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Journal of Community & Applied Social Psychology, Vol. 1,275-289 (1991)
Police Communication Programmes Aimed at
Burglary Victims: a review of studies and an
experimental evaluation
Department of Social Psychology, Free University De Boelelaan 1081, 1081 HV Amsterdam,
The Netherlands
The effects and side-effects of a victim assistance project aimed at victims of burglary are
experimentally evaluated. Key features of the programme included the provision of burglary
prevention information by police officers during a personal interaction with the victim through
a positive and limitative communication strategy. Results suggest that important programme
goals (for example, stronger satisfaction with police performance, a more internal risk orientation concerning victimization, stronger preventive intentions) were met. One of the positive
effects for which experimental support was found was an improvement in police-victim relations. As regards side-effects the programme led neither to response generalization, nor to
increased fear of crime outside the home. However, the side-effects of increased fear in the
home did occur in female victims and victims with an external risk-orientation. The implications
for future victim assistance projects in this domain are finally discussed.
Key words: Victim assistance, crime prevention, police communication, coping with
Crime prevention and victim assistance is sometimes depicted as a natural partnership. A familiar slogan of the ‘take a bite out of crime’ campaign in the USA for
example is ‘victim assistance is crime prevention too’. A major portion of the Burglary
leaflet, published by the National Association of Victims Support Schemes in Great
Britain deals with questions of home security and crime prevention, also. In the
Netherlands a central element of the recent governmental guidelines on the police
role vis-u-vis crime victims is the provision of crime prevention information to victims
who report their victimization. The provision of such information is seen as an
important ingredient of a victim-oriented approach. However, scepticism is regularly
voiced: police prevention publicity often does not work (Riley and Mayhew, 1980;
Sacco and Silverman, 1981), or it might easily backfire as regards fear of crime
and response generalization (Miransky and Langer, 1978; Scaglion and Condon,
1980; De Graaf, 1981; Holtom, 1985). In particular female victims and external
*Portions ofthis article were presented at the4lst Annual Meeting of the American Society for Criminology
(Reno, Nevada).
1052-928419 11040275- 1 5$07.50
0 1991 by John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
Received 18 February 1991
Accepted 15 October 1991
F. W. Winkel
controllers appear to be vulnerable for these side-effects (Winkel, 1989c,d, 1990).
This form of victim assistance is more closely scrutinized here by evaluating a
police communication programme in which officers recontacted victims of a burglary
several months after the incident was reported to them. A number of specific features
were incorporated in this programme in an attempt to attain its intended effects
and to avoid side-effects such as increased fear of crime and response generalization,
which are likely to be stimulated among victims of burglary in particular. These
features and the programme-goals will be considered in more detail in the ‘theoretical
and empirical background’ section. After reviewing previous research relating to
the present programme the experimental hypotheses are formulated, followed by
a description of the experimental design, the dependent and independent variables.
Next, the outcomes of the programme evaluation will be presented. Finally, we
summarize the main results and their implications for future victim assistance programmes in this domain.
Police communication will be defined here as the interpersonal provision of information on burglary prevention to victims by a pair of uniformed police officers
who use a positive and limitative communication strategy in the form of a visit
to the victim’s home some time after the incident was reported to the police. This
definition refers to a number of features suggested in previous experiments on the
effects and side-effects of preventive communication.
In the first place reference is made to the importance of personal, face-to-face
contacts with uniformed police officers. Winkel (1981, 1986, 1987b), for example,
concludes that increasing police visibility is an efficient tool for controlling and reducing the public’s fear of crime. In these experiments high police visibility resulted
in reduced fear both directly and indirectly, through strengthening police-community
relations, diminishing subjective victimization risks and curtailing the perceived negative impact of victimization, indicating that less serious consequences were associated
with victimization.
In the second place the definition refers to the importance of using a so-called
positive communication strategy (Ajzen and Fishbein, 1980; Jaccard, 1981), in which
the positive personal consequences resulting from behavioural performance (complying with the preventive advice offered) are explicitly emphasized. Available evidence
suggests that such a strategy is more effective (than a so-called ‘negative’ strategy)
in persuading the general public to actually take preventive measures (Vrij, Winkel,
Foppes and Volger, 1990; Zwanenburg and Winkel, 1990), and in changing their preventive intentions (Winkel, 1989b). Moreover, such a strategy does not backfire: increasedfearisnotalikelyresponseamongthegeneralpublic(Winkel,l981,1989a,1991).
