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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

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Do stings control crime l.jpg

Do Stings Control Crime?

An Evaluation of a Police Fencing Operation

Abstract l.jpg

  • 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

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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

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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

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  • 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

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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

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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

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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?

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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

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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

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  • 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?

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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?

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  • 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?

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  • 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!

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  • 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?