John Eck – Reducing Crime and Disorder
Dr. John Eck discusses the theory, practice and future directions for effective policing within our communities.
John Eck: And thank you all for coming. This is a great honor. I have been wanting to come out here for some time so when I got an invitation the choice was obvious. That and the fact that my wife’s nephew lives in Portland and if I did not come and bring here with me we would have some serious issues. But thank you for being here today.
I have been studying places for a very long time. In 1994 I wrote my doctoral dissertation on how drug dealers select drug dealing sites based on information from San Diego. And I have a number of doctoral students who now work in this line of research. Throughout my career and particularly with dealing with problem places I have spent a lot of time with police officers. And the officers and sergeants that I have worked with have made a huge impact on how I think about problem places. I have listed a number of folks on this slide because they were so useful. Maris Herold and Katie Werner from the Cincinnati Police Department, Karin Schmerler from the Chula Vista Police Department heads the Crime Analysis Unit there, and then Tamara Madensen who is one of my former students and Troy Payne and also my daughter, Emily, who is primarily her influence on the latter part of this presentation.
So I am going to go through a set of ideas starting with some very basic ideas about problem places and then ending up on a very bizarre, strange, weird idea. I like to think that one of the interesting things about US policing is because we have so many police agencies out there, there is no idea so weird that some police agency somewhere will not try it. And indeed the weird idea I have at the end I actually have a police chief who is convinced that this will work. I am hoping he is right.
So this is a problem place in Cincinnati. You probably do not have anything like this. This is the Club Ritz. It is located in a sort of run down shopping center in a neighborhood that has seen better days, not a worse neighborhood by any stretch of imagination but nevertheless not a great neighborhood. And there have been a couple of killings here. Two of the victims are shown. Dexter Burroughs was killed at the club and Philant Johnson was shot after he left the club and while on one of our interstates. The owner of curse denies any responsibility and we have a quote from him. I love that quote. It is just too wonderful. The clipping there from the newspaper I think says it all. It has been a major problem and yes, it is still in business. I will not go into my secret suspicions about why.
There has been increasing attention to places over the last 20 or so years. One of the people who I think has been responsible for bringing this to attention to the police and others is sitting here, John Campbell. And the Portland Police Bureau have been extremely helpful in helping the rest of the world think about these kinds of things so I think it is very nice to be able to give this presentation in the city of Portland where a lot of people have actually helped the rest of the US and other countries think about places.
The research helped develop this idea of concentration of crime at places, addresses, street corners, and business. I am going to be very specific of places. To me a place is something like this – address, corner, or business. I will not use the term generally to mean neighborhoods or larger areas so when you hear me say “place” that is what I mean. Not that you cannot use it to mean other things but I just want you to be clear.
A lot of the interest in crime places based on the ability of the police to detect this. For really good information systems and relatively inexpensive geographic information systems it was very hard to see this kind of thing and so if you cannot see you cannot do much about it. It is very much like the discovery of germs after the invention of the microscope. They are always there but the idea of what one could do and how one thought about diseases changed when all of a sudden you saw those little critters. So crime places and these kind of hotspots has really changed the way a lot of policing has worked over the years.
I am going to go through about four topics, first about the importance and definitions then I am going to talk about crime concentrations and convergence settings, an idea that Marcus Felson has brought forward recently. I will talk then about place management and this will lead to the last topic which will deal with regulation. So we are going to start some very common, well understood ideas and move through some less well understood ideas and end up in an area which is beyond cutting edge, the edge has not even gotten there yet and may never get there.
Why are places important? Well there are two real reasons for this. One is that places are important because their locations are crime concentrates, there is a lot of crime in some places and not much in others and I will talk about that in some detail. And then I am going to talk about locations that serve as convergence settings. Crime might not happen there but offenders gather there and that has important implications. And then the rest of the conversation is going to go back to that first idea of crime concentration.
So this is what Pam Wilcox, one of my colleagues, and I call the Iron Law of Troublesome Places. It comes up in virtually every setting you talk about places and it needs a name so that is what we gave it. We have never found a situation where it does not show up. There might be and if anyone would know about such a situation I would love to hear it. But so far, no matter where we look there it is. We had a doctoral student who is a member of the Turkish National Police. We have successfully defended his dissertation last year and we were studying concentrations of crime at coffee shops, bars, high schools, and mosques in Bursa, Turkey and indeed all four of those kinds of locations also had the same kind of crime distribution as you see here. A few of those locations had most of the crime, some of them had a modest amount but most of the places had none.
If you walk away with no other memory from this presentation I want you to remember this because I think it is probably the most useful way of thinking about places and pretty much everything else is that when someone says “Places like this” fill in the blank “are troublesome” you should immediately think about this – most of those kind of places are not troublesome, a few have a little bit of trouble, and a tiny fraction are causing most of your headache. And the idea is to focus on that tiny fraction.
Pam and I came up with this idea while writing a paper for Criminology and Public Policy which was a reply to an article saying that payday loan locations are highly criminogenic and our suggestion was that if anyone actually looked at it what you would find is most payday loan locations are probably are not. We may not like them but it does not mean it costs a lot of crime but a few probably are. So rather than try and say get rid of all payday loan places to reduce crime which will be a waste of resources, focus on the ones that are. So we think all places look like this unless you have evidence to the contrary. This graph by the way will show up in a variety of disguises following this, some empirical, some theoretical.