In the third place reference is made in the definition to using a limitative communication strategy, aimed at avoiding response generalization. This concept means that
the communicator not only can induce the preventive reactions which he intends-the
target set or set of intended preventive responses-but also unintended and undesired
(buying weapons, watchdogs, and barricading one’s doors, for example) preventive
reactions-the non-target set. Experimental outcomes, reported by Winkel (1987a),
reveal response generalization due to a burglary prevention campaign to be particularly likely in specific subgroups among the public in general. Examples include:
Police communication programmes
receivers characterized by an external risk orientation, for example persons who
tend to perceive victimization as an outcome beyond their personal control, in persons
reporting high ‘prior (that is: in the pre-campaign period) life stress’, and persons
with a high communicative involvement with the theme of crime (heavy ‘crime news’
viewers, for example; Gerbner, Gross, Signorielli and Morgan, 1980). One might
hypothesize that response generalization is thus likely to occur in crime victims
exposed to preventive communication, because several of the conditions triggering
generalization are simultaneously present in these individuals (Janoff-Bulman and
Hanson-Frieze, 1983; Maguire, 1985). Response generalization might be avoided
by utilizing a limitative strategy (Winkel, 1987a,b). This means that the communicator
makes it clear to the receiver that the set of preventive measures given in the messagethe target set-is exhaustive and adequate. In the message, more far-reaching precautions should be presented as undesirable responses.
Content of the preventive information provided is still another vehicle in achieving
intended effects and avoiding harmful side-effects (Winchester and Jackson, 1983).
Burglary is mainly typified as a form of opportunity crime, committed by amateurish
perpetrators, using simple resources, like a screwdriver. As regards burglary prevention emphasis is put on the avoidance of ‘habits that have become natural’ but
amount to asking for burglary (open doors/windows) and on the application of
architectural provisions, like improving the fasteners on doors and windows. In
short, stress is laid on simple techno-prevention, on target hardening. Such a focus
might be of psychological importance to the receiver. Fischer (1984) and Scherer
( 1985) note that such a technical definition might positively influence the feelings
of powerlessness and the more external orientation to victimization. Technical recommendations by the police are ‘more than professionalism and good public relations:
they are also for victims regaining a sense of order, control and confidence in community’ (Fischer, 1984: 170). This aspect is nicely illustrated in Paap’s account of
a victimization experience: ‘in some interactions the victim comes to define problems
of burglary and home security not as moral or social problems, but as technological
problems. This type of discussion helps the victim to define the situation as a technical
not as an emotional matter and provides the feeling that increased control over
one’s circumstances is available through technology. Defining the situation in terms
of technical devices holds out some hope for personal power’ (Paap, 1981: 303).
Achieving a more internal risk-orientation is not only positive in itself, but it
might also contribute to realizing other goals, like reducing fear of crime. Tyler
(1981), moreover, suggests that an internal risk-orientation increases the intention
to take preventive measures, while Normoyle and Lavrakas (1984) report that such
an orientation is accompanied by lower fear of crime.
Drawing attention to the opportunity character of burglary might also be of psychological importance for the receiver. This implication is discussed by Waller and
Okihiro (1978), Maguire (1980), Clarke and Hope (1984) and Hough (1984). Waller
and Okihiro (1978: 110), for example, suggest that ‘we must do more to inform
the public how they can help themselves to provide protection against the typical
amateur offender’ (1978: 110). They stress the importance of de-dramatization in
providing preventive messages. ‘Some reduction in fear might be achieved by more
frequent publicity of the peaceful nature of residential burglary. The police called
to the house could do more to provide reassurance to the victim by explaining the
amateur and non-violent nature of most residential burglaries’ (1978: 105). Maguire
F. W. Winkel
(1980: 270) moreover notes that for many victims the word burglary ‘conjures up
pictures of masked intruders, ransacked rooms, and shadowy figures entering the
bedroom while people sleep, all images perpetuated in fiction and in sensational
media accounts of burglaries, but far from the reality of the mass of actual offences
committed’. It thus seems plausible to interpret the initial symptoms of shock so
frequently mentioned as a result of the combination of the unexpectedness of the
event and the imagination of the victim.’ Maguire (1980: 271) therefore concludes
that giving simple advice on security, reassuring victims that the burglar is probably
a harmless teenager unlikely to return, although largely unproductive in thief-catching
terms, are all valuable as aids both to the victim’s recovery and to police-public
relations. Summarizing, we may conclude that increasing the acceptance of the point
of view of the communicator that a fairly large number of burglaries is committed
because an easy opportunity is offered is not only a goal positive in itself, but that
increased acceptance can also contribute to lowering fear of crime and to counter
the stimulation of extreme preventive reactions to burglary (cf. response generalization).
