Center for Problem-Oriented Policing

Analyzing Crime Displacement and Diffusion

Tool Guide No. 10 (2009)

by Rob T. Guerette

Introduction

One of the most common criticisms of problem-oriented policing efforts is that crime will simply relocate to other times and places since the "root causes" of crime were not addressed†† or because offenders may remain on the streets after certain crime opportunities are reduced. This phenomenon - called crime displacement - has important implications for many problem-oriented policing projects. At the extreme, widespread displacement stands to undermine the effects of your project. More often, however, crime displacement is not total and is inconsequential if it does occur. Most claims of displacement are based on suppositions unsupported by empirical evidence.

† This is also a common criticism of most situational-focused prevention efforts.

†† Here "root causes" refers to broader social forces such as economic disparity, blocked employment opportunities, improper socialization resulting in offending, etc.

The majority of problem-oriented policing projects fail to investigate displacement.††† Officers are generally pleased to achieve a crime reduction in the targeted area and may be less concerned if crime is displaced outside their jurisdiction. Yet assessing and understanding potential displacement effects can help ensure the effectiveness of your problem-oriented policing project because the presence of extensive displacement threatens to undo any successes. Determining the extent of displacement (or lack thereof) will also assist in defending your results to critics.

††† At least those that are submitted each year for the Herman Goldstein Awards for Excellence in Problem-Oriented Policing.

This guide serves as an introduction to crime displacement, describing the concept, the extent to which it occurs, and why it may or may not happen. It discusses the nature of displacement and its varieties, including where displaced crime is most likely to go and what it might look like. This guide then describes ways to manage displaced crime to ensure your project's success. Finally, it describes methods for measuring and analyzing displacement that can be used to determine overall effectiveness of problem-oriented policing projects. The guide is intended to assist those engaged in problem-solving activities including line officers, crime analysts, police executives, and community development professionals.