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Program Profile: Situational Theft Prevention on a University Campus

Evidence Rating: Promising - One study Promising - One study

Date: This profile was posted on June 23, 2020

Program Summary

This program used a randomized experimental design to test the effects of a situational theft prevention strategy to reduce the theft of property (i.e., dry erase markers labeled with an anti-theft message) from classrooms at a university in Louisiana. The program is rated Promising. Treatment classrooms with labeled markers had a statistically significant lower likelihood of having the markers removed, compared with control classrooms that received markers without the message.

Program Description

Program Goals/Program Components
One of the most common forms of victimization among academic institutions (such as universities and colleges) is property crime (Chernoff 2019). At Southeastern Louisiana University, in Fayard Hall (which houses several academic departments), one item that was often stolen from classrooms was dry erase markers. A randomized experimental study was used to test the effects of a situational theft prevention strategy to decrease the number of markers removed from classrooms.

The anti-theft strategy involved placing new dry erase markers that were labeled as “Property of Fayard Hall.” The experiment included 22 classrooms, 11 of which received the anti-theft strategy (i.e., that labeled dry erase markers), and 11 that served as the control group (these classrooms also received new dry erase markers, but with no labels or modifications). The dry erase markers were placed in classrooms on Friday afternoon, after all classes had ended for the week, to avoid detection by students, faculty, and other staff. The markers were retrieved exactly 3 weeks later, to determine how many had been taken from the classrooms and how many had been left alone.

Program Theory
There were several criminological theories underlying the experiment. Cohen and Felson’s (1979) routine activities theory maintains that there needs to be a motivated offender, a suitable target, and the absence of capable guardians for a crime to occur. Further, Clarke (2000) proposed the CRAVED model, which suggests that offenders may consider objects to be suitable targets if they are concealable, removable, available, valuable, enjoyable, and disposable. Thus, dry erase markers would be suitable targets because they are lightweight and small in size, easily removable from classrooms, and often kept in unattended locations. Although not high in monetary value, dry erase markers may also provide value in other ways, such as in support of enjoyable activities (Chernoff 2019).

Finally, the experiment was based on the idea that offenders would be less likely to steal property or objects if they were “easy to identify.” Identifying property involves marking an item so that it visibly indicates to whom the item rightfully belongs (Clarke 1997). Identifying property is one of the 25 techniques of situational crime prevention, as described by Cornish and Clarke (2003), who argued that crime can be reduced by increasing the effort and risk, reducing the rewards and provocations, removing excuses, or some combination of those ideas. Therefore, to deter potential offenders, the dry erase markers were labeled as “Property of Fayard Hall.”

Evaluation Outcomes

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Study 1
Markers Removed from Classrooms
Chernoff (2019) found that treatment classrooms that received markers labeled with an anti-theft message (i.e., “Property of Fayard Hall”) had a statistically significant lower likelihood of having their markers removed, compared with control classrooms that received markers without an anti-theft message. Treatment classrooms were approximately 20 times less likely to have their markers removed, compared with control classrooms.
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Evaluation Methodology

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Study 1
Chernoff (2019) conducted a randomized experimental design testing the effect of an anti-theft strategy on property loss among 22 university classrooms in Fayard Hall at Southeastern Louisiana University. The 22 classrooms were randomly assigned to two groups. The first group (treatment group) received an anti-theft strategy (i.e., new dry erase markers labeled “Property of Fayard Hall”), and the second group (control group) received new dry erase markers but without any modifications. Each classroom received a single marker. The markers were put in classrooms on Friday, October 19, 2018, at 1:00 p.m. (after any scheduled classes, to avoid detection by students, faculty, and staff) and retrieved exactly 3 weeks later.

The outcome of interest was whether markers were removed from classrooms after the exposure period. Classrooms where markers were removed after the exposure period were assigned a value of 0, and classrooms where markers were not removed were assigned a value of 1. Because the sample size in the study was too small for a traditional test of hypotheses in taking the difference between two population proportions, a nonparametric test of hypotheses was conducted. Instead of comparing the observed results with the usual theoretical probability distribution, the results (using this method) were compared with what is known as a random empirical distribution.

The random empirical distribution was constructed by repeatedly shuffling the observed results between the control and treatment groups. Each classroom was equally likely to come from either the control or treatment group, under the null hypothesis. The actual results observed in the experiment were only one of several possible outcomes. By taking the original results and randomly reassigning them to the two groups (11 per group), it was possible to identify additional outcomes under the null hypothesis. By repeatedly and randomly reassigning the observations to the control and treatment groups, and then taking the difference of the new proportions observed for each reassignment, a random empirical distribution of differences under the null hypothesis was constructed. The study authors did not conduct subgroup analyses.
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There is no cost information available for this program.
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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
Chernoff, William A. 2019. “Property of Fayard Hall: A Pilot Study on Situational Theft Prevention on the University Campus.” Crime Prevention and Community Safety 22:33–48.
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Additional References

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

Clarke, Ronald V. 1997. Situational Crime Prevention. Monsey, N.Y.: Criminal Justice Press.

Clarke, Ronald V. 2000. “Hot Products: A New Focus for Crime Prevention.” In S. Allintyne, K. Pease, and V. McLaren (eds.). Secure Foundation: Key Issues in Crime Prevention. London, England: Institute for Public Policy Research.

Cohen, Lawrence E., and Marcus Felson. 1979. “Social Change and Crime Rate Trends: A Routine Activity Approach.” American Sociological Review 44(4):588–608.

Cornish, Derek B., and Ronald V. Clarke. 2003. “Opportunities, Precipitators and Criminal Decisions: A Reply to Wortley’s Critique of Situational Crime Prevention.” Crime Prevention Studies 16:41–96.
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Program Snapshot

Geography: Suburban

Setting (Delivery): Campus

Program Type: Situational Crime Prevention

Current Program Status: Not Active

William A. Chernoff
Assistant Professor
Southeastern Louisiana University, Department of Sociology and Criminal Justice
FAY356A Fayard Hall
Hammond LA 70402