Before we get back to those I want to talk about this idea of convergence settings because although I do not really know exactly what to do about these at this point I think it is worth thinking about what these are. This is an idea that Marcus Felson has talked about in a relatively recent article in a book that is part of the crime prevention studies series in which he talked about co-offending. And he claims that a lot of co-offending, particularly among juveniles, has to do with locations that allow juveniles or others to get together and the offenders meet people they would not normally meet and can form groups. That convergence setting might be a crime hotspot if they commit crimes right at that location or right nearby but might not be if they go off and commit crimes in other locations. So depending on how that convergence setting works it could be a hotspot or cold spot. So if it is not a hotspot then intelligence information and street officer knowledge is going to be pretty much a way of detecting how these work.
Here is a pretty common type of convergence setting and I use this illustration because I do not want you to get the idea that convergence settings are bad places. This is a good place. This is a transportation hub in downtown Cincinnati, relatively recently redesigned and designed in such a way to reduce problem events at that location. The new design facilitates the movement of people and buses without causing a lot of problem and if you look carefully you will see a couple of people there who are there specifically for the purpose of trying to prevent problems at the location.
But nevertheless the way Cincinnati’s bus system and school systems work school children from a variety of schools use the city transit system to get around and they bring them into this location downtown and then disperse. So kids who would not normally get together can get together and if they end up getting into trouble they can form alliances at this point.
This is another convergence setting in Cincinnati. It is in the back of an apartment building. This is the St. Leger Apartment complex. There is a post card in the bottom left of the screen here showing that it was a luxury apartment building when it was first built at the early part of the 20th century. It is no longer a luxury apartment building even though architecturally it is kind of interesting. The back area of this was an area where a lot of offenders liked to hang out and cause trouble. And the landlord at one point had posted pictures of the people he did not want there on the door and that is what you have on the bottom right. The captain for the police district finally got tired of this after shooting outside of it and a variety of other things so they started problem solving effort on it. And one of the things they were able to do to get rid of this convergence setting is a simple device of putting a chain across that access road so that the offenders could not drive back there. It is not offenders who necessarily lived there. They were offenders who came from other places and hung out and so forth.
So let us go to this – why some places are bad. There are a number of examples. These examples come from criminology and environmental criminology. The first and most obvious is that they are caused by bad people. We sometimes call these crime attractors. The St. Leger Apartments and the Club Ritz might be examples of those.
Other explanations are that high crime locations are that way because they have lots of targets. They have lots of things to steal, lots of people to attack and these are sometimes called crime generators. There is a theory that says they are designed poorly, they enable crime. So a store that has for security four lines of sight might have more thefts than others even if it has just the same number of targets and just the same number of bad people as the other one.
This is the bad neighborhood theory, a theory which I generally do not subscribe too much. And then the theory I am particularly enamored with is the poor management theory. And the reason I focus on the poor management theory is that one, it helps explain how bad people, lots of targets, and poor physical design actually work together as opposed to treating these as completely separate things.
The other reason is that when we look at neighborhoods bad places often cluster with good places even in the same neighborhood. So for example when Tamara Madensen did her work on bars in Cincinnati she produced a map showing that the bars with no violent crime were company-located with bars with violent crime and the biggest cluster of good and bad bars was in one of our worst neighborhoods. There was only one cluster that I could find of totally bad bars and that was in the good neighborhood and no one could figure out why. So neighborhoods might have an impact on bad places but I think it is going to be a relatively weak impact, it is going to be indirect, and it is quite likely that bad places create bad neighborhoods and not the other way around.
Let us look at who these managers are. Place managers first of all are either owners or places or their employees. They are people who actually have control. Occasionally they are volunteers who exist in the running of places but the first two are probably the most common. Place managers are one of three types of controllers discussed in the routine activity theory for those of you who are into criminological theories. The other two being handlers and guardians.
Guardians are people whose primary interest is in protecting targets – either they are friends, relatives of their stuff — and handlers are people who are emotionally connected with offenders and trying to keep them out of trouble successfully or otherwise. Place managers by contrast have their primary interest in the functioning of places. Their primary interest is not in crime – that is an important thing to remember. Place managers’ interest in the functioning of places. If the functioning of places is disrupted by crime the place manager maybe indeed be interested in reducing crime. But if crime does not get in the way of the functioning of the place or might in the minds of the manager help the functioning of the place then they are not going to be interested in fighting crime.
Fortunately for us most place managers think that crime is a bad thing to their place and do something about it. If that was not the case we would not have this iron wall, right? Does this make sense? As I tell my students this is not rock science, it is amazing how criminology is made a very interesting area both unnecessarily complex and boring. So this is more of a tinker toy approach. This is very simple things that if you actually pay attention to it you can do something with it.
So one of the things that my former student, Tamara Madensen, did was think about how place management works. In fact she came up to me one time and said “Dr. Eck” this is where she got her degree, now she calls me John. But before that she said “Dr. Eck you wrote your dissertation on place management, you did not say anything about what it does” which was true. And I said “Okay, maybe you should.” She said “Okay” so she wrote her dissertation on it. So like all good practical criminologists she came up with an acronym, ORCA, hence the whale, and it stands for the four things that place managers do. Now I want you to know this – none of these things are explicitly about crime, they are just about business – that is all they are. It is about business in organized space. In other words they find where they want to put that place, it should be on this corner or some other corner in this neighborhood, some other corner, it should be far or close to customers, whatever. It should be configured — the way the bars should be located at the back or the front, the side, the windows should be covered, uncovered, the decorations should be wherever they are, so forth.
