Diffusion of Benefits: Evaluating a Policing Operation

By Ratcliffe, Jerry; Makkai, Toni | Trends & Issues in Crime and Criminal Justice, July 2004 | Go to article overview

Diffusion of Benefits: Evaluating a Policing Operation


Ratcliffe, Jerry, Makkai, Toni, Trends & Issues in Crime and Criminal Justice


As part of the Australian Institute of Criminology's commitment to building an evidence base on the effects of Australian policing initiatives this paper explores the impact of a targeted policing operation to reduce property crime. By comparing property crime data for the ACT and surrounding areas of NSW, the paper finds no evidence for displacement, either spatially or by crime type following a significant burglary reduction strategy conducted in the ACT in 2001. This paper suggests that there was a diffusion of benefits as car crime and burglary in the surrounding parts of NSW (outside the intervention area) saw significant reductions. However, it is important to note that crime reduction and prevention activity can have unintended, negative consequences not measured in this analysis and that there may be other important factors not accounted for. As a consequence these results may not automatically translate to other initiatives. This paper highlights the need for on-going evaluations of crime reduction initiatives to further our understanding of both the possible displacement and the diffusion of benefits from police operations.

Introduction

While police operations that seek to defeat a particular type of crime problem can appear narrowly focused, artificially focusing on one type of offending or area, there is often an unexplored benefit to this type of police work. A diffusion of crime prevention benefits can see the advantages gained through concentrated police activity spread beyond the realm of the crime type or spatial limit of the operation, resulting in essence, in a positive displacement effect. This type of 'free policing', where gain is achieved in unexpected areas, is rarely a consideration in law enforcement planning for a number of reasons:

1. the concept of diffusion of benefits is not well-known within law enforcement;

2. the benefits are not guaranteed before the operation starts; and

3. there is always the risk of crime displacement as opposed to a free policing benefit.

There are good reasons, however, to bring this type of policing advantage to the fore. Potential gains in crime reduction beyond a geographical or crime-type activity can help to justify operational expense, achieve political approval, and increase public support. They can also help a police force by deflecting criticism if the original target of the operation has no measurable effect on the targeted crime type, as originally envisaged. Reductions elsewhere, which can be theoretically tied to the operation, can reduce public and internal criticism as well as having tangible benefits in reducing other crime types.

This paper briefly outlines the effects of a sustained and targeted police operation on burglary in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) in 2001. It then goes on to discuss the main types of 'free policing' associated with a diffusion of crime control benefits, before analysing burglary and vehicle crime data for the ACT and the surrounding parts of NSW to empirically test whether diffusion benefits were observed.

A sustained and targeted police operation

Operation Anchorage was an intelligence-led policing operation (see Ratcliffe 2001, 2002; Makkai et al. 2004) conducted in the ACT over a fourmonth period in 2001 . The operation was a force wide operation including patrols and specialist investigations along with a wide range of support, intelligence and forensics personnel (see Makkai, Ratcliffe, Veraar & Collins 2004 for further details). The aim of the operation was a 20 per cent reduction in burglary on the previous year. There was a significant weight placed on targeting recidivist offenders, surveillance, patrolling of burglary hotspots, and thorough and rapid investigation of offences, all coordinated by an intelligence cell.

Understanding the temporal pattern of the ACT burglary frequency requires an appreciation of the benefits and limits of targeted police operations. …

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