Do Stings Control Crime? An Evaluation of a Police Fencing Operation
Abstract • Anti-fencing operations euphemistically called ‘stings’ • Believed to be important undercover tactic for combating property crime • This study examined storefront anti-fencing operation in Birmingham, AL • Utilized time series analysis • Examined ‘transitive’ and ‘reflexive’ organizational goals
Organizational Goals • Acknowledged that pursuit of legitimate organizational goals justifies organizational behavior • Not a carte blanche reality even in instances of lofty organizational goals • Limits are placed on organizational goals • Authors of this paper suggest that as police behavior becomes less benign the more important demonstrating the utility of that behavior becomes
Police Goals • As the use of proactive tactics such as stings depart from legitimacy the utility of such tactics in achieving organizational goals and the value of the goal itself must be assessed • In other words, as the use of ‘questionable’ police tactics increases society needs to examine the goal underlying the tactic in addition to the tactic itself
Cost-Benefit? • When police use ‘illegal’ tactics ‘we’ must determine whether the tactic achieves the organizational goal • Police are devoted to curbing crime • Therefore, it can be argued that any operation resulting in increased crime is not achieving police organizational goal • Perhaps society might also suffer from the use of such tactics
Mohr (1973) Police Goals • Transitive – intended effects on organizational environment • Reflexive – goals for organizational survival • Product – means to achieve an organizational end • We are interested in Transitive and Reflexive goals here
Reflexive Goals • No doubt stings are effective means of reflexive goals achievement • The amount of publicity surrounding a sting demonstrate the importance in this tactic • Public witnesses police arresting bad guys • Police certain to survive as an organization • This paper takes the reflexive goal attainment of stings as a given – this is not under debate by the author
Transitive Goals • There has been considerable debate on the social purpose, functions, transitive goals of police • Crime control? Order maintenance? Crime prevention? • Do stings allow the police as an organization to achieve any of the above goals?
Empirical Literature • Few studies have evaluated the effects of sting operations • Existing studies usually limit their analyses to arrests and property recovery • Most studies claim that stings produce high-quality arrests and result in large amounts of property recovery • Why do police arrest? To prevent crime or curb crime through deterrence and incapacitation
Previous Literature • If crime is not prevented through arrests and adjudication then the transitive police goal is not being achieved • US Dept Justice, Criminal Conspiracies Division (1979) • Took a broad look at anti-fencing projects • Described persons selling to police stings • Examined impact of incidence of property crime • Examined recovery and disposition of stolen property
USDOJ • It was concluded that anti-fencing projects showed decreases in property crime at the termination of the operations • The authors of this paper believed this to be in question • If USDOJ results were analyzed using a 2-tailed analysis instead of the original 1-tailed then the results show stings don’t have the positive results believed • Now how savvy are you as grad students? • Is it acceptable to use a 2-tailed test with a directional hypothesis?
Data & Methods • Birmingham, AL police • Data comprised of daily counts of the number of auto thefts reported to the BPD between 9-1-84 and 6-30-86 • 668 daily accounts • Small increase in auto theft reported • Might there be a confounding explanation for this phenomenon? • Or did auto theft REALLY increase due to the presence of the sting operation?
Discussion • It was suggested that departmental reflexive goals were served by the positive publicity associated with the sting • The question centered on whether the sting served the transitive goals of the agency • The publicity ensured continued survival of the police organization...not in question • Did the sting serve the transitive purpose of decreasing crime or preventing crime?
Results • 2 possible results • 1. The sting’s transitive goal was not achieved – it was damaged by the apparent increase in auto theft associated with the sting • It would appear as though the sting cannot be legitimized on the basis of organizational goal achievement • It failed to curb crime or prevent crime…it resulted in an increase of crime!
Results • 2. The sting did not affect the agency’s transitive goal • If the sting failed to have any appreciable effect on the organizational goal the focus of analysis must be on the ‘costs’ associated with the sting • Did Birmingham society suffer morally due to their police engaging in ‘illegal’ behavior? • Do the ends justify the means?