They regulate conduct. Now as people who are interested in studying or doing something about crime we think about conduct as always bad. But place managers are interested in good conduct as well as bad conduct. There is some conduct they would want to foster, right? They want people to eat, they want them to enjoy themselves, they want to spend money, they want them to gamble, they want them to buy gas, they want them to have a good night’s rest, they want to do all sorts of things, right? And there are things that they do not them to do. They do not want to steal from each other, they do not want to damage the place so they try to encourage some conduct and discourage others.
They control access – any place there is an idea of who belongs and who does not belong. So in my hotel guests belong there, visitors of guests, hotel employees, but if you really do not belong at that hotel, you are not there for a conference or staying overnight you are really not encouraged to be there, right? In an office building people who are not part of that office building are not encouraged to be there where others are, right? So controlling access is important and acquiring resources.
If this is a profit making enterprise it is about profit. If it is not it is still about acquiring resources. Funding agencies, donors, all sorts of people and institutions who give money to this place. So acquiring resources is not just about profit, it is basically about staying in business.
Now the first three items are things that can cause problems and there are also opportunity to leverage change. When you talk about CPTED, Crime Prevention through Environmental Design, your friends could be talking about the first one. Place managers are important because if you are doing CPTED who is going to do it? The place manager, right? You cannot just waltz into someone’s place and redesign it, you have to own it, or get the owner’s permission, get their cooperation. So the owner is going to be very important to this.
The last one is a source of resistance and leverage. It is resistance because some owners are going to see their ability to acquire resources as being compromised by changes but also because sometimes you can put the ability to acquire resources in jeopardy and therefore leverage change. So these things are important, not as important as the Iron Law of Troublesome Places, that is the most important thing in the universe, but this comes pretty close.
So here is the Iron Law in action and I am going to give you – walk you through a set of slides here from Cincinnati a few years back and it is 2006. And the reason it is 2006 is because I have not bothered to find a graduate student to update this I do not think things have changed all that much.
Okay, the horizontal axis are apartment buildings in Cincinnati. There are 10,672 – about. And each one of them is represented by a column. This is a bar chart by the way. So they are tiny, very thin columns. And the fact that you do not see any columns on the right is because all of those columns are zero. They have no violent crime at those places. So 77% of the apartment buildings in Cincinnati had no crime. We showed this to the police in Cincinnati. They understood it immediately. But their reaction I thought was really interesting. And they said “We never go there. We do not know about those places.” So this is a reminder that the number of good – the amount of good in the world is far greater than we can normally imagine and it is important to remember these are also potential allies from that 77%. These are the people who are not causing problems.
And we got some others who have a little bit of problem. But then we got the worse 10% of the addresses. That red rectangle captures that worse 10% and they have about 31% to crimes. So if you had some magical powers that were limited to only dealing with 10% of the places and you were smart you would say “I would get the worse 10% of the places. If I can do something and cure them, make them zeroes” you have gotten rid of 31% of the crime in apartment buildings – not a minor deal. Even if you are only half effective that is still 15%. You come out and say “I reduced crime 15% last year” no one is going to say that was a bad idea. They might disagree with you but there was 15% to 10, but they are still going to pay attention.
Troy Payne is again a former graduate student of mine and Katie Gallagher is another graduate student mine, they are probably the only people who have done this. We also started looking at the concentration ownership of apartment buildings. There are, as I said, 10,672 buildings owned but they are owned by less than 4000 owners. Some owners had more than one building. That is probably a shock, right? And it turns out that if you just do the same kind of process where in the vertical axis we have the number of apartments owned instead of the number of crimes. We have about almost 8% of the owners owned over half of the buildings. This is not a bad thing, it is not a good thing, it is just a thing. It is a fact.
So it turns out that ownership of apartments is actually more concentrated than crime is. The worse 10% of the addresses had 31%, here we had 8% of the owners having 50%, so it is even more concentrated in a few owners than it is in crime.
Can you guess what the next slides I am going to show you? It is going to show you how crime is concentrated at owners. We just combined these two things. So the first thing to pay attention to is what you do not see. You do not see the 64% of the owners whose properties had no crimes. And what you see is that 10% of the owners so about 4000 owners which is roughly 400 had almost half the crime at their apartments. What does this tell you? Crime is concentrated heavily at owners. Now I have not done the work to see if crime is concentrated more or less heavily among property owners as among offenders but it would be an interesting thing to look at and say if you looked at all of the people in Portland or Cincinnati and found out how much crime they actually produced would the worse 10% of the people produce 50% of the crime? But somehow we have got – I mean if we did it would be pretty high. Here we have got 10% of the owners somehow associated with half the crime.
The reason on focusing on place managers is sort of obvious but I want to give a normative case for this, not just an empirical case. Place managers have the ability to make the work of criminals hard or easy. So my focus on place managers is not because I want to let offenders off the hook, actually we ought to make it less easy for offenders to do offending. And one of the things that makes it easy for them are some place managers. Most of these place managers actually make the work of offenders hard and that is why most of them do not have much crime but a few make it easy. And so our job is to find out how to change the place manager behavior to reduce the behavior of offenders. This is indirectly getting at offenders.
Now the reason I go through this carefully is I had done this once before a number of years back and had not been so careful and a very smart police captain said “Aren’t you letting the offenders off the hook?” No, we are not. We are actually trying to hold them on the hook a little more firmly and making sure no one else is letting him off the hook.
