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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

Do Stings Control Crime?

An Evaluation of a Police Fencing Operation

  • 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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
  • 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
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?
  • 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?
  • 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!
  • 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?