A look back at crime research shows how businesses can take on rising crime in 2022…
For many businesses, losses from theft have moved from the margins to the material. For example, on a recent conference call, Best Buy’s CEO said theft “dampened its quarterly profits” and, Walgreen’s and CVS have closed multiple stores in San Francisco because of rampant organized retail crime in the city and out of concern for employee safety.
The picture of violent crime isn’t any prettier, according to an analysis in January by the Council on Criminal Justice (CCJ) of crime data from 22 cities nationwide. Homicides, for example, grew 5% from 2020, on top of a 44% increase over 2019—and murder skyrocketed in many places, like St. Petersburg (108%) and Austin (86%). The new CCJ report documents an increase in other violent crimes, including gun assaults (8%) and aggravated assaults (4%). Importantly, rather than generalized social unrest driving crime as happened in 2020, differences across cities suggest that local factors are now driving crime, according to the study’s lead author, Dr. Richard Rosenfeld, a criminologist at the University of Missouri-St. Louis.
Besides taking a hit to the bottom line, putting workers at risk, or closing shop, what can businesses do to fight back against crime? Crime research offers three possibilities.
Know Who Your Neighbors Are – Identify Your Crime Risks
A study of crime in Toronto found “a significantly higher chance of finding check cashing places (CCPs) in areas with higher crime.” In the worst crime quintile, a CCP was 5.4 times more likely to be in the area, and “the findings were even more pronounced for violent crime,” the study concluded (“Check Cashing Places: Preying on Areas of High Crime,” Sociology Mind, Vol. 3, No. 4, 2013).
It’s an indication of why businesses need an updated accounting of potential crime attractors in their vicinity, such as bars, betting parlors, liquor stores, gas stations, and public transportation. CAP Index’s CRIMECAST Reports provide one solution as they identify the distance to the closest point of interest (POI) for each POI category, as well as POI counts within a given radius and a plotting of POI data points on the platform’s interactive maps.
Identifying the proximity to different establishments provides vital intelligence for assessing risk and making security decisions—a point further evidenced by a study of the impact of two large casinos on workplace fraud in Southern Connecticut. The study indicates that problem gamblers fall easily into the “fraud triangle,” and businesses with locations within 50 miles of a casino need to strengthen fraud controls and watch for signs that employees may have gambling problems (“Casino gambling and workplace fraud: a cautionary tale for managers,” Kelly, Hartley; Management Research Review; 2010).
The study cites numerous examples, like the general manager of a Toyota dealership in Colchester, Conn., a respected father of three recognized for his charity work, who embezzled almost $300,000 from the dealership to fund gambling sprees, including $23,000 in slot machine losses in a single month. “What has happened in southeastern Connecticut represents a cautionary tale for managers of both public and private organizations in casino regions,” warned the study’s authors. While cocaine addiction previously fueled employee embezzlement, the assistant state’s attorney said the sense now is that “it is casino-related in 95 percent of cases.”
The fraud triangle (opportunity, pressure, and rationalization) helps explain why gamblers so often resort to stealing from their employer. Having casinos nearby entices personalities with susceptibility to gambling addiction (problem gambling doubles within 50 miles of a casino), and gambling losses puts more pressure on individuals to find money to gamble. Rationalization comes naturally to problem gamblers, who “borrow” company funds so they can gamble ‘until their luck changes and they can pay it back.’ If individuals who fit this profile have access to accounts or otherwise have the opportunity to steal from a business, they typically will.
“Companies in casino areas need to recognize the increased potential for employee fraud by those with gambling problems,” the study concludes. In addition to closely following fraud control best practices, it advises companies to discretely remain aware of employee habits, including taking note of frequent absences from the office and employees’ conversations with fellow employees about trips to casinos or other gambling venues.
Know What’s Happening in the Immediate Area
A study of crime and location found that robbers, burglars, and car thieves tend to have ‘local haunts’—areas in which they like to commit their crimes. “Our study shows that these findings extend across different types of crime,” according to one of the University of Leicester researchers who conducted the study. In short, offenders typically commit all their crimes—regardless of type—within their comfortable geographic zone.
For police, research in this area may help them solve cases. “The locations of crime aren’t just an irrelevant consequence of crime, they can tell us very important information about who is responsible and which crimes are the work of the same person,” notes the study.
It also holds a lesson for professionals charged with protecting business properties. Rather than exhaustively searching for the most vulnerable property to rob or break into, criminals tend to limit themselves to the areas where they feel comfortable. It is within the limited geographic area that they then will select targets. For security and operations professionals, it indicates the need to fully integrate vulnerability audits with area crime statistics to develop an accurate picture of a facility’s risk from external threats.
Examine Nearby Police Activity
A comprehensive facility risk analysis should include an examination of neighborhood crime trends, as well as the extent of law enforcement’s effort to address crime in the area. But it’s also important to examine adjacent areas and the efforts of police in them suggests a study of 10 years’ worth of crime statistics by UCLA researchers (“Dissipation and displacement of hotspots in reaction-diffusion models of crime,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2010).
The results offer insight into the phenomenon of displacement and suggest that companies should take notice when police go hard after crime in adjacent areas. There are distinct types of crime hotspots, and they react differently to police intervention, according to research.
Crime hotspots form when the risk of repeat crimes diffuses locally (but not so far as to bind distant crime together) — but not all hotspots are the same, the researchers discovered. There are two distinct types: supercritical and subcritical. Subcritical hotspots form when a large spike in crime pulls offenders into a central location (drug- and gang-related activity is often a lure). Supercritical hotspots form when commercial or home break-ins, car thefts, and other crimes build up in an area.
While the hotspots typically appear indistinguishable, attacking them with greater police activity will yield disparate results. “Stepped-up policing will stop crime in a subcritical area, but police involvement in a supercritical area will simply shift crime to surrounding neighborhoods,” according to UC Irvine criminologist George Tita.
The research suggests a reason why studies have produced conflicting conclusions about crime displacement. It also suggests that when police target a crime hotspot in an adjacent area, facility and security directors should be wary of potential crime displacement into their neighborhood.
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CAP Reports are critical to my risk assessments. They have enabled us to take a more surgical approach to investing in our stores that need it the most.
Senior Manager of Asset Protection
Five Below, Inc.
CAP Index is the first tool I turn to when time is of the essence. I can always depend on CAP Index to provide me qualified crime information within a very few minutes that I feel comfortable reviewing with the C-Suite.
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Burns & McDonnell
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Memorial Hermann Health System
CRIMECAST® Reports have helped our organization for many years to proactively assess the particular risk for crime surrounding our facilities. The CAP Index® CRIMECSAST Platform is an easy-to-use online service that provides us with the flexibility to share and decentralize crime risk data within our North America business units.
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Kraft Foods, Inc. / Mondelez International
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Bank of America
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The Williams Companies
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Nationwide Children's Hospital