Impact case study
Shaping Crime Prevention Policy and Strategy to Sustain the Crime Drop and Reduce Domestic Burglary
Unit(s) of assessment: Social Work and Social Policy
Research theme: Safety and Security of Citizens and Society
School: School of Social Sciences
Crime rates have fallen dramatically in recent decades, a phenomenon referred to as the ‘crime drop’. Although ONS estimates suggest that almost 700,000 burglaries took place in England and Wales in 2019, they have fallen by about 70% since 1995 – with similar declines observed for all volume crime types (car theft, burglary, theft from the person and violence) in many countries. However, these long-term declines have plateaued, highlighting an urgent need to understand what lies behind the crime drop in order to inform policies that can propel further reductions. By focusing on specific crime types, research by the Q&SC Group across successive ESRC-funded grants provided novel insights into the causes of the crime drop.
A research programme exploring the role of security in the ‘crime drop’ (i.e. widespread unexpected falls in crime incidences and victimisation) by NTU’s Quantitative and Spatial Criminology (Q&SC) group has shaped policies and strategies at a national and regional level to sustain falling crime rates and reduce burglary. The findings influenced a high-profile inquiry into crime reduction by the Justice Select Committee and, as part of the Government’s response, made a significant contribution to the Home Office’s Modern Crime Prevention Strategy. The research underpinned ministerial policy and Home Office guidance on burglary prevention and shaped the national anti-burglary strategy of the Neighbourhood Watch Network (NWN). Working in partnership with government, police chiefs and NWN, NTU researchers provided Police & Crime Commissioners and police forces with evidence-based advice around target hardening, alongside policy tools to inform resource allocation/crime reduction initiatives worth £25m and prevent residential burglary. In recognition of the work’s public benefit, Professor Andromachi Tseloni won the Office for National Statistics Research Excellence Award 2019.
In the first project 'Sustaining the Crime Drop', Tseloni, in collaboration with colleagues from Loughborough University and University College London, examined aggregate crime trends and variation for 26 countries and five main crime types, using the International Crime Victims Survey. Their findings demonstrated that all volume crime types fell at similar rates internationally, and not solely in countries with punitive criminal justice as was previously believed. Acquisitive crimes, notably car theft and burglary, fell first and most dramatically, whilst assaults were the last to decline.
The significance of the order in which crime types began to fall suggested a common cause. Further analysis revealed that two thirds of the decline in cross-national car theft was driven by improved car security such as electronic immobilisers and central locking. This led Tseloni and colleagues to propose and develop the ‘security hypothesis’: that the change in the quantity and quality of security was a key driver of the crime drop. They highlighted broader impacts on crime as a consequence: reductions in car theft disrupt the routine activities that facilitate other crimes (e.g. assaults); securitisation reduces the number and suitability of targets for other crime types; key changes in routine activities, and in potential offenders’ perceptions of benefits and costs, have reduced crime.
A follow-on project 'Reducing Domestic Burglary', led by Tseloni, sought to conduct systematic research into the role of security devices in declining burglary rates, and their relative effectiveness in different contexts. A burglary can have serious emotional consequences (in addition to damage and financial loss) for victims, families and neighbours; surveys documenting public priorities on crime place burglary at the top. The research team evidenced that rapid increases in multiple and efficacious security, combined with reductions in the number of homes with no, or standalone, security devices, drove the domestic burglary drop in England and Wales – further supporting their security hypothesis in the context of the crime drop.
This study was the first to measure protection from all existing anti-burglary security combinations (including standalone devices). It found that External/Internal lights and Window and Door locks (EIWD, later re-abbreviated to WIDE) were the best burglary target hardening options; in combination they conferred 49 times greater protection against burglary with entry than no security. However, counter-intuitively, residences with standalone alarms faced a marginally higher burglary risk than homes with no security.
Tseloni and colleagues found that certain household types (social or private renters, single, three or more adults, lone parents, Asian or Mixed, low income [<£10,000] and without a car) were more at risk from burglary due to the absence of WIDE security, especially following the wider crime drop. Further analysis showed that some socio-economic groups – lone parents, renters and inner-city residents – experienced inequitable falls in burglary rates and, relative to others, continue to experience higher rates of burglary. Drawing on the collective findings, Tseloni undertook further research with the Nottingham Crime and Drugs Partnership to inform and evaluate a local initiative in Nottingham in which WIDE security was installed in burgled and neighbouring dwellings. Tseloni found that the initiative succeeded in reducing burglaries by 64 per cent one year after implementation. The saving per deterred burglary was calculated at £1,700, however this was later revised upwards to £5,930 after the Home Office changed the way it calculates the cost of crime.
