Center for Problem-Oriented Policing

Summary of Responses to Juvenile Runaways

The table below summarizes the responses to school vandalism and break-ins, the mechanism by which they are intended to work, the conditions under which they ought to work best, and some factors you should consider before implementing a particular response. It is critical that you tailor responses to local circumstances, and that you can justify each response based on reliable analysis. In most cases, an effective strategy will involve implementing several different responses. Law enforcement responses alone are seldom effective in reducing or solving the problem.

# Response How It Works Works Best If… Considerations
General Considerations for an Effective Response Strategy
1. Recognizing the person-environment interaction Addresses personal motivations for and environmental facilitators of vandalism …multifaceted, potent combinations of responses are implemented Overreliance on environmental responses can make schools seem fortress-like
2. Establishing a task force Involves stakeholders with varying expertise …broad representation is sought, stakeholders are responsible for responses within their area of expertise, and student leaders and marginalized students are included Due to its complexity, the initiative requires a coordinator to ensure that all responses are implemented according to design and within targeted timelines
3. Using the media wisely Shows vandalism’s impact, such as the scale of resources squandered and feelings of loss among students …both local media and student media sources are used There is a risk that media attention may sensationalize events and promote the concept of achieving notoriety through high-profile crimes committed against school property
4. Setting priorities Targets events with both high financial and social costs …high-value items are protected, and priorities are established at the outset of the initiative It may not address factors that contribute to high-volume but nonserious vandalism
5. Operating at the district level Maximizes the efficiency of problem analysis and response implementation …individual schools are given the authority to fine-tune responses to address local conditions Requires both district- and school-level facilitators to make sure that action plans are carried out at each site
Specific Responses to School Vandalism and Break-Ins
Changes to the Physical Environment
6. Controlling access to deter unauthorized entry Makes it difficult to enter school grounds and buildings after hours …materials and devices are of good quality and cannot easily be broken or disabled It can be more costly to fortify the building than to repair the damage caused by vandalism; fire escape routes may be compromised; it can give buildings a foreboding appearance
7. Posting warning signs Lists prohibited activities, indicates that the school is cared for and controlled, and deters potential intruders …signs are prominently placed and are supplemented with architectural features such as gardens, sitting areas, and student artwork It may not deter highly motivated offenders; signs and architectural features may become vandalism targets
8. Storing valuables in secure areas Makes it harder and more time-consuming to steal valuables …valuables are stored in inner rooms with high-quality locking devices, and there are no signs indicating where high-value goods are It may be inconvenient to staff who regularly want to access equipment
9. Reducing the availability of combustibles Makes it harder to start a fire, by limiting the materials available on-site …trash cans are emptied regularly, and flammable chemicals are always properly secured It requires constant attention; it may be inconvenient to staff who regularly want to access chemicals
10. Inscribing valuables with identifying marks Reduces the incentive for burglary by making it hard to sell stolen goods …identifying marks are conspicuous and permanent It can make equipment less attractive; it is ineffective if the vandal wants to destroy the items
11. Adjusting indoor or outdoor lighting Either increases others’ ability to spot intruders or reduces intruders’ ability to see what they are doing …the community is aware of the school’s policy and knows how to report suspicious behavior to the police Well-lit campuses have high energy costs; “dark campuses” may compromise the safety of staff and others who are there for legitimate reasons
12. Obstructing vandals through physical barriers Makes it harder to damage property …high-quality, strong finishes and enclosures are used, and barriers are well maintained It does not address vandals’ underlying motivation; it can be expensive; potential offenders may see it as a challenge
13. Repairing damage quickly and improving the appearance of school grounds Gives the impression that the school is under steady surveillance by those concerned about keeping it safe …materials needed to repair damage or repaint surfaces are kept on hand It requires constant attention by maintenance staff; multiple repairs can be costly
14. Removing ground-floor glass windows and other vandalism targets Eliminates or fortifies easily damaged fixtures …features are considered when buildings are first designed, and high-quality glass substitutes are used It can be costly and decrease the building’s attractiveness
