Academic journal article Trends & Issues in Crime and Criminal Justice

Burglary Reduction and the Myth of Displacement

Academic journal article Trends & Issues in Crime and Criminal Justice

Burglary Reduction and the Myth of Displacement

Article excerpt

Burglary remains a significant crime problem across Australia. While the Australian Institute of Criminology is keen to encourage burglary reduction initiatives, it often encounters the view that targeted operations simply displace crime to another area. This perception of total crime displacement is common, but has no strong evidential basis. While some studies have measured a modest degree of displacement in some types of crime, they are rarely significant in relation to the benefits accrued from a successful crime reduction campaign.

This paper reviews the existing body of knowledge about spatial displacement in regard to burglary initiatives. It examines the results of a study undertaken to explore the displacement impact of Operation Anchorage, a burglary reduction initiative undertaken by the Australian Federal Police (AFP) in Canberra in 2001. An unusual aspect of the operation was the flexibility accorded to operational commanders; this paper describes a methodology for assessing displacement under these circumstances.

The results indicate that no significant spatial displacement took place during the first weeks of Operation Anchorage, yet the AFP was able to reduce burglary by a considerable amount. The implications for broader policy are that crime reduction initiatives can be successful without merely moving crime into another place, and that additional diffusion of crime prevention benefits can add value to a carefully considered crime reduction campaign.

Adam Graycar


Targeted Crime Prevention

Crime prevention is becoming more sophisticated. This is not only because of the growing appeal of situational crime prevention, but also the drive to make the crime prevention dollar go further. Focused crime reduction initiatives can involve targeting particular types of crime and offending (situational) or the identification of crime hotspots (spatial) through the use of crime mapping with a geographical information system (GIS).

Any targeted crime reduction strategy can receive criticism by the very nature of being targeted: some areas will receive crime prevention benefits and other will not. This is most often levelled at spatially targeted initiatives. A common criticism is that crime will move from the targeted area to other areas; that is, it will be displaced. However there is little substance to these claims. Eck (1998) notes: "concern about displacement is usually based more on pessimism than empirical fact." These criticisms, however unfounded, can have a negative effect on crime reduction motivations. Town (2002) reports on an encounter with this attitude in local authority officers in 1996, quoting one as saying in relation to burglary: "What's the point? They'll get in anyway, and even if they don't, they'll just go somewhere else." This commonly perceived view of targeted crime prevention is also documented among police officers by Barr and Pease (1990) and in the author's personal experience both in Australia and overseas.

A potential positive impact of crime prevention initiatives is a spread of crime reduction beyond the area of focus. This diffusion of prevention benefits can extend to other types of crime or to other spatial areas (Clarke & Weisburd 1994). For example, a burglary reduction initiative in a target area may also result in lower levels of burglary in surrounding areas. Similarly, it may lead to a reduction in local vehicle crime. The latter may be achieved by the arrest of offenders who are responsible for local burglaries and auto crime.

Another potential side effect is displacement. Hakim and Rengert (1981, p. 11) list five types of potential displacement:

* spatial displacement, where crime moves from one site to another;

* temporal displacement, where crime moves from one time to another;

* target displacement, where crime is directed away from one target to another;

* tactical displacement, where one modus operandi is replaced by another; and

* "type of crime" displacement, where one type of crime is replaced by another. …

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