And this brings us to where the weirdness begins. So once you start thinking about places and place managers as being implicated in the production of crime other things start to pop up. And when I mentioned this to my daughter who at the time was majoring in Environmental Sciences and Economics in college at Dalhousie University up in Halifax she said “Well that is pretty much like pollution. Why not treat places like you would point source emitters like coal-fired power plants?” And the answer is “Why not indeed?” In fact Graham Farrell and Graham-Newman in completely separate articles have suggested that we could think very effectively about crime as a form of pollution. I am building on that notion in the slides to come.
So here are the basic principles and they come from economics. Those who help produce crime should bear the cost of crime. And I do not mean cost in the way we think of it in criminal justice – you do bad and we should do bad to you – I mean costs like we would a power plant. You will have to pay the cost of cleanup. Those who do not produce crime should bear the cost including those taxpayers who are the apartment owners that do not produce crime, those of us in the audience presumably. Compliance should be rewarded for the extent its successful and that is an important point, success is the important part not compliance and non-compliant should not be rewarded.
The economics of this is fairly simple. Those of you who have taken economics classes they recognize this stuff. What we are trying to do is what they call internalize the cost of crime, that a producer of anything that creates pollution is getting a subsidy, not paying for the full cost of it. So therefore it is cheaper for them to produce and they produce more of it. So a place users, neighbors and governments bear the cost of crime or the place owner who helped produce the crime does it. And under crisis the goods and services at those locations increases the owner’s potential profits. They get a government subsidy in effect and could give them a competitive advantage.
And what we know from economic theory and evidence is that when owners of polluting institutions have to bear the full cost of their pollution they either find cheap ways of getting rid of the pollution or produce less which is a good thing.
Okay, so I am going to go through a series of policies which are used rarely. The first ones are more common than the latter ones. They divide themselves into two general classes – standard policies and performance policies. And I have to thank Maris Herold and Katie Werner in Cincinnati for showing their attention when they were complaining about how property owners try to shirk their responsibilities really drove home to me the importance of this distinction.
Basically with the standards regulatory policy what you are saying is you must do the following kinds of things in order to stay in compliance. And staying in compliance is not to get socked with some big fine or some other kind of penalty. Or you must not do some other things. Example, a store cannot sell cigarettes to minors, liquor to minors and so forth, they cannot do this kind of stuff. There are, in most states, requirements that hotels have certain things that they do – records the name of guests, certain kinds of locks, and so forth and so on. These are the standards policies. They have the advantage of reducing owner uncertainty. The disadvantage is that it requires strong evidence. They are inflexible and costly. In fact most of the standards that we impose on business for fighting crime are never contested. We really do not know how well they work and when you think about it is sort of unfair for government to say “You must do so and so” when you really cannot demonstrate it is going to have an effect. Even if it sounds like a good idea we really should know about this. Strong evidence is expensive and we do not have much of it. I am not going to go too much into evidence-based policies but it is mentioned in occasions for that.
Performance standards at the extreme are just the opposite. You say “We do not really care all that much about how you successfully keep crime down” within broad strings. “But you have to keep crime down.” So there might be a limit of some kind and you can use whatever lock so we might say “If you can have a hotel that has no locks in the room and nobody is unhappy, there is no crime, nothing is stolen” and their performance standard no one would have checked. I do not know how you do that but maybe you can figure that out.
It has certain advantages. It can reduce cost. It has a tendency to stimulate innovation. And it does not need as much evidence. So if you have a particular hotel which caters to a particular clientele which you do not need all this other security stuff what does not work for everyone else works for you – that is all the evidence you need. Crime is down. Why would you have that cost? Everyone else might need it. You do not. The disadvantage primarily is it increases owner uncertainty to some degree.
There is another disadvantage in the criminal justice area in that we tend to think in terms of justice which when justice works well we are talking about fairness and when it does not work well we are talking about vengeance. So there is a strong urge for vengeance when somebody runs a place that causes a lot of problems and performance standards do not really exact that pound of flesh that we often want. They just basically say “You have to keep it below a certain level.” If they do not then punishments come about. None of this is free, by the way, this is not an argument for treating people nicely, just what situations you treat them nicely.
Okay, so let us look at five different practices. The first is called command and control regulatory practices. And by the way these are terms that are primarily from the Economics and Environmental Sciences Leadership. It is the standards policy. And what we see here in the bottom is our Iron Law of Troublesome Places. And I placed along at the top a cumulative curve. So basically if you think of – whereas on the bottom you are looking at how much crime is contributed by each location at the top as you move from left to right you are adding the crimes of the next place so it goes up and levels off. So you are looking at the total amount of crime depending on where you are on the right order of places. The importance of this will become apparent in the last of the series so do not worry too much about it in the beginning.
Now a command and control policy works this way. You say “Everybody must have this, applies to all places” and that is why we bracketed the entire range from the worst place to the best place, they all comply. It works best when there is evidence-based tactics available. An example of this is the two-clerk rule for convenience stores, it was documented in Florida, and airport security, one that we all understand perfectly well. It is really easy to understand even if it is annoying. Actually, sometimes it is not that easy to understand when they change the rules every five minutes.
As I said it is generally evidence-stamped. We do not really know how well these things work. It may not be the most cost effective strategy available but whether it is cost effective or not everyone has to do it. It discourages innovation because if you run a place and you think you have a better way of doing things you are going to have to jump through a lot of hoops in order to get permission to do it differently. And those of you into research and know IRBs work understand that basically if you do not jump through a bunch of hoops it is hard to get different kinds of data collection processes going. This is an example of this kind of stuff. And places with no problems suffer. So the 77% of the places in Cincinnati with no crime, the 64% of the owners, under a command and control practice would bear costs.
