Neighborhoods - Johnson et al. (2017)

Study Reference:

Johnson, S. D., Davies, T., Murray, A., Ditta, P., Belur, J., & Bowers, K. (2017). Evaluation of operation swordfish: a near-repeat target-hardening strategy. Journal of Experimental Criminology, 13(4), 505-525.

Location in the Matrix; Methodological Rigor; Outcome:

Neighborhood; Focused; Proactive; Rigorous; Mixed effect

What police practice or strategy was examined?

The study evaluates Operation Swordfish, a police-led target-hardening crime prevention strategy implemented in West Midlands (UK) to prevent near-repeat burglaries. Research suggests that when a home is burgled, the risk of repeat burglary to that property and properties nearby is temporarily elevated. In the program, when a burglary occurred, the victimized home and its eight immediate neighbors (four on either side) received a visit from officers within the same day who gave residents a simple target-hardening pack and information on burglaries committed in the local area. The package comprised lighting units that shone light against the window creating the appearance of a television being on (given to the burgled home only), door and window chimes (given to the burgled home and the four closest neighbors), electronic timers, a crime prevention sticker, and details of neighborhood watch schemes in the area. A chief inspector was appointed to coordinate the implementation of the program, emphasizing the importance of experimental integrity. Visits were completed by uniformed police community support officers and a secondary team was formed to physically check addresses to ensure treatment delivery. Compared to other target-hardening schemes, the treatment was a low cost, low-intensity intervention, but the targeting was highly focused, and the implementation process was actively monitored. The intervention lasted for 30-weeks.

How was the intervention evaluated?

A total of 46 neighborhoods were randomly allocated to receive the program (treatment group) or not receive the program (control group). One year after the intervention, a 25-item questionnaire was developed to measure citizen satisfaction, awareness of burglary, likelihood of reporting crime to the police, and fear of crime among those who received the intervention and those who experienced a burglary but lived in a control neighborhood, and their eight nearest neighbors. To assess program impact on crime, the study compared repeat victimization of burglary on the previously burgled homes and their neighbors during the 2 years following the intervention between the treatment and control neighborhoods.

What were the key findings?

The intervention had a very modest preventive effect on repeat victimization, and effects were more evident in low- than high-crime areas. In particular, homes in low-crime treatment areas were less likely to be re-victimized than were those in similar control areas. A small neighborhood-level reduction in crime was also noted in the treatment areas. While the results were of marginal statistical significance and not conclusive, they suggested that the treatment areas overall experienced fewer burglaries as more homes were treated. In addition, survey findings showed that residents in the treatment group were slightly more satisfied with the police and more likely to have been contacted by the police concerning burglaries. They had more awareness of burglary, but their fear of crime was not increased. There was no significant difference between treatment and control residents in perceived levels of police presence following burglaries or likelihood of reporting a future crime to the police. The authors noted issues with implementation fidelity- there was no clear record of police visitation in 29% of all burglaries prescribed for treatment.

What were the implications for law enforcement?

The authors suggest that a low-intensity, police-led target-hardening intervention which adopted a near-repeat victimization targeting strategy had a modest positive effect on residential burglary without increasing residents’ fear of crime.

Where can I find more information about this intervention, similar types of intervention, or related studies?