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Program Profile: Operation Swordfish (Birmingham, UK)

Evidence Rating: No Effects - One study No Effects - One study

Randomized Controlled Trial

Date: This profile was posted on July 10, 2018

Program Summary

This intervention was designed to prevent repeat and near-repeat burglaries. The program used a target-hardening, crime-prevention technique to reduce repeat victimization of the same households and neighbors within the same area. The program is rated No Effects. The program found no statistically significant difference in both burglaries and time-to-repeat victimization between households in the treatment group, compared with households in the control group.

Program Description

Program Goals/Target Population
Operation Swordfish was a police-led, target-hardening, crime-prevention strategy that was implemented in Birmingham, England. The overall goal was to reduce burglaries. Research has shown that once a home is burglarized, there is an increased risk of additional burglaries at the same household and surrounding households; therefore, the target population for this intervention was burglary victims and their surrounding neighbors (Johnson et al. 2017). The program aimed to prevent repeat victimization of burglary victims and to prevent near-repeat victimization (i.e., reduce burglary victimization of neighboring households). To increase a potential offender’s perceived risk of committing a burglary, police used target hardening strategies.

Program Components
Software was used to import data on the locations of burglarized households reported to and recorded by police. Next, the software identified the addresses of the eight houses nearest to the burglarized home. The burglarized house and those surrounding eight neighbors (four on each side) received the intervention. Each house received a priority level (gold, silver, or bronze), a visit from police officers, and a target-hardening package, which was designed to increase the security of the residence.
Houses were divided into gold, silver, and bronze priority levels. The gold package was assigned to the burglarized house and consisted of LED units, electronic timers, door and window chimes, a crime prevention sticker, and details of neighborhood watch schemes. The silver package was assigned to the four neighbors closest to the burglarized house and consisted of the same items in the gold package, except for the LED units and stickers. The bronze package was assigned to the subsequent four closest neighbors and consisted of the same items in the silver package, except for the door chimes.
The LED units were designed to shine lights against windows to give the appearance that a television was on in the home. The stickers in the target-hardening package were created to give off the silhouette of a guard dog. Both the LED units and stickers were intended to deter burglars from approaching the household. Additionally, the households were visited by officers and re-checked by additional officers as an extra level of supervision.

Key Personnel
A chief inspector was appointed for implementation of the program in the policing units. Sergeants and constables were briefed by a police officer and the University College of London (UCL) team who were conducting the evaluation. Additionally, police community support officers (PCSOs) were used to complete the visits to the burglary victim and nearby residents.

Program Theory
The Operation Swordfish intervention was based on principles of deterrence theory which assumes that individuals consider the consequences of their actions and are also affected by consequences. Additionally, rational individuals weigh the cost and benefit of committing a crime. Therefore, increasing the cost of committing a crime or increasing the risk of getting caught will deter individuals from engaging in crime (Paternoster 2010). The program also used techniques of situational crime prevention, which aim to reduce victimization by identifying inefficiencies in crime targets (i.e., homes) and altering the environment to prevent crime (Clarke 1995).

Evaluation Outcomes

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Study 1
Johnson and colleagues (2017) found no statistically significant difference in the likelihood of being burglarized between households in the Operation Swordfish treatment group and households in the control group.

Time to Repeat Victimization
No statistically significant difference in time-to-repeat victimization was found between households in the treatment and control groups.
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Evaluation Methodology

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Study 1
Johnson and colleagues (2017) conducted a randomized controlled trial over a 30-week period from September 1, 2012, to March 16, 2013. The program, Operation Swordfish, was conducted in the city of Birmingham, the second largest city in the United Kingdom (UK). The city of Birmingham has high levels of inequality, unemployment, and deprivation. However, crime is relatively low, compared with other major cities in the UK. The program was implemented in 46 policing neighborhoods in Birmingham. Each neighborhood was randomly assigned to either a treatment or control condition. The treatment group (n=23 neighborhoods) and its eight neighboring households received a target-hardening package and multiple visits from a police officer. The control group (n=23 neighborhoods) did not receive the package or police officer visits. Instead, officers were supposed to conduct their policing as usual.

This study used police-recorded crime data to measure the likelihood of repeat victimization and time-to-repeat victimization on burgled households and neighboring households. Time-to-repeat victimization is defined as the amount of time elapsed between an initial burglary that intiated the intervention and any subsequent burglaries. There were 5,140 households in the treatment group: 648 households received the gold package, 2,395 households received the silver package, and 2,097 households received the bronze package.

Both the treatment and control neighborhoods were matched in their pre-intervention burglary rate; there were no statistically significant differences between the groups. A statistical analysis and time series analysis were used to evaluate repeat victimization. A subgroup analysis was conducted on how intervention effects compared in high-crime versus low-crime areas.
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For the Operation Swordfish program, target-hardening equipment was funded by Birmingham’s Community Safety Partnership for an overall cost of £115,000, which is approximately $160,000 (Johnson et al. 2017).
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Other Information

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The effect of Operation Swordfish in low- and high-crime areas (separated by whether households received gold, silver, or bronze packages) was also evaluated. These outcomes were not scored in determining the final program rating. For houses that received the gold package, there was no statistically significant impact on the likelihood of being burglarized in high- and low-crime areas. For households that received the silver and bronze packages, there was no statistically significant effect on burglaries in high-crime areas; however, in low-crime areas, there was a statistically significant decrease in the burglary rate (Johnson et al. 2017).
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Evidence-Base (Studies Reviewed)

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These sources were used in the development of the program profile:

Study 1
Johnson, Shane D., Toby Davies, Alex Murray, Paul Ditta, Jyoti Belur, and Kate Bowers. 2017. “Evaluation of Operation Swordfish: A Near-Repeat Target-Hardening Strategy.” Journal of Experimental Criminology 13:505–25.
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Additional References

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These sources were used in the development of the program profile:

Paternoster, Raymond. 2010. “How Much Do We Really Know about Criminal Deterrence.” The Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology 100(3):765–24.

Clarke, Ronald V. 1995. “Situational Crime Prevention.” Crime and Justice 19:91–150.

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Program Snapshot

Geography: Suburban

Setting (Delivery): Home

Program Type: Community Crime Prevention , Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design/Design Against Crime, Situational Crime Prevention, General deterrence

Targeted Population: Victims of Crime

Current Program Status: Not Active