Subsidies which we often do not think about in this context are just like command and control except instead of penalizing people you are helping. They have some of the same benefits and some of the same problems. All places are eligible. You give free or discounted services or devices to prevent crime. By the way, landlord training programs are a form of subsidy. They work best when they are evidence-based and there is low context sensitivity. That means if the subsidy will buy the same amount of prevention in any place it does not matter where it is. Police response to alarms, landlord training locks for residents – these are all examples of this. The advantage is that it encourages compliance, people tend to like it. The disadvantage of course is you are spending money on a lot of places that do not have any trouble and often they are the places that volunteer for this. And why are they volunteering? Because generally they are smart, they see an opportunity, and they use it even though they do not really need it. So you get some of the friendliest people showing up for this even though they are not going to help you all that much.
Civil lawsuits – economists sort of argue that these are performance-based. I am not convinced of that. I put them in the mixed category. The theory behind this – and in our field it is only a theory because I do not know if there is any evidence about this. When you look at – the idea is that the worst places are going to be the most risk for a suit but the fact of the matter is that virtually all places of that type feel at risk of a suit. So there is an urgency on the part of the place manager to implement solutions which are not so much designed to produce crime, they are designed to reduce prospect of a civil suit. So places with deep pockets are going to implement far more prevention than places with shallow pockets. And attorneys unless they are willing to do property bono work are more likely to go at the deep pocket places than the shallow pocket places so people who live, work, play at shallow pocket places do not get protected even if they are some of the worst places.
In the environmental area there are some evidence I think that civil suits actually might be a benefit. It might work in our area but until the evidence comes in I am fairly skeptical that this is anything but a way of lining the pockets of attorneys who specialize in premise liability suits.
The fourth area is clearly in the performance measurement thing. This is use of fines, taxers, and user fees and the choice of term fine, tax, or user fee depends on whether you are a Democrat or Republican but they are all pretty much on to the same thing. What you do is you basically say “We will accept a certain amount of nasty behavior at your place but no more. If you produce more than this you pay for it.” So we have alarm codes in some cities where you may get a couple of false alarms, after that you are socked with a fine. That is an example of a performance measure.
The ordinance usually does not say how to reduce false alarms, it just says “You figure it out.” In Cincinnati we have an ordinance and it is true of a number of other cities in Milwaukee and I think Savannah, Georgia just started to have a similar thing which limits the number of calls for service to apartment buildings. They exclude some things like domestic violence calls. But aside from a small set of excluded calls if you go over that threshold you can be fined or hit with a fee depending on how you want to think about it. Again, the police department in Cincinnati, Milwaukee, and Savannah does not say to these apartments “You must do it this way.” They say “We do not care really how you bring those calls down, just do it.” Now this works best when the maximum is clear and there are a few exceptions. One of the problems I think of the Cincinnati ordinance is that there seems to be a lot of exceptions and it is a very cumbersome law to administer.
It also has to be politically defensible. It is relatively easy to explain, it produces a certain amount of revenue, although you really do not want to get into a situation where you think of this as a revenue producing thing because people’s (indiscernible) get up. You really want to show it is a crime production thing – -that is the principal purpose. Ideally nobody is fined so it produces little or no revenue and a crime (indiscernible).
Some of the problems is enforcement can be difficult but in the words of environmental economist it has the problem of not dealing with marginal abatement costs. How many of you know what a marginal abatement cost is? You sort of do. My daughter had to explain this to me three or four times over the phone before I finally got it. Here is what a marginal abatement cost is near as I can tell. Imagine two property owners, same kinds of property, both of them emitting a certain number of calls – service, crimes, disorder, whatever. One of them can drop that level substantially, say 50% by spending $100, the other will take $1000. That is a difference in marginal abatement costs. This tax does not do. And the reason is simple I think – let us see if I can remember this. My daughter is actually smarter than I am and younger obviously. But as I have told my daughter repeatedly age and guile always beats youth and intelligence.
So if you have a fine which is guaranteed to deter the property owner with the highest marginal abatement cost, say that takes $1000, the fine is over $1000 and they will have to spend $1000 – now when the $100 property owner violates they get socked with a much bigger fine than is necessary to bring them into compliance. But if you lowered that fine so that it could bring them into compliance the $1000 property would not get compliance. So you’ve got that tradeoff. Now, I do not know, maybe this sounds like a theoretic issue, but I think from a political point of view it could cost problems because one of the things that property owners are very concerned with “We do not know how much crime we are going to have” so there is a sort of a worry that they are going to go over by a bit. So you want some way of sort of buffering this kind of thing so that they will buy into this thing. And this is one of the reasons that Law of Troublesome Behavior is important.
So this comes – there is sort of a fake downward arrow this. This is the trade of permits commonly known as what? Anyone? Cap and trade. As I said this is the screwy idea that there is no example of the application of cap and trade to crime ever anywhere in the world as I can tell. If there is please tell me. So here is how this would work. You have a level of crime at that dotted level and you said “This is too much.” In this example you want to reduce it by half, second dot, dotted line. So you are at that total event cap. You now figure out how many crimes that is and you issue permits equal to that level. And you allocate them across all the places. And you cannot have more crimes on your place than you have permits. So if every place had crimes equal to the permits they owned the total volume of crime would still be half in this example. So you’ve locked in a 50% reduction. I want to emphasize this because it sounds like we are permitting crime. We did that already, we are just permitting less here. So you allocate the permits. Now there is a whole big debate in economics about how you allocate permits and we can talk about that if you want but I am not going to get into it at the moment.
