Crime displacement can be described as the relocation of crime or criminals as a result of police crime prevention efforts. Crime displacement has often been linked to problem-oriented policing, but it can happen on other levels and for other reasons. Community development efforts can also be a reason why criminals chose to relocate to other areas looking to facilitate their criminal activity. The central and general idea behind displacement is that when motivated criminal offenders are deterred, they will displace to commit crime elsewhere. Geographical police initiatives can firstly include assigning police officers to specific districts so that they become familiar with the residents and their problems. It is arguable that geographical police initiatives indirectly create a bond between law enforcement agencies and the community. These types of initiatives go hand in hand with crime displacement due to the fact that they are truly a clever form of crime prevention. Notable scholars who are experts in the area of crime displacement include Kate Bowers, Rob Guerette, and John Eck.
Six different types of crime displacement have been identified and defined. The first is temporal displacement which involves criminals’ committing crimes at different times of the day. The second is tactical displacement which, according to Bowers and Johnson (2003), is “where offenders adopt a different modus operandi” (p. 276). The third form is target displacement and it consists of criminals selecting different types of targets. Type of crime displacements takes the fourth slot and it involves offenders choosing a new crime to commit. Spatial displacement is when offenders chose to commit crimes in new locations. Finally, perpetrator displacement involves the replacement of apprehended criminals by new ones. Situational Crime Prevention is a notable theory and can reduce the opportunities for criminals to commit crime. This theory, put into practice, makes it seem more difficult and riskier to commit a criminal act. This in turn can change the perspective of a criminal by creating a doubt within them as to whether or not they can get away with the crime. Situational Crime Prevention uses the environment in such a way that it creates barriers against crime. This can be done by homeowners, architects, and county officials. For example, making changes to streets and buildings to make them safer can alone reduce crime. Neighbors can also play a key role in stopping crime by becoming watchmen and notifying police of possible ongoing crime. The central idea of this theory is that crime can be prevented by altering situations instead of changing a criminal’s disposition. According to Phillips (2011), “The criminologically orthodox view of crime displacement is that displacement is not inevitable; is often less than anticipated, and that Situational Crime Prevention Initiatives may even lead to a ‘diffusion of benefits” (p. 1). Situation crime prevention plays a critical role in deterring crime but can also displace crime and diffuse benefits
Criminal justice scholars lacked a systematic approach to measure crime displacement until the introduction of the weighted displacement quotient (WDQ) from Bowers and Johnson (2003). Although this tool is not as widely recognized as many hoped it would be, its use has made displacement statistically recordable. WDQ may be considered a single part of understanding the effects of targeted law enforcement, but the ease with which the system can be used comes from its being a simple series of statistical tests on data. Overall, WDQ works as a process but is an effective technique in measuring the geographical displacement of crime. In addition to measuring the geographical displacement of crime, this tool can also measure the diffusion of benefit concerning law enforcement efforts.
A study was conducted by Catherine Phillips on behalf of The Nottingham Trent University Division of criminology in which she reviewed existing literature and undertook secondary analysis on published results of empirical data. An orthodox view on displacement is considered throughout this study, meaning that crime displacement is considered inevitable but is less than anticipated and can also lead to a diffusion of benefits. Philips conducted this study to “… discover whether the criminological orthodox ‘knowledge’ that interventions do not result in 100% crime displacement, and may even lead to a ‘diffusion of benefits’- defined as ‘the unexpected reduction of crimes not directly targeted by the preventive action” could be proven (Clarke and Weisburd,1994:165). Upon reviewing a wide variety of published empirical data, Phillips found that displacement is truly not inevitable but very common in cases. A recorded 63% of cases studied showed some sort of displacement while a review of offender studies revealed an astonishing 84.6 percent of displacement. These results can challenge the orthodox view on crime displacement and raise the question of whether or not the orthodox view is biased. The second study was conducted by Matthijs F. J. Vijlbrief on behalf of the National Crime Squad of the Netherlands Police Agency in Driebergen, Netherlands. Taking the Dutch synthetic market as a case study, Vijlbrief (2012) assessed the role of displacement within organized crime. With the increase of barriers by government officials on obtaining precursor and essential chemicals, the question remains how these criminal organizations respond to the scarcity of chemicals. Illegal organizations began by substituting specific precursors with other chemicals which created an adverse effect by making