch is simply not adequate. Back gate should be locked to prevent direct access to the rear of the property.
Keep it locked!
Keeping keys out of sight.
It will surprise few people to learn that their most valuable possessions are normally secured by keys. The car, the jewellery, cash tin, the garage and a garden shed. Thieves love keys for 2 reasons:
- they help them get at things that are valuable.
- they help them get away with things that are valuable
Pretty much the perfect crime from a burglar’s point of view is to go in the back, collect all of the valuable items in the property that are portable, unlock a large door to carry them out, and drive away in the family car. All in a few minutes.
Keeping your keys out of sight of any window or door is a very simple way of ensuring that not only deceives not get access to the things that you really value, but they cannot carry out the things that they have got is easily.
Keeping valuable goods out of sight.
Most burglary is financially driven, and the thief wants to know that they are going to make some money when they get into a house. Some of that decision is taken merely by looking at the exterior of the house, but peeping through the windows or letterbox will give a thief much more information on the likely haul.
Leaving laptops, phones, keys, or bags clearly, in sight of front or rear windows is basically an advertisement that readily available portable items may be obtained. While it may not be entirely practical to conceal the television, desktop computer audio equipment every time you go out of the house, siting them in a less obvious place does make sense.
Keep valuable things hidden!
So we can reduce the risk of being burgled, and the fear of crime, but it requires a lot of us all:
- Encourage our local Parish and Central Bedfordshire Council to support effective crime reduction policies and strategies
- Support good building and development at the outset
- Care for our village environment
- Care for your neighbours
- Help the Police
- Support Street Watch
- Join Neighbourhood Watch
- Fit an alarm
- Fit locks, and use them
- Secure your own home – the full list of home security things, is at SECURE BY DESIGN
- Eschew retribution and knee jerk reactions
While rejecting the knee-jerk call for retribution and tougher policing, I’m left with strongly felt conclusion that the focus on crime and crime reduction of itself is an illusion. Almost all of the benefits to our village come from improved neighbourliness.
Talking to each other. Communicating with our police forces. Keeping our neighbourhood tidy. Sensibly securing our own homes. Working with our neighbours, so that when we are out our homes continue to be maintained. Looking after our built environment, pathways, woodlands, and alleyways. Supporting families who are in financial distress, and children who have issues at school so that nobody has to turn to crime. Making sure those with mental illnesses or drug addiction are properly cared for, so crime does not become one of their choices. Welcoming those who join our village, so they do not become isolated or resentful of those with apparent wealth around them.
A more caring Maulden is in every way a safer Maulden.
For an overview, visit https://www.crimesolutions.gov/TopicDetails.aspx?ID=10
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