So you allocate it across this group but here is the cool part – you’ve got all of those place owners at the far right who do not have any crime and they have got access permits. The other thing they have got they have got legally a property right in crime. We have given them that. People on the left here do not have enough permits. What happens when someone has a right to a thing and does not need it and someone else wants that right? You’ve got a market, you can trade it. What is that? You’ve got a robbery, yes. So they have got a choice here. These bad landowners on the far side here can either go steal these permits, it is possible, or they can buy them. And there is a – cap and trade has been used quite extensively in a variety of forms. The one I am describing here is just one variation of this. And there is quite a bit of evidence that it just works to reduce various things. There is a sulfur dioxide cap and trade process that has been running in the United States for quite some time. It has been very well documented and evaluated. The carbon permit system in Europe seems to be at work pretty well until the downturn in the economy which drove the price of permits so low that the bottom dropped out of that market but that was just pretty much like (indiscernible) market. So it works in pollution control in theory — and I emphasize the theory part — and it could work here.
So you have the landlords and the property owners on the right side selling permits to the left and the people on the left side sending money to the right. And so what you get if you think about this, imagine a group of bars where you had these trading permit going, there are some bar owners who are going to make some part of their profit by selling their excess permits. It rewards them and it gets rid of that problem of the marginal abatement cost. So somebody who basically sits right on the cusps “You know? It is easier for me just to reduce the problem than to buy permits. They can do that but it is more expensive to have to buy permits.”
Now let us say this is the first time period. You run this for five years and you reduce crime whatever the amount and someone says “Why do you still have too much crime?” Fine, crank it down. So next, what you do is government goes on the market, buys up a bunch of permits that drives the cost up. You say “Well the government is having to pay the property owners.” “Yes, you gave them a property right on that.” They are going to have to (indiscernible) some cost, citizens are gaining. So you buy them those permits, the price of the permits goes up, it is driving everything down. A couple of things you have to do you have to have a (indiscernible) big fine if you get caught having more crimes than permits. And how much does that fine have to be? Well it has to be far more than it costs you to comply, far more. Some of the places on the left are going to go out of business and they are probably going to be bought by people who know what they are doing and they will operate successfully and they will sell their permits on the open market.
So I am almost done here. So this is sort of going back and reduce these ideas into four basic principles. Focus on addresses – the bigger the area the less information you have and the less control you have. Focusing on neighborhoods gives you very little control and relatively little information. Focus on the addresses within neighborhoods – do the worst first. I got this from my correctional rehabilitation folks. The risk principle works here too – do the worst first. It is more effective, more efficient, and reduce the side effects.
Now think about this – if you are going to reduce crime and you had the choice between places that have a lot of crime and places that have almost no crime if you choose the places that have almost no crime and there is a lot of them how much can crime go down? You are pretty close to zero already. You cannot go down very far. You cannot go negative. So if you want to drive crime down a lot you’ve got to go places with a lot of crime. That is I think — the simple mathematics demonstrates that.
Hold owners accountable – their actions are the ones that facilitate crime. The flipside of this is remember you have most owners who are not problems. They are doing their job as they should with – there is a little recognition, positive or negative.
And the final point here is to measure performance. Focus on less on command and control, more on outcomes. We want crime below a certain level. How you get it within broad range of activities we do not care. Just do it, whether you use a fine system or some form of tradable permits is less important than use one or the other of these types of things.
Now let me just do some speculation about policing because I really talked about places and not much about policing but I suspect you can see the implications for this. So let us say that these ideas are widely – become widely used and they are increasingly used so it is not out of the question that they could be widely used. What we would see is a reduced crime and less concentration of crime, police are going to get more involved in regulations, and if the police do not by the way someone else is going to. What reduced fires in the US was not fire companies, it was insurance companies and building codes. So I think when you think about what is going on with physical constraints now I think we could be in a situation where we are going to find more and more ways of reducing crime which do not involve the police so the police need to do this or someone else will.
If we go to the performance approach we are going to need less research on what works and the research on what works will be done by – funded anyway by the private sector where it should be. Why should the federal government provide research on how property managers should run their property and bar owners run theirs? It is in their interest to do this, why do not they fund it? I get government research money to do things like that. When I think about it who is actually benefiting from it?
But if you focus on performance as opposed to standards you actually need less of this stuff. You are going to essentially privatize prevention through cost internalization, not as we do in corrections by just hiring a firm to work for the government, we are basically saying “You are working for yourself, we are just going to hold you accountable.” And there is going to be less need for enforcement as a prevention tool because there is going to be less crime concentration. And by the way those of you who are crime analysts if we are really, really, really good at getting rid of crime concentration you are out of a job because you will not be able to find crime concentration. I do not think there is anyone in the room who is really at risk of that anytime soon but it might be that as you get more gray hair like me your job becomes more difficult because detecting crime patterns becomes more difficult.
And finally I want to leave you with this idea. This is a picture of a gentleman being arrested. He is a property owner in Cincinnati. His properties were not generating a lot of crimes, he was. And so for some property owners – very, very few – simple good old fashioned police work is probably the best application.
Yes, go ahead.