the drugs even more dangerous to those who took them. Criminals were initially not displaced, but rather adapted to the new regulations. It is important to keep in mind that studying potential adverse effects is a valuable tool in creating Situational Crime Prevention policies. By evaluating potential effects, a policy can be forecasted to have a positive or negative result. Vijlbrief (2012) states in his research piece that “Some measures can be said to have a waterbed effect: repression of criminal activities in one location may cause an increase in the same criminal activities somewhere else. Displacement is not limited to geographical effects. Perpetrators may also shift their activities to completely different types of crime, or even continue to commit the same crime using different methods or means”( p. 199). Studying the interventions placed by law enforcement bodies and finding displacement effects proved to be complex in many ways. One of the conclusions found in the study by Vijlbrief (2012) considers that “there is limited attention for displacement effects or the diffusion of benefits” (ibid; Kim et al. 2007). “It is difficult to isolate the effect of a given measure because neighboring factors always have an influence” (Shukla and Bartgis 2009, p. 354). In addition, measuring displacement effects in an organized illegal organization as big as the synthetic drug market is that much more complex since it is multifaceted and extensive. All in all, it is safe to say that organized criminals are likely to adapt their methods to changing circumstances, and that this clearly leads to displacement effects. Of course, it needs to be taken into consideration that organized crime organizations have enough time and money to think of alternative methods when policies pose a big challenge.
Criticism in this field goes beyond directly targeting the term “displacement” but rather also touches upon policies that cause this phenomenon. One of these is Police-oriented policies which are applied widely through different police districts in America. According to Ratcliffe (2009) “ Police departments can respond to a rise in crime with a series of high-visibility, directed, uniform patrol deployment initiatives” (p. 230). Deploying a variety of resources such as extra officers and heightened surveillance on community crime hotspots can counteract criminal conduct. Targeted law enforcement has been criticized as being one of the primary reason crime displacement shifts into other areas. However, manipulating environmental factors in order to prevent crime from occurring has also been supported scholars. Some argue that the targeting of specific crime problems and areas in a community can result in the diffusion of benefits. According to Ratcliffe (2009), diffusion of benefits results in “…crime reduction benefits of the police operation spill over into areas not directly targeted by the law enforcement action” (p. 231). Other notable scholars, Bowers and Johnson (2003), state that a central rationale behind displacement “…is that it can only be attributed to crime prevention activity if crime is reduced in the targeted area considered” (2003). If crime relocates for other reasons, it does not fall under the category of crime displacement. On the other hand, Situational Crime Prevention, which also goes hand in hand with crime displacement and diffusion of benefits is also a center of criticism. Philips (2011) describes that “…a major criticism of such physical SCP strategies has been the threat of crime displacement, and the assertion that ‘the foreclosure of one type of criminal opportunity (will) simply shift the incidence of crime to different forms, times and locales” (Repetto, 1976:167). The ability for criminals to adapt to the changing law enforcement policies allows for other methods of criminal activity to be applied.
Crime Prevention Implications
Using Crime displacement as crime prevention has not really been done due to the fact that it is contradictory. Instead, we could use the critical development of the weighted displacement quotient (WDQ). Until the development of WDQ, it had been extremely difficult to gather empirical work investigating the phenomenon. Bowers (2003) emphasizes the fact that “…WDQ not only measures what occurs in a buffer zone (displacement) but also relates changes in this area to those in the target area” (p. 712). Using this system can facilitate the work of many researches looking not only to help stop crime in their community but also surrounding communities which can be negatively impacted. For example, if a community is enduring a heightened problem with car thefts, especially on dim lit street corners, using Situational Crime Prevention strategies, the county can invest in brighter street light bulbs, thus helping with visibility. As a following measure, law enforcement agencies can advise communities of potential stings in hotspot areas making the crime riskier to commit and dissuading potential thieves. Implementing these types of measures will reduce theft and potentially displace the crime to a neighboring community not yet affected. By measuring empirical data through the WDQ system, law enforcement agents can pin point the most affected areas and can also calculate the diffusion of benefits. Sharing this type of data with other agencies will breed an information network capable of impacting crime positively.
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• Displacement • Diffusion • Crime hot spots • Response area • Situational crime prevention • Effects of displacement • Temporal • Spatial • Target • Tactical • Offense