Center for Problem-Oriented Policing

2015 POP Conference
Oct 19-21, 2015 Portland, OR

Managing Displacement

The best scenario at the conclusion of any problem-oriented policing project is the occurrence of diffusion of benefits rather than displacement, but clearly this is not always the case. Even if displacement occurs, your project can still benefit the community if the displacement is managed properly. To effectively manage displacement, you need to gain an in-depth understanding of your displacement potential and plan for the analysis of displacement and diffusion effects within your project.

Making Displacement Work for You

Knowing the different forms of displacement (such as benign and malign) allow you to orient your problem-solving efforts toward minimizing the impact of any displacement effects should they occur. This can mean taking steps to reduce the harm of displaced behavior, tailoring responses to protect vulnerable populations in the community, or shifting the impact of problem behavior where it has fewer consequences.

Reducing the Harm of Crime

One way to manage displacement is to reduce the harms attributable to displaced behavior relative to the harms experienced in the response area before the project’s implementation. For instance, displacing a disorderly day labor site to an organized facility away from affected businesses and residential areas could alleviate the loitering, traffic congestion, and public disorder that previously existed.28 Similarly, relocating a popular teenage cruising strip to a designated area can eliminate harms to businesses and neighborhoods such as traffic congestion, loud car stereos, public drunkenness, and assaults, which may contribute to heightened levels of community fear of crime.29

Protecting Vulnerable Populations

Prevention efforts that are directed toward vulnerable populations such as the elderly, children, or immigrants can still be beneficial even if displacement occurs. These vulnerable populations are impacted by crime more than other community groups as they are less able to protect themselves from victimization and recuperate from or recover losses, and, because of this, generally have a higher fear of crime.30 Conceivably, even a project that prevents victimization among these groups and results in total displacement (e.g., 100 percent relocation of crime or problem behavior) to non-vulnerable community members can still be beneficial. Of course, it is best to reduce the problem without any resultant displacement. Even so, the variability to which crime problems impact different members in the community may be worthwhile to consider.

Shifting the Impact of Crime

Another way the presence of displacement would fail to washout response effects is when victimization or the impact of crime and problem behavior is dispersed from concentrated places or people. Research shows that crime tends to disproportionately concentrate in time, place, and among victims.31 A response that targets community members who routinely experience a disproportionately high rate of victimization compared to others (e.g., repeat victims), or targets crime and problem behavior that is concentrated in a relatively small, specific place (e.g., hot spot, risky facilities) can continue to provide beneficial results even if displacement occurs. This is because the problem behavior will be less concentrated and as such, will result in less harm for the community. Again, any displacement is undesirable, but recognizing the benefit of crime dispersion could be useful.

Cautionary Note

For two reasons you should use caution when applying these ideas in practice. First, much of the knowledge regarding the nature of displacement is based on theoretical propositions that remain untested. Although they do stem from firm theoretical foundations regarding crime that have supportive research findings, there is little empirical evidence that displacement will behave the way the propositions specify (e.g., familiarity decay; movement to areas closest to former crime sites, etc.). Because of this they should be used as a guide to your approach to manage displacement not as hard and fast rules. Second, orienting prevention efforts toward relocating the impact of crime or problem behavior may raise criticism from some community members and may pose some ethical dilemmas. Therefore, your primary goal should be to reduce crime and problem behavior outright without any displacement. Assessments of reduced harm should be used as a way to evaluate the impact of your efforts and to inform subsequent cycles of the problem-solving process.

† It should also be noted that social science is based in probabilities rather than absolutes. This means that theoretical propositions should be interpreted as proposing that it is more probable than not that a certain event will occur given various circumstances. For example, in the case of theoretical propositions regarding displacement, the theories hold that if displacement occurs, it will most likely occur in areas familiar to the offender, which will tend to be close to the original offending site. The failure of this to occur in any single instance does not negate the theory.