Center for Problem-Oriented Policing

How are risk factors identified for a particular group of facilities?

There is no single reason that explains why some facilities have far more crime than other facilities of the same type. Rather, the full explanation usually involves a combination of the seven factors discussed above; remember though, that the relative contribution of each will vary from case to case. In many problem-oriented projects it might not be possible to explain completely the variations in risk between facilities, because such analysis is usually only possible after detailed research that can take weeks or months to complete. However, it is usually possible to get some idea of how each of the seven factors contributes to the problem by comparing high and low crime facilities. We previously explained how to do this when we discussed the various ways of testing the influence of location, hot products, repeat victimization and crime attractors. In some cases, quantitative data such as facility size will be readily available. In others, it might be necessary to survey the facilities to discover the relevant information. For example, in the project mentioned above that focused on thefts from cars in Charlotte’s downtown parking facilities, police surveyed the lots to gather information about hours of operation, attendants, fencing, lighting, and other security measures. This provided many ideas for reducing crime in the riskiest facilities. In another Charlotte study, a police survey found that the theft of household appliances from construction sites was much lower when builders delayed installation until the homes were ready for occupancy. 19

Direct observation and discussions with managers and police familiar with the facilities (see Box 4) can yield valuable insights into the reasons for variations in risk between facilities. In addition, interviews with apprehended offenders can reveal how they evaluate the difficulties, rewards, and risks of preying upon the facilities in the sample. Similarly, interviews with victims—particularly repeat victims—can be revealing.

† See Scott Decker, Using Offender Interviews to Inform Police Problem Solving, Problem Solving Tools Series No. 3 (Washington, D.C.: Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, 2005).

Box 4: Identifying drug markets in privately-owned apartment complexes

In Newark, New Jersey, a project funded by the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (the COPS Office) focused on drug dealing in low cost private rental apartment complexes. 20 During the scanning stage, 22 possible sites for intervention (out of a total of 506 private apartment complexes) were identified through an analysis of police data and interviews with officers in the Newark Police Department’s Safer Cities Task Force and Special Investigations Unit. Subsequent interviews with district commanders revealed a special problem with four apartment complexes located close to entry and exit ramps for Interstate 78, which provided out-of-town buyers with easy access to drug markets. The buyers could briefly enter the city, purchase drugs at the complexes, drive around in a loop and quickly exit again. Authorities implemented a traffic management plan that disrupted the loop by creating one-way streets and dead-ends. The traffic plan was reinforced with additional enforcement at the four sites and will eventually dovetail with a long-term project by the state to rebuild the ramps to route traffic away from residential areas.

Your ability to understand the reasons for the variations in risk will be greatly assisted where there is an existing Problem-Oriented Policing Guide that deals with the facilities that are the focus of your own project. Although it will not tell you which factors are important in your sample, it will provide more specific suggestions than are provided by the general discussion above. 

As of June, 2006, ten guides focused on problems within specific types of facilities.

† New guides are constantly being added; a list of those in preparation is available at www.popcenter.org.