Center for Problem-Oriented Policing

Understanding Your Local Problem

The information provided above is only a generalized description of the problem of crimes against tourists. You must combine the basic facts with a more specific understanding of your local problem. Analyzing the local problem will help you design a more effective response strategy.

Asking the Right Questions  

Your agency’s capacity to identify tourist-related incidents in its records management system is a major factor in being able to ask the right questions and develop proper responses. It would be helpful if a standard, international definition specified who a tourist is, what constitutes a crime against a tourist, and how tourist crime records should be kept.16 Then police departments in tourist areas could record and analyze tourist crimes separately, and thus better understand victimization patterns.17 You should review your agency’s records management system to ensure there are uniform methods for reporting and classifying tourist crimes.18

Many tourist areas closely guard tourist crime data.19 To get an accurate picture of the problem, you may need to (1) thoroughly review offense reports to identity tourist-related crimes (computer-aided dispatching systems may be coded to tabulate such crimes); (2) conduct tourist surveys (e.g., through the local police, Chamber of Commerce, or hotels/motels) to determine the actual number of offenses; or (3) encourage businesses—including hotels and motels—to report crimes or other problems concerning tourists to the police.

† See Disorder at Budget Motels in this series, for a discussion regarding motel reporting practices. [Full text]

  • The following are some critical questions you should ask in analyzing your particular tourist crime problem, even if the answers are not always readily available. Your answers to these and other questions will help you choose the most appropriate set of responses later on.

Incidents

  • How many crimes (and what percentage of total crimes) in your jurisdiction involve tourists? (Remember that tourists can be victims of the entire gamut of offenses, both Part I and Part II, misdemeanor and felony; also, the more serious crimes may not significantly alter the statistical picture of the problem, but may well significantly affect the public’s perception of your jurisdiction as a danger zone.)
  • What percentage of crimes are committed by tourists, as well as against them?
  • What are the general circumstances surrounding the crimes (e.g., was a rental car involved, were the tourists lost)?
  • What types and amounts of property are stolen, if any?
  • What percentage of tourist crimes do you estimate are reported to the police?
  • Do you suspect some false reporting of crime (e.g., to cover up the complainants’ own wrongdoing or embarrassing acts)? If so, what percentage of reported offenses do you suspect are false?

Locations/Times

  • Where do tourist crimes occur? Indoors or outdoors? In densely populated areas or remote areas? At repeat locations? In high-risk crime areas? Near major attractions?
  • Where are tourists staying when the offenses occur (e.g., hotels, motels, private rental properties)?
  • When do the crimes occur (day or night, day of week, time of year)?

Victims

  • Who are the victims (by gender, age, occupation)? Are there any noticeable demographic patterns among them?
  • Where are they from? Are they regional, national, or international tourists?
  • What percentage of victims are injured during the crimes? How serious are the injuries?
  • How do they typically react to their victimization? Are they cooperative with the police? Willing to stay or return to testify against the offender?
  • What victim activities or attributes may have contributed to the crimes (e.g., drinking, flashing large sums of money, frequenting dangerous areas or exploring remote locations, having an alternative lifestyle)? Have they been careless about their personal safety and property?
  • What percentage of attempted crimes have been thwarted by tourists or by other people?

Offenders

  • What are the offenders’ demographics (age, gender, race, place of residence, and so forth)?
  • Are they local, or from out of town?
  • Do they appear to specialize in victimizing tourists? Are they part of a loosely or formally organized group, or working alone?
  • What are their motives (economic, political, personal)?
  • What percentage of offenders commit crimes against tourists for money to buy drugs? What percentage either are or appear to be under the influence of drugs or alcohol during the offense? (Local data on arrestees’ drug use may provide some answers to these questions.)
  • What percentage of offenders are repeat offenders? How prolific are the worst offenders?
  • Do they use different techniques against tourists from those used in other crimes?
  • What types of weapons do they use, or threaten to use?

Current Responses

  • Do the police have a good working relationship with tourist-related businesses?
  • Are funds provided to cover victims’ travel expenses if they have to testify against offenders?
  • Have police and private security employees been trained in crime prevention and reduction measures involving tourists?
  • Is there a special police unit trained specifically to protect tourists and to assist tourism businesses with crime prevention measures?
  • Are local citizens aware of the harm tourist crime can cause to the community, and of their role in preventing it?
  • Are tourists informed about crime prevention measures (e.g., through brochures)?

Measuring Your Effectiveness

Measurement allows you to determine to what degree your efforts have succeeded, and suggests how you might modify your responses if they are not producing the intended results. You should take measures of your problem before you implement responses, to determine how serious the problem is, and after you implement them, to determine whether they have been effective. Measurement will likely involve both quantitative (statistical) and qualitative (anecdotal) information. (For more detailed guidance on measuring effectiveness, see the companion guide to this series, Assessing Responses to Problems: An Introductory Guide for Police Problem-Solvers.)

  • The following are potentially useful measures of the effectiveness of responses to tourist crimes:
  • reduced numbers of offenses against tourists across the various offense types,
  • reduced calls for tourist-related police service,
  • reduced number and severity of injuries caused by crimes against tourists,
  • reduced total average loss (both of cash and property) incurred by victims,
  • increased tourist and local citizen perceptions of safety, and
  • increased tourist reporting of crimes (for crimes against the person, you might compare emergency room records with police reports).

You should be alert to the possibility that your responses to tourist crime might displace it, either geographically, to other types of crime, or to non-tourist victims. You should also be aware that your responses to tourist crime might reduce non-tourist-related crime, as well.