Influencing national and regional policy to sustain the crime drop
The security hypothesis as an explanation for falling crime rates has directly shaped national and local crime reduction policy responses and strategies. In 2013-2014, the House of Commons Justice Select Committee held an inquiry: 'Crime reduction policies: a coordinated approach?' Its purpose was to examine the ‘nature and effectiveness of crime reduction policies’ between 2010 and 2014. The Committee’s final report and recommendations to government, released in June 2014, published oral evidence from Tseloni based on her research, and cited Tseloni nine times.
Discussing the relationship between rates of crime and crime reduction policies, the Committee noted (citing Tseloni): ‘There are fewer opportunities for car crime and burglary due to better car and home security; this is thought to explain the initial drop in crime from the mid-1990s’. The report highlighted Tseloni’s finding that ‘people in the most vulnerable population groups are much worse off compared with others than before the crime drop’, noting that, as a consequence, crime should be much easier to target. It also flagged up the conclusion that the variation in explanations for the crime drop demonstrated that ‘potential lessons for policy and practice may not have been learned’. Taking this evidence into account, the Committee concluded that there was an ‘opportunity for more targeted crime reduction initiatives’ within ‘vulnerable population groups and the poorest neighbourhoods’. It called on the Government to ‘seek to recognise more explicitly where reoffending has fallen and seek to understand why’.
As part of the Government response to the inquiry findings, the Home Office began to formulate a new Modern Crime Prevention Strategy (MCPS). Having invited the research team to disseminate their security hypothesis at an International Crime and Policing Conference and a MCPS workshop, the Home Office published a discussion paper in January 2015: 'Opportunity/security as a driver of crime'. Citing the work of Tseloni and colleagues, the paper discussed the security hypothesis, concluding: ‘… we think opportunity/security should be considered one of the main drivers of crime. It offers perhaps the best explanation for trends in thefts of individual items and the growth in online activity means opportunities are likely to both change and increase in the near future – which makes the development of online security a key priority’. Combined, this discussion paper and the security hypothesis shaped the Opportunity as a Driver of Crime section (one of six key policy chapters) of the Home Office’s Modern Crime Prevention Strategy, published in March 2016. It cited the G1 findings directly, in the context of presenting evidence that crime can be prevented by removing the opportunity to commit it, and highlighting the efficacy of target hardening, especially in the case of increased security to reduce vehicle theft.
The Team Leader for Serious Violence Analysis at the Home Office confirmed: ‘The Security Hypothesis work carried out by Prof Tseloni and colleagues strongly informed the Modern Crime Prevention Strategy, and therefore has provided evidence on which to base thinking about responses to crime. In general terms this means it has helped to inform crime policy in the Home Office, expanding focus away from the psychology of the offender towards the external environment and how this environment can be altered in order to alter criminal behaviour’ [S4]. The Scottish Government’s Justice Analytical Services cited the research three times in its 2014 report: 'What Works to Reduce Crime? A Summary of the Evidence'. The multi-agency Nottingham Crime and Drug Partnership (NCDP) responded to the MCPS by commissioning a Knowledge Transfer Partnership with NTU (PI: Hunter; CI: Tseloni) to evaluate the use of security devices in reducing rates of shop theft. It announced this initiative in its Strategic Assessment 2016/17, an assessment of current, emerging and long-term issues and threats affecting Nottingham in order to review the NCDP's priority issues and to inform the Police and Crime Commissioner's (PCC) Police and Crime Plan. Evidence from NTU studies was also cited in the 2017 and 2019 reports.