Female Speaker Dr. Eck, thank you for coming today. We are very excited that you are here and for addressing these topics. A couple of points and questions I have with respect to the property owners which traditionally internalize their profits but socialize their risks. One of the things that I was hearing when you were talking about this is that because there is such a small concentration of property owners the guardianship gets attenuated so that it becomes more difficult for these property owners as they acquire (indiscernible) to oversee and really appreciate what is going on with all of their businesses. So one of my questions is could it be possible in the future that we have a database in place to say “Hey look, when these property owners apply for another permit we can see what their record is and say no, we are going to deny your permit until you deal with the properties that you have and get in compliance and lower the risk that are being spread out throughout these areas. And until you get your act together we are not going to issue another permit.
John Eck: Yes, I think that is a very good idea. I mean it makes perfect sense to me. Now I mean there may be some practical limitations when you get into things but in principle that makes sense. You would expect that most property owners who are going to gather properties together are probably going to do okay. But a few are not and what would focus your attention on them it would essentially drive up their cost of acquiring more properties.
Now one of the things to keep in mind is that the property owners who own a lot of crime not all of their properties are crime-prone properties. They own non-crime prone properties as well often. So they are not the sole owners of the high crime properties and it is not the case that they own none of the low crime properties. So you have that kind of mixture.
We do not really know a lot about this area and there might be some people who do although often it turns out no one know much about anything. But I just want to suggest that although in principle that sounds right I would want to know and find out a lot more about the investment decisions in property and how this works. And I think one of the things that we should think about, particularly the academics in this crowd, is collaboration not just with practitioners but with academics who have other background such as in the business school and so forth. But that idea of sort of reducing our risks investing in this landlord I think is one that definitely should be considered.
Female Speaker: I guess I am wondering if we make these bad landlords or whatever buy the permits (indiscernible) would we be in effect just moving the residence of the criminal buildings to different parts of the city in effect pushing that type of life in other areas? And would be effecting the federal subsidization that goes into these type of building (indiscernible)?
John Eck: That is a great question, we obviously do not have an answer to it because we have not done any of this. But it is certainly a question we want to answer or at least address intelligently before we went down that road.
So let me give you my perhaps hopelessly optimistic viewpoint. As I said the reason we are going after co-landlords or various place managers of anything – it could be bars, it could be any number of things – is not because we particularly object to how they run their apartment building, it is because of the crime disorder and that ultimately comes down to offenders doing that. It is allowing that to happen.
So at the heart of your question is an idea about what we think of offenders. If we think of offenders as being more like animals, that they cannot control themselves, that no matter where you put them they are going to act in a particular way. Like my dog used to be – no matter where you’ve been he was going to act like he was going to act.
Yes indeed, you move them out of this place, they have to go someplace, they are just going to act poorly. But I do not particularly like that way of thinking about offenders. I think offenders actually act poorly because we allow them to and if we get environments which makes it hard to act poorly and better encourages them to improve their behavior many of them, most of them I think, will respond to some degree.
So the real question is how are we going to do this? I sort of have in my mind sort of an experiment that maybe somebody here would be interested in running. We have this problem with releasing increasing numbers of people from prison. Where are they going to be? Now we throw them out in the community, they end up often living with girlfriends or somehow in the properties of landlords who do not care which allows them to continue doing things which they know better. How would we envision creating residential places that would facilitate their re-entry into the community? Now one of the things we do know from British states a long time ago is that juvenile facilities called borstals in the UK very considerably in terms of how much deviance they tolerate and some states deal with runaways done back in the ‘70s or ‘80s. If you look back they follow exactly the same distribution that we saw with this Iron Law, most of these borstals had few runaways, a few meant a lot. So it seemed possible to create places for juveniles where you had less trouble. (indiscernible) that is the theory. So I think one of the things we would want to do as we move down this road is to think about exactly that question and see if we can have our cake and eat it too. I could be wrong. These offenders could actually be much more like my dog. But like I said I would like to start out thinking otherwise and be proved wrong than to start with that presumption. Does that answer your question?
Female Speaker: Yes.
Male Speaker: I want to add that – I am going to say that Dr. Eck is not entirely accurate in what he just said because I read an article about the myth of displacement and (indiscernible) is looking at what happens, are we just displacing or not. And I would say that actually I think that you have evidence that suggests we do more than just stir it up. So I just want to encourage you to make that point.
John Eck: There are multiple ways of answering questions. Look, it is actually called the threat of crime displacement. But that is okay, it was written a long time ago and no one could remember the title. And I forget I wrote it to begin with.
Here is what we know about crime displacement – is that it can occur but generally does not. And if it is going to occur it is less likely to be (indiscernible) displaced than not to displace. So we already have some evidence that people are changing their behavior. When you make crime harder people just do not keep crime. (indiscernible) and that is the reason I am optimistic about this thing.
The other thing we know from some research in there is that the opposite of displacement is even more likely than displacement, that not only does the place you are working on get better, neighboring places become safer even where you are not working on it. There is this diffusion of benefits, the good permeates. In our area we tend to think about bad sort of seeping out and creeping into everything. Actually it turns out good does that, bad does not. So I think keep that kind of thing in mind. I like to think of this as a positive thing, that we can actually focus on a few people and get a lot of things done relatively efficiently if we pick the right mindset.
And I think you had your hand up. Yes?
Male Speaker: So you showed the data on the apartments (indiscernible)?