Finally, we would like to note that the present intervention fits well into recommendations to limit the scope of police publicity campaigns (Riley and Mayhew, 1980;
Winchester and Jackson, 1982; Heal, 1983; Mayhew, 1984),to address clearly identifiable social groups rather than employing ‘broad-spectrum’ techniques (Fattah, 1981;
Fischer, 1984; and Kosberg, 1985), to utilize a more personal approach (Scaglion
and Condon, 1980; Holtom, 1985), and that police officers should respond to victims’
informational needs, in particular to the very common need for preventive information (Shapland, 1982; Van Dijk, 1983; Yantzi and Brown, 1983; Reeves, 1985;
Maguire, 1985).
Victim recontacts
One project that bears similarity to ours is Skogan’s (1985) victim recontact programme (Skogan and Wycoff, 1987) in which Houston police officers contacted victims of diverse offences a few weeks after the event. During the telephone conversation
the officer asked about problems due to the victimization. Advice was offered on
how to solve such problems and the officer mentioned various organizations able
to give additional assistance. The telephone call was backed by a Crime Prevention
brochure sent to the victims. Victims who had reported their victimization to the
police were randomly assigned to two groups: one group was ‘recontacted’ while
the other was not. Programme impact, however, was discouraging: ‘there were virtually no significant differences between contacted victims and victims in the control
group on any of the outcome measures’ (Skogan, 1984: 3). The effect variables
included willingness to take preventive action, satisfaction with police performance,
attitude towards the police, perceived seriousness of crime in the neighbourhood
and fear of crime. Results moreover indicated the occurrence of side-effects: ‘those
who were contacted thought there was more crime in their area and victims with
a linguistic heritage other than English were negatively rather than positively affected
by the program’ (Skogan, 1984: 3). According to Skogan, victim recontact programmes would lead to positive results if the following criteria were considered:
the victim is approached sooner;
(2) contact is personal rather than by telephone;
Police communicationprogrammes
( 3 ) attention is concentrated on specific groups of victims, for instance on those
who are known to have problems;
(4) active assistance is offered, rather than referring victims to other organizations;
(5) programme personnel participate in training aimed at improving the skills
needed in police-victim interactions.
Our project conforms to four of these five criteria. In our case victims are visited
in person by two uniformed police officers. The visits are limited to burglary victims,
to whom direct assistance is offered in the form of preventive information, while
a security check was made of vulnerable areas in the dwelling. Finally, project personnel participated in a training programme on burglary prevention communication
which lasted a number of days, incorporating practical exercises through role-pays.
The previous notes may be summarized by listing the most important (side-)effect
measurements conducted in the experiment. In addition to fear of crime and response
generalization the following seven measures are relevant: (1) satisfaction with police
performance; (2) attitude towards the police; (3) agreement with the sender’s view
on the opportunity-character of crime; (4) perceived police protection against burglary; (5) perceived police protection against crimes of violence; (6) risk-orientation
regarding victimization; and (7) willingness to take burglary-preventive measures.
With respect to these variables we hypothesize that police communication will
result in: greater satisfaction with police performance, a more positive attitude towards the police, greater agreement regarding the opportunity-character of crime,
a more favourable assessment of police protection against burglary, a more internal
risk-orientation, and increased willingness to take preventive measures.
Regarding fear of crime it was assessed whether increased fear as a side-effect
is avoided in victims generally, and more specifically among female victims and
among victims with an external risk-orientation. In line with the remarks above
we hypothesize that especially women and victims with an external risk-orientation
are likely to react to police publicity with increased fear. We also hypothesize that
police publicity will achieve a reduction in fear among male victims and victims
with an internal risk-orientation. Finally, it was assessed whether response generalization is avoided generally, and whether it does not occur among victims with an
external risk-orientation, a high communicative involvement with the theme of crime,
or among victims who already applied preventive measures. Parallel to a distinction
made between rather extreme reactions to crime ‘inside the home’ and more extreme
reactions ‘outside’ (cf. Winkel, 1987b), measures differentiate between fear of indoor
crime and fear of outdoor crime.