Offender-Focused Responses
15. Increasing the frequency of security-staff patrols Increases offenders’ risk of getting caught, and regular contact with police may improve reporting …patrols are consistent but unpredictable, and mainly conducted by school security staff, conserving police resources for response and investigation It requires significant manpower, which may be costly
16. Using closed- circuit television Increases offenders’ risk of getting caught, as footage may be used to identify them …equipment is placed and angled properly, and used to review incidents rather than to prompt intervention in ongoing incidents It is expensive and logistically difficult to install in existing buildings; cameras can be vandalized; it requires monitoring and consistent maintenance
17. Improving opportunities for natural surveillance Increases offenders’ risk of getting caught …residents are encouraged to be alert to suspicious activity, and know how to report it to police It is not useful if the school is in an isolated area
18. Providing caretaker or “school sitter” housing on school grounds Increases offenders’ risk of getting caught …the caretaker feels it is cost-beneficial and is a school employee Maintaining the residence may be costly; it may be hard to supervise the caretaker appropriately
19. Holding offenders accountable Deters would-be offenders from engaging in or repeating the behavior …it is combined with investigative enforcement activities, involves students in problem-solving, addresses offenders’ motivations, and is publicized during student orientation Its effectiveness is not well documented; few offenders are apprehended
20. Diverting offenders to alternative activities Decreases the amount of unstructured, unsupervised time offenders have; channels behavior in prosocial directions; and may encourage better reporting …programs encourage a sense of ownership, target students appropriately, and involve students in planning activities It may not involve the students most at risk for vandalism; it may not have credibility among disenfranchised student groups
School Management Practices
21. Educating school staff Increases the consistency with which other responses are applied, and increases offenders’ risk of getting caught …property protection procedures are discussed regularly at staff meetings, and procedures are documented in a manual It does not address offenders’ motivation or the environmental features that make the school vulnerable
22. Controlling building and room keys Reduces potential means of unauthorized access …the distribution of keys is limited, and periodic key checks are conducted It is limited to a single entry method; it depends on teacher vigilance and compliance with procedures
23. Maintaining an inventory of valuable equipment Improves the ability to detect when equipment has been stolen …detailed inventory lists are created and secured off-site, and are updated regularly It affects only the ability to confirm that property has been stolen; it has no prevention value
24. Creating a “vandalism account” Gives students an incentive to refrain from and report vandalism …rewards are made available periodically throughout the year It requires staff time to administer; apathetic youths can subvert the process; vandalism is not always committed by students; if no money is returned, the program loses credibility
25. Changing the organizational climate Makes the school more responsive to student needs, and addresses vindictive motivations …students are involved in identifying concerns and designing modifications It may be difficult to develop a plan; it requires motivated staff to implement changes; vandalism is not always committed by students
Community-Focused Responses
26. Providing rewards for information concerning vandalism or break-ins Increases incentives for students and residents to provide information, and increases offenders’ risk of getting caught …it is supported by local police, and students are given autonomy in running the program Investigation time may be wasted on inaccurate or misleading tips; it is not prevention-oriented
27. Creating “School Watch” programs Increases offenders’ risk of getting caught …patrols are regular but unpredictable, volunteers immediately contact the police if they see suspicious activities, and activities and outcomes are well publicized It can be hard to maintain resident participation levels; there is a risk of vigilantism among volunteers, and concerns about volunteer safety
28. Evaluating public use of school facilities after hours Increases offenders’ risk of getting caught …rules and boundaries are clear, and other areas of the school are secured Potential vandals or intruders may have unquestioned access to the school
Responses With Limited Effectiveness
29. Controlling the sale of vandalism tools Bans the sale of materials used for vandalism It requires extensive cooperation from merchants; it does not address other means of acquiring tools
30. Increasing penalties Imposes harsh punishments on offenders Punitive environments increase the incidence of vandalism; reporting is inconsistent, and apprehension rates are low; most acts of vandalism are minor and do not warrant severe penalties