Center for Problem-Oriented Policing

Responding to Repeat Victimization

Since the risk of repeat victimization is highest in the short-term, responses with the greatest potential for being effective have the following characteristics:

Responses emphasize quick action-within 24 hours if possible-to prevent a subsequent offense.

Highest priority is accorded repeat victims with the most victimization, and these victims receive an increased level or amount of the response. This type of graded response deploys the easiest or least expensive measures to first-time victims and increases the intensity of the response if subsequent victimizations occur.

Responses to repeat victimization may be temporary since the increased risk of revictimization is most acute in the short-term.

Types of Responses to Repeat Victimization

There are three primary ways of responding to RV:

  • Protecting victims by blocking future opportunities against these specific persons or places
  • Shifting responsibility for repeat victimization
  • Increasing actual or perceived risks of apprehension for offenders, primarily repeat offenders

These types of responses may be combined, depending on the type of problem.

Protecting Victims

  1. Quickly blocking visual signs of victimization. Obvious signs of property damage should be removed immediately to block visual signs of vulnerability. Needy victims may need assistance in quickly securing properties.
  2. Improving physical security. While it is not practical to provide security surveys to all potential victims, properties that have been victimized once or more should be assessed for vulnerability, and protective actions should be taken rapidly.
  3. Target hardening. Improved security, such as hardware, can be installed; lighting can be improved; security lighting installed; visibility improved such as by unobstructing views of cash registers; and so forth.
  4. Rapidly blocking access to targets. Installing bandit or anti-robbery screens at victimized properties; placing targeted products behind counters, in locked cases, or out of reach; and moving or removing targets such as telephone booths, signs, vending machines, or vehicles.
  5. Removing or protecting targets. Some targets cannot be physically moved but victimization can be reduced by installing driveway barriers where vehicles cannot be garaged; and obstructing access to alleys, walls, signs, or culverts using fences, gates, vegetation, baffles, or sprinklers.
  6. Regulating or controlling access. Access to locations that are repeatedly victimized, such as parks, bathrooms, libraries, and schools can be controlled in different ways including fees, passes, identification cards, or parking permits.

Shifting Responsibility for Repeat Victimization

  1. Educating victims or eliminating excuses for risky behaviors. Victim behaviors, such as failing to secure property or walking alone, may contribute to victimization. Once victimized, victims can be educated about their risk of being victimized again. Services such as escorts for women walking alone on college campuses, access to shelters or protective custody for domestic violence victims, and crime prevention devices such as dead bolt locks can eliminate excuses for risky behavior.
  2. Changing management practices. Management practices, such as increasing the number of employees or adopting security features, may reduce repeat victimization. For example, access controls can be installed in parking lots, retail stores can require receipts for returned merchandise, apartment complexes can screen visitors, gasoline stations can adopt pre-pay policies, stores can limit and secure cash on hand, bars can monitor drinking, the number of customers can be limited, access to hot products can be controlled, or the number of employees can be increased during "hot times."

    Since changes in management practices may be costly and inconvenient, some businesses might prefer to put up with repeat victimization as a "cost" of doing business. In such cases, police should consider steps to encourage the adoption of preventive strategies. Education and informal requests may convince some property owners to adopt protective measures. Since predictable repeat victimization reduces the amount of police service available to unwilling victims, some repeat victims may be persuaded to adopt crime prevention strategies through the application of publicity, user fees, or even civil actions.

Increasing Risks to Offenders

  1. Temporarily increasing surveillance. For victimized locations and people, informal and formal surveillance can be increased temporarily through police patrols, security guards, and employees for a wide range of offenses from vandalism to burglary to domestic violence.

    Temporary surveillance can be increased through "cocoon watch," a type of Neighborhood Watch in which nearby residents are informed of an offense and asked to be particularly vigilant.

    Electronic surveillance, including CCTV and portable burglar alarms, can also be temporarily used in many settings.

    Domestic violence victims may be provided with panic alarms to quickly contact police about repeat offenses.

  2. Reducing rewards. To deter repeat offenders, the rewards associated with offending can be reduced by focusing on victimized locations, persons, or property.
    • Tracking devices, such as units temporarily placed in vehicles, can be used to detect offenders.
    • Marking or etching property with identification makes it difficult to sell property, and ink packs in cash packs limit use.
    • Cash control procedures in retail stores limit the amount to be stolen, and return policies can reduce shoplifting.
  3. Monitoring repeat victimization. It is important to assign clear responsibility for identifying and monitoring repeat victimization. The responsibility for monitoring repeat victimization may vary by the type of offense and the prevalence of revictimization. Call dispatchers, crime analysts, crime prevention personnel, specialists such as victims service personnel, responding officers, and investigators may all take a role in identifying and monitoring repeat victimization; while the assignment of responsibility may vary from one crime problem to another, the locus of responsibility should be clearly articulated.
  4. Cautionary Note

    While some effective responses to repeat victimizations may focus on increasing the risks to offenders, particularly repeat offenders, caution should be exercised in focusing on increasing apprehension of offenders. Efforts to apprehend unknown offenders are resource intensive and may not be successful, particularly for property offenses. In some situations, tactical or short-term police efforts such as baiting, stings, or surveillance to prevent revictimization of individual persons or places may result in the apprehension of an individual offender. While these offenders may be responsible for numerous offenses, police should consider whether the initial characteristics of the vulnerable victim or location are likely to remain unchanged and therefore attract other offenders.

    The most effective and efficient crime reduction strategies will likely consist of longer-term efforts to prevent revictimization by changing the characteristics of types of repeat victims. For example, adopting pre-pay policies at gas stations with repeated gasoline drive-offs will produce longer-term benefits than arresting a single offender or even several offenders.