The information provided above is only a generalized description of the problem of thefts of and from cars in residential neighborhoods. You must combine the basic facts with a more specific understanding of your local problem. Analyzing the local problem carefully will help you design a more effective response strategy. Your main emphasis should be on understanding the environmental settings in which the thefts occur in your suburban residential communities, and identifying those people in your community who can help change those settings.
In most cases, the main problem will be theft from cars, and you should try to determine the kind of offenders involved (e.g., transients, drug addicts, juveniles). On the other hand, if the problem is mainly theft of cars, you will need to determine the motive, whether for joyriding, for transport, or for profit. The principal indicators of motive are recovery rates, though the model stolen will also help determine the motive because certain kinds of thieves favor certain models, which vary according to how easy they are to steal, or the valued parts that they contain.9
Determining which individuals and groups have a stake in the problem and its resolution is an important first step in collecting information about the problem. In addition to criminal justice agencies, the following groups are likely to have some stake or interest in the problem because they may be able to effect changes in the environmental settings in which the thefts occur. Without their help, you will be limited to reactive responses to calls for service and to making occasional arrests, without the ability to implement any changes in the environment that may prevent the thefts from occurring. Stakeholders include:
The most important first step must be the collection of relevant data. It is only through the systematic collection of information concerning characteristics of location, times and methods used by offenders that a clear picture of the problem will emerge. This information can then be used both to inform local car owners and residents of the problem as well as to train police officers.
In many densely populated areas, thefts from cars go uninvestigated if there is no information from the victim as to the identity of the perpetrator. Frequently, police departments do not even send an officer to the scene to investigate or to interview the victim. Reports on these types of offenses are often simply taken over the telephone and entered into the departments’ records. While this sort of action may be pragmatic in overburdened police agencies, when attempting to address a specific problem it causes the loss of a great deal of information that may be of assistance. Identifying one or more perpetrators can alleviate a problem by removing the offender and providing insight into the characteristics, motives, and methods of operation of the thieves. Furthermore, the collection of intelligence concerning the scene of the theft may also help in prevention if the information is routinely shared with a crime analyst, who may help, using mapping techniques, to identify risky locations. (See Crime Analysis for Problem Solvers in 60 Small Steps for further guidance on problem analysis.) The following specific intelligence collection methods may be particularly useful for this type of problem:
† See Problem-Solving Tools Guide No. 3, Using Offender Interviews to Inform Police Problem Solving, for advice on how to conduct such interviews.
†† Police researchers in the United Kingdom used an alternative method of gathering intelligence against professional car thieves: They distributed questionnaires to police investigators who dealt with car crime and collected data about their knowledge of offenders. Among other information, the study indicated that joyriders tend to graduate to other vehicle crimes, and it identified common traits of facilities used as chop shops (Hinchliffe, 1994).
The following are some questions you should ask in analyzing your particular problem of thefts of and from cars on suburban residential streets or driveways, 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.
†The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department found that transient alcoholics who made a daily trip from the shelters along an abandoned rail line to the city’s downtown office parking areas primarily caused their theft from vehicle problem. Part of the solution was to deny access to the rail line by installation of a new trolley system (Clarke and Goldstein, 2003).
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. All measures should be taken in both the target area and the surrounding area. For more detailed guidance on measuring effectiveness, see Problem Solving Tool Guide No. 1, Assessing Responses to Problems: An Introductory Guide for Police Problem-Solvers.
The following are potentially useful measures of the effectiveness of responses to thefts of and from cars:
The following measures, while not direct measures of effectiveness, may indicate progress toward reduced thefts:
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