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A problem solving approach to crime reduction

In order for criminal theft to be committed three elements have to be in place.

A target – this can be anything from a TV or Playstation in the case of burglary. Laptops, Xboxes and Digital cameras are the most popular items.

An offender – the burglar to a car thief.

A lack of a capable guardian – or in other words, the target has little or no protection and the offender has the opportunity to obtain it.

These 3 elements are known as the Problem Analysis Triangle or PAT for short.  Take away any one of these three elements and the crime is considerably less likely to happen. In the Community Safety Team we look for ways to eliminate as many of these as possible.

We use a method called target hardening to increase security and provide better guardianship of property. This can be in the form of better locks, anti-climb strips and property marking products such as smartwater. It can be as simple as getting residents to join Neighbourhood Watch or just moving their car keys away from windows.

While all this sounds easy, it can be very difficult to change people’s behaviour. We all develop bad habits, especially at the end of the day, following a hard day at work. Lots of people have a handy key rack by the door where they always hang the car keys and lots of people ‘intend’ to join Neighbourhood Watch, but never get around to it. This is just human nature and it affects us all. However, our work is to help people change these habits and to reduce the risk. We develop lots of project of this nature.

One example of where we have used this successfully was a project to distribute smartwater and encourage property marking in Nuneaton.

Smartwater is a unique solution containing a blend of harmless chemicals providing it with a ‘unique forensic fingerprint’ similar to DNA, the components of which are recorded by the Forensic Science Service.

There is no need to write your name or postcode on your property. A drop of Smartwater is simply painted on and left to dry and when subjected to an ultra-violet light, its presence is immediately obvious by the tell-tale fluorescent glow.

Further scientific analysis will allow the marked item to be traced back to the person registered for that unique bottle of Smartwater.

An extra benefit of Smartwater is that it can be applied anywhere on a product, including rough surfaces or curved areas, making its usage easier and making its removal virtually impossible. Criminals are aware that police only need a microscopic amount to identify the real owner of the property.

The initial phase planned for the project was to distribute an information leaflet pre-advertising free Smartwater including a contact telephone number and e-mail address encouraging the occupier to arrange an appointment for its delivery.

 Where residents arranged an appointment PCSOs who had training in the use of Smartwater were to attend these addresses and explain the purpose of Smartwater, supervise the filling out of the registration form, apply Smartwater to at least one item of property and stick the signage to the windows. At the same time residents were also encouraged to sign up to Neighbourhood Watch.

In the 6 months after project  implementation the two areas targeted had seen a reduction in domestic burglary of between 62% and 83%. This clearly demonstrates the benefits of property marking and signing up to Neighbourhood Watch . In part this is because people are giving more consideration to the security of their homes and possessions but also because the presence of smartwater makes the items harder to sell on for burglars and thieves so they are less likely to steal the items in the first place.

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