Assisted by the state police all persons who had reported a burglary in the preceding
18 months were listed. Victims were divided among three municipalities (Weesp,
F. W. Winkel
Muiden and Muiderberg). Victims in Weesp were further divided according to five
neighbourhoods. Next, the victims from the distinct geographical areas were assigned
at random to either the control group or the experimental group. Since confidential
personal data were at issue, all victims in the control group were informed of the
survey (by telephone or in writing) and requested to participate. Willingness to cooperate was extremely high: only two victims refused, one by reason of illness, another
on account of a death. A Free University pollster handed the victims in the control
group a questionnaire, subsequently retrieved by the same person. Victims in the
experimental group were approached by two uniformed state police officers, who
had participated in the training programme referred to above. In the training attention
was given to burglary as an opportunity crime, common methods by which burglars
gain entry to a building, technical, constructional and organizational means of burglary prevention and so on. The officers also participated in extensive role-playing
sessions, learning to establish and maintain contact with a victim by way of preventive
communication. These exercises were discussed and evaluated per individual by the
section Crime Prevention. One of the goals of both training and role-playing sessions
was to teach officers how to use a positive and limitative communication strategy.
As noted, all victims in the experimental group were visited by two officers in
uniform. A visit contains three phases: (1) oral communication on burglary prevention
is given; (2) a security check is made in and around the house; ( 3 ) a brochure on
burglary prevention is distributed. Oral information was structured in conformity
with the brochure Burglary Prevention. In this phase the officers spoke of the opportunity character of burglary and, based on the principles mentioned above, possible
ways of preventing break-ins were suggested. Following the oral message a safety
check was carried out in and around the home, inspection taking place in terms
of the checklist ‘House Break-ins’. Vulnerable points around the house were pointed
out and ‘tailored’ advice was given to reduce such vulnerability (for example, ladders
and tools stored out of sight; the garden landscaped such that a burglar cannot
work ‘invisibly’, etc.). The house itself, too, was checked out. Front doors, rear
entrances, (sliding) doors opening to the garden, and garage doors were looked
over. Are the doors equipped with security locks? Is it possible to insert a screwdriver
between door and frame near the lock? and so on. Attention was given to such
windows as featured by the house: casement windows, sliding windows, cantilevered
windows, skylights, dome windows and what have you (a sample checkpoint: are
retaining slats affixed such that the glass is not easily removed?). During the third
phase of the visit a map containing information was presented, in which the two
previous phases were expanded on and explained. This map was composed of a
20-page information brochure dealing with burglary prevention, a checklist ‘House
Break-ins’, a brochure Mark Your Possessions on marking and identifying one’s
goods, a registration form ‘Valuable Possessions’ and a folder ‘32 Tips for Carefree
Holidays’. To illustrate we reproduce some fragments of this material.
Informa tion fragmen ts
The brochure Burglary Prevention was subdivided into a number of chapters dealing with matters such as the burglar and his ‘favourite working conditions’, vulnerability to break-ins, three lines of defence: around the house, locks and keys, doors
and windows. Each chapter features extensive graphic illustrations. The first chapter
contains the following fragment:
Police communicationprogrammes
28 1
Can you protect yourself against these risks? Yes, you can. You can make use of ‘technology’: you can install better locks.
The first and most important rule is: make the burglar’s working conditions unattractive. You do this by following a few basics. They are rather obvious if you look at
them from the burglar’s point of view.
These basics are:
Time is his greatest enemy. Every minute counts. The more time he needs, the more
risks he runs. A ‘job’ that will take too long frightens him off. And if he does get
in, he has less opportunity to collect his loot.
A professional safecracker does not hesitate to attack a bank’s safe with a cutting
torch and ultra-modern equipment. The (opportunistic) thief staking homes prefers
to work with simple tools. They do not hamper his movements. This is why proper
security measures make things very difficult for this kind of criminal, and he will abandon
his project.
Complete security does not exist. Sooner or later a burglar will find a way to get around
the problem.
These basic rules underlie reasonable protection. Reasonable, because making a house
completely secure would mean changing it into a fortress or a bunker. Safe, certainly,
but not very pleasant to live in. And that is not the intention.
That’s why we would rather speak of ‘burglary-discouraging’. That is to say: the
situation is made as difficult and as unattractive as possible for the burglar. This brochure
explains ways to do this.
A second fragment is taken from the Crime Prevention folder entitled ‘32 Tips for
Carefree Holidays’:
What should be remembered before you go on holidays? And what should be taken
care of whilst you are gone? A number of things. So much, in fact, that it seemed
a good idea to put things down on paper.
