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Using Crackdowns Constructively in Crime Reduction (From Hard Cop, Soft Cop: Dilemmas and Debates in Contemporary Policing, P 117-134, 2004, Roger Hopkins Burke, ed. -- See NCJ-206005)

NCJ Number
Nick Tilley
Date Published
18 pages
After summarizing Sherman's theory of an effective police "crackdown," this chapter summarizes various studies of crackdowns and outlines the benefits of crackdowns for crime reduction.
Police "crackdowns" involve "sudden increases in officer presence, sanctions, and threats of apprehension either for specific offenses or for all offenses in specific places" (Sherman, 1990). Given that police cannot provide a uniform and pervasive law enforcement presence throughout a jurisdiction that gives equal attention to the enforcement of all laws, crackdowns can help to fill enforcement gaps regarding certain laws. Sherman notes that crackdowns are a form of police "bluffing" that increases the perception that police have a wide-ranging enforcement presence, thus increasing perceptions of risk in the minds of potential offenders. Sherman, however, reports on studies of police crackdowns that have used various mechanisms and achieved varying outcomes, some that have been detrimental to crime control. Some negative outcomes of crackdowns may include displacement of targeted crime beyond the immediate locale of the crackdown, increased homicides due to increased threat perceptions, and a fall and then dramatic increase in the targeted crime. Some positive outcomes of crackdowns may be increased drug prices to reduce demand and a residual decrease in vehicle accidents (deterrence) after a drunk-driving crackdown. Given the possibility of negative effects from crackdowns, Sherman advises that it is important to draw lessons from evaluations of the effects of various crackdown mechanisms and targets. Two examples of effective crackdowns are provided, i.e., the random breath tests in New South Wales (Australia) and the Boston gun project (United States). The chapter concludes with an outline of three possible ways crackdowns might be used constructively. First, they can "nip problems in the bud" by showing a strong, concentrated police response to an emerging law enforcement problem, thus providing a deterrent effect before the problem escalates. Second, crackdowns can keep offenders guessing over the long term by injecting sporadic but repeated unpredictable police responses that have significant consequences for those caught in the crackdown. Third, crackdowns can create conditions for longer term, noncrackdown measures to be introduced. Crackdown successes can point the way toward changes in police strategies and the deployment of police resources on a regular basis. 2 tables, 1 figure, and 4 notes