Shaping national and local burglary reduction strategies
NTU research, led by Tseloni, on the protective effectiveness of security combinations and persistent burglary concentration has influenced national and local burglary reduction strategies in three key areas. In recognition of its impact, Tseloni won the ONS Research Excellence Award in 2019. The award celebrates ‘outstanding innovative research which delivers public benefit to the UK, carried out through the use of ONS data’. Presenting the award, the ONS’ Interim Deputy National Statistician said: ‘The results of her project are already being used to make people and their property safer, highlighting the power of data in making better decisions and improving the lives of people in the UK’.
i) Provision of evidence that underpinned Home Office and ministerial policy
In April 2019, the Home Office set up the Residential Burglary Taskforce (RBT), chaired by the Minister for Policing and Fire Services for one year, to identify and prioritise what more could be done to take real, effective action to prevent residential burglary across England and Wales. Tseloni’s sustained research on the role of security in reducing burglary saw her appointed as the only academic member of the RBT; she presented her findings to the Taskforce at a meeting on April 19, 2019 in Westminster. As a result of the RBT, a new £25 million scheme the Safer Street Funds (SSF), providing PCCs across England and Wales with funds to tackle burglary and theft in crime hotspots, was launched by the Policing Minister in January 2020. Tseloni’s research made a significant direct contribution to the accompanying 'Safer Street Funds – Crime Prevention Toolkit', which was designed to help PCCs understand where the funding can have the most significant impact and what interventions will work best in their localities.
Tseloni and Hunter were also commissioned by the Home Office to create a bespoke policy tool containing comparative and predictive burglary maps at the neighbourhood level, building on their research and predictive models set out in R6 [S10]. A number of successful SSF bids directly referenced the CPT and predictive burglary maps in their underpinning evidence base.
ii) Shaping the national strategy of the Neighbourhood Watch Network
The Reducing Domestic Burglary findings have shaped the national strategy and advocacy campaigns of the Neighbourhood Watch Network (NWN), and its communications with ministers, police forces and its 2.3 million members. The CEO of NWN said the WIDE principles ‘form part of our presentations to members and with the police’. He said: ‘NWN have incorporated WIDE into our nationally available Anti Burglary Toolkit on our website … The toolkits are one of the most used pages of our website with approximately 500,000 users per year’.
iii) Informing police advice and public guidance on burglary prevention
Directly informed by NTU findings, the advice and guidance that police forces provide to households so they can better protect themselves from burglary recommends the WIDE combination, in line with NWN recommendations. For example, the NCDP coordinated WIDE security awareness campaigns on buses (since May 2014 targeting high burglary concentration wards) and petrol pumps, made a significant contribution to a 20% year-on-year fall in burglary in Nottingham (October 2014 - September 2015) at a time of stable burglary rates nationally.
Gloucestershire Constabulary prominently cites a headline finding (directly citing the research paper) to support its burglary protection campaign: ‘Get 49 times more protection against burglary by installing a ‘WIDE’ combination of security devices’. This message was converted on Police.UK into ’properties without any security are five times more likely to be burgled’ – and is directly mentioned by Cambridgeshire, North Yorkshire and South Yorkshire in their burglary reduction advice (alongside an array of organisations including Liverpool Victoria insurance, M&S Bank, Compare the Market, Homeowners Alliance, Rotherham and Redditch Borough Councils). Thirty-seven of the forty-three police forces in England and Wales include secure door and window locks, and internal/external lights on a sensor as part of their burglary reduction advice.
- Tseloni, A., Mailley, J., Farrell, G. and Tilley, N. (2010) Exploring the international decline in crime rates. European Journal of Criminology 7(5), 375-394; DOI: 10.1177/1477370810367014.
- Farrell, G., Tseloni, A., Tilley, N. and Mailley, J. (2011) The Crime Drop and the Security Hypothesis. Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency 48(2), 147-175. DOI:10.11177/0022427810391539.
- Tseloni, A., Farrell, G., Thompson, R., Evans, E. and Tilley, N. (2017) Domestic Burglary Drop and the Security Hypothesis. Crime Science 6(3). DOI: 10.1186/s40163-017-0064-2.
- Tseloni, A., Thompson, R., Grove, L., Tilley, N. and Farrell, G. (2014) The effectiveness of burglary security devices. Security Journal 30(2): 646-664. DOI: 10.1057/sj.2014.30.
- Tseloni, A., Thompson, R. and Tilley, N. (2018) Reducing Burglary, Springer (ISBN: 978-3-319-99941-8).
- Hunter, J. and Tseloni, A. (2016) Equity, justice and the crime drop: The case of burglary in England and Wales. Crime Science. 5(3). DOI: 10.1186/s40163-016-0051-z.