John Eck: This data there is – how did this work? The basic data – crime reporting data comes from Cincinnati Police Department Crime Analysis Unit. We have a very good relationship with the Cincinnati PD. So they gave us the data and that was geo coded so we know the addresses of all these things. The County Auditor’s Office basically has records for all of Hamilton County which surrounds Cincinnati of who owns what properties. So we were able to associate addresses from the Auditor’s data to addresses of crimes, aggregating crime to the address level, and then using the Auditor’s data about ownership, aggregate places to owners.
Now here is a limitation of this. You only get the first level or ownership. Some places are owned by organizations that are owned by organizations that are owned by organizations that are owned by organizations. So it might be – if you actually got to the end of that trail the concentration might be a little different. It is going to be concentrated, it is just a matter of how much. In a simple way that is how we did it. Just like police data has errors in it, our County Auditor’s data has errors in it. This is extremely disturbing because our County Auditor’s data is what we use for tax purposes which means they do not know what the hell is going in and somehow money is leaking out of the system. I am probably paying more taxes than I should because someone is not getting their check or mail or their bill. This worries me. That is a different story. So that is the simple process.
Yes, go ahead.
Male Speaker: (indiscernible)
John Eck: This data here just looked at crime in aggregate. We worked it out and stuff. And no matter how you break it out by violence, non-violent crimes it comes out the same kind of concentrations. The numbers are somewhat different obviously. The bottom line story is the same. Few owners on most of the crime.
We have done this actually in another city in Ohio. We cannot divulge, I cannot tell you the name of the city. And that city was interested in Section 8 housing. They came to us and said “We have a problem with Section 8 housing and it is causing all of these crime problems.” And we said “This could be an ownership problem” and they said “Okay, we can give you the data.” They gave us the data on kind of who owned it, how much crime happened, and their addresses, and whether it was a Section 8 property, and one more problems had Section 8 certificates. We looked at it and indeed Section 8 properties on average were several more times likely to have crime than others. But actually when we actually looked at the distribution it followed the Iron Law of Troublesome Places, most Section 8 properties had no problems, a few did. And so that is what it told us and that is what we told the city is that “Yes, you could focus on the Section 8 thing but that is not where the big bucks are. The big bucks are is that few landlords are causing your problems. So do not focus on Section 8, focus on property management.” And it took them a while to get that to their head and I think the last time we heard from them they were actually thinking much more along those lines. This has some other implications as well but as far as I know those are the only two studies ever done that way and if you have some examples of this let me know, I would like to see it.
Yes, go ahead.
Male Speaker: (indiscernible)
John Eck: Personally I like nuisance abatement policies. I do not know whether this is empirically or just personally because my only randomized controlled trial that I ever run was on nuisance abatement, at least the threat of it. And it seemed the San Diego Police threatening nuisance abatement was able to drop crimes substantially at places that had drug problems. So I am generally a big fan of it. The problem of course with nuisance abatement is – and this depends on the city – is how good your legal team is and their willingness to go after people. Some cities they have got great legal teams and they are pretty aggressive and they know what they are doing. Others they are a bunch of pussycats and (indiscernible) they are not willing and it is sort of arbitrary so it is frustrating for everybody. The principle can work.
Because it is expensive, it is hard to do this on a mass scale. I think if I had to criticize nuisance abatement for anything it is that it might turn out that the cost of doing it is one of your least efficient ways of doing that. I do not know this for certain, it might be that some of these other things are more efficient, maybe not. I would hold that out as a threat, a way of gaining compliance, a nuclear option if you will, but because of the cost and the time-consuming efforts involved in it I would not make that the main thrust.
There is a very interesting – although I have to admit somewhat tediously written book by (indiscernible) that came out in 1990 called – shoot, something regulation, I just read it and I cannot even remember the title of it, flexible regulation or something. They talk about having gradations of intervention. So starting with the least penalizing and moving up to the most draconian to move up. And you are talking pretty much about command and control types of things.
So I would tend to put nuisance abatement near the top of that list because of its cost and because its potential for harm. It also tends – could alienate other good landlords if it is not done right and if you do not inform other people about why this person has been selected. You do not want other people thinking (indiscernible) that other 60%, 67% of landlords who are on your side you want them to know that they are safe. That is my (indiscernible) on that.
Male Speaker: (indiscernible)
John Eck: You touched on – that is a great question – you touched on an area which it may be surprising. Those of you who are not into research you would be surprised at the level of detail you get into in research. In a similar way when we were doing our bar studies we said “What is a bar?” I mean it is obvious, what is a bar? Well it turns out it was not a bar and we spent a lot of times trying to define a bar and going out to figure out what is bar-ness. Does this place have enough bar-ness to be qualified as a bar? Eventually I think we figured it out but it is not something I could easily say. Similar with apartments. They are for the most part special purpose buildings, multi-family. They are not cut out Victorian houses on your campus. The fact of the matter is we relied on the County Auditor to classify them. Again I would not use these graphs for enforcement purposes. I use them mostly for understanding how the—if I was going to use these for enforcement purposes I would want to make sure everything is exactly as it is. I cannot guarantee that to you guys.
One of the things I think would have to come about if the police or anyone gets into regulating crime and like this, police data systems and other systems used for this have got to improve. There is no way that this kind of data systems will stand up to repeated legal scrutiny. I think at some point some really smart attorney is going to figure out there are all sorts of errors in there and they will just rip it to shreds. This has got to change. It probably will require some really savvy attorney to make it risky enough to have a bad data system. And every police data system I have ever looked at regardless of the quality of the policing institution itself is rife with errors and you guys know this.