Of course, also during holiday seasons the police try to prevent offences as much
as they can. But you, too, can do a great deal. Crime prevention needs both the police
and you.
When you know that most criminal offences are ‘petty crimes’, and when you know
that these are often committed simply because the opportunity was there, then you
understand immediately what you can do to prevent them.
This folder explains how you can reduce opportunity. A convenient checklist tells you
what to remember, what you should do, what you should certainly not do. Mark the
items that apply to your situation and try to stick to them.
We wish you carefree holidays!
The questionnaire assessed a number of background characteristics, including age,
educational level and possible other victimizations experienced, such as theft outside
the house, assault, vandalism. In addition to gender, the following receiver characteristics were recorded: (1) communicative involvement with crime as theme; (2) riskorientation regarding burglary victimization; ( 3 ) preventive behaviour displayed earlier, i.e. prior to the publicity campaign. Communicative involvement was determined
by way of two questions answerable with ‘never’, ‘sometimes’, ‘regularly’ and ‘often’.
The questions were: Do you talk with others about crime? How often do you read
or hear about crime in the paper, on the radio or on television? Risk-orientation
F. W. Winkel
was assessed utilizing three propositions: (a) one can do something about the likelihood of a burglary oneself, (b) if one takes a number of simple preventive actions
one can avoid becoming a victim of a break-in, (c) one can reduce burglary risks
oneself by installing some simple devices. Answers were in terms of seven-point
scales ranging from ‘agree’ to ‘disagree’. Previous preventive action was assessed
through asking ‘did you take burglary-preventive action in the past’?
Regarding the dependent variables the attitude towards the police was assessed
in terms of agreement with five statements: the police take people seriously; the
police feel involved with the public; the police here are usually helpful; police here
are open to suggestions; the relation between police and public is pleasant. Answers
were in terms of seven-point scales, varying from ‘very strong agreement’ to ‘very
strong disagreement’. Satisfaction with the police was measured through the question:
‘Are you satisfied so far with police performance on your behalf?’ The corresponding
seven-point scale ran from ‘satisfied’ to ‘dissatisfied’. Agreement with the communicator’s view that burglary is a crime with an opportunity character was measured
via statements such as: a good number of break-ins takes place simply because people
themselves provide the opportunity; a fairly important part of crime is a matter
of offered opportunity; crimes are perpetrated because the chance is provided; things
are made too easy for burglars because people leave themselves wide open. Agreement
with these statements could be expressed on seven-point scales from ‘agree’ to ‘disagree’. Perceived police protection against crime was determined through the questions: ‘To what extent do you consider yourself police-protected against burglaries’,
and ‘To what extent. . . against violent crime?’ Both questions had seven-point scales,
from ‘adequately’ to ‘inadequately’. Willingness to take preventive action was
assessed by asking: ‘Do you intend to take action to reduce the likelihood that
your house is broken into?’ One could answer ‘yes’ or ‘no’.
Fear of crime indoors was assessed through seven items, including: How safe
or unsafe do you feel when home alone in the evening? How worried or unworried
are you that a burglary will take place during the day, when you are not at home?
Would you indicate to what degree the chance that your house will be broken into
evokes at this moment the feelings listed below? Would you indicate to what degree
the chance that, indoors, you will be the victim of a crime against your person
evokes at this moment the feelings listed below? All of these items carried a seven-point
scale anchored with terms like ‘calm’and ‘tense’, ‘safe’and ‘unsafe’, ‘quite unworried’
and ‘quite worried’. Subjective burglary risk was assessed by asking ‘How likely
or unlikely do you personally think it is for you to become a victim of a burglary?’
The answer, on a seven-point scale, ranges from ‘very unlikely’ to ‘very likely’. Perceived negative impact of burglary was measured through asking ‘How serious do
you expect the consequences to be if you become the victim of a break-in?’ The
seven-point scale varied from ‘not serious’ to ‘very serious’.
Fear of crime outdoors was determined by questions such as: How safe or unsafe
do you feel when walking the street alone at night in this neighbourhood? How
worried or unworried are you that you may be bothered, threatened or assaulted
in this neighbourhood in daytime? How worried or unworried are you that this
may happen in the evening? Please indicate the degree to which the chance that
you will be the victim of violent crime in these streets evokes at this moment the
feelings listed below. Corresponding seven-point answering scales terminated in terms
like ‘calm’ and ‘tense’, ‘safe’ and ‘unsafe’, ‘quite unworried’ and ‘quite worried’.
Police communication programmes
Subjective victimization risk was found through four questions: How great or how
small do you estimate the chance of your becoming the victim of vandalism _ . .
of theft on the street .. . of maltreatment . .. of threats? The relevant seven-point
scales varied from ‘very slight’ to ‘very great’. Expected negative impact of victimization was determined through the question: ‘How serious do you expect the consequences to be if you become the victim of violence?’ Here again, a seven-point
answering scale was utilised.
Possible occurrence of response generalization was checked by offering 23 statements regarding relatively extreme preventive reactions to crime. Twelve of these
related to indoor prevention, the others to prevention outside the house. These statements were categorized in terms of five indices: moderate mobilization, extreme mobilization, police intensification, avoidance, and outdoor mobilization. These
statements include: There is a great deal to be said for getting a watchdog; It is
really worth the money to be included in a private surveillance service’s route; It
is sensible to keep a steel pipe or a wrench at ready under your bed; You really
should tell the police when you go away, even for just one day; There isn’t a street
you can walk safely at night; It is a good thing to have something at hand to defend
yourself with outside; You cannot really go out at night without carrying some
means to defend yourself. Responses to these statements were entered on seven-point
scales ranging from ‘disagree’to ‘agree’.
The total sample consists of 250 subjects. The average age was 46. The experimental
group consisted of 92 subjects, while 158 victims belonged to the control group
of persons not exposed to police communication. More than half of the sample
(52 per cent) consists of women, 48 per cent is male. With respect to level of education
32 per cent had elementary schooling, 33 per cent intermediate and 35 per cent
higher education. The majority of the victims live in the municipality of Weesp
(70 per cent); 30 per cent comes from Muiden/Muiderberg. The greater part by far
(86 per cent) does not live alone in the house; 14 per cent does. Exposure to mass
media news on crime was reported by 37 per cent of the subjects; 55 per cent reported
regular exposure; 36% regularly discuss crime with others; 52% says they do so
sometimes. A clear majority is positive about police performance while the crime
was reported: 89 per cent describes treatment as friendly (4 per cent as unfriendly),
82 per cent as expert (5 per cent as bungling), 85 per cent as interested (7 per cent
as uninterested). A negative comment often expressed in this connection is that once
the crime was reported the police did not contact the victims again. In addition
to burglaries, part of the subjects reported that they were victimized this past year:
theft outdoors (19 per cent), vandalism (17 per cent), maltreatment (1.6 per cent),
and a fight (1.2 per cent). A very large majority of subjects in the experimental
group expressed themselves positively regarding the police communication offered
through the present project: 89% of them characterized the visit as useful (1 per
cent not useful) and 85 per cent as worthwhile (3 per cent as not worthwhile).
Experimental outcomes
Prior to the analyses three indices were constructed: attitude towards the police,
degree of acceptance of the sender’s view that crime has an opportunity character,
F. W. Winkel
and risk-orientation. The attitude index is built up of five variables, reliability is
alpha = 0.87. The index for the sender’s view consists of five variables as well.
Its reliability is alpha = 0.89. Three variables are included in the index for riskorientation; reliability is alpha = 0.78. The score per person is in every case his or
her average for the constituent variables. Table 1 represents the first part of the
results obtained.
Table 1. Means (m) and standard deviations (SD) of the effect variables surveyed and the
willingness to take preventive measures (distribution in percentages) of control subjects (no
communication) and experimental subjects (communication)with relevant test statistics(Fix2)
and levels of statisticaldeDarture ( Q )
Control group
Satisfaction with police action
Attitude towards the police
Agreement with sender’s view
Perceived burglary protection
Perceived violence protection
Risk orientation
Preventive willingness
Experimental group
1 .58
Higher score = more satisfied; more negative attitude; more agreement; more protection; more internal
According to the p-values listed, on almost every dependent variable surveyed
here a significant difference emerges between the control group and the experimental
group. The one exception is perceived police protection against violent crime. There
is no difference in the assessment between those exposed to police communication
and those not so exposed: in both groups this protection is characterized as inadequate. The other variables do reveal differences. It turns out, first, that subjects
exposed to police communication report greater satisfaction with police activity on
their behalf so far than control subjects. Secondly, police communication positively
affects the attitude towards the police. Exposed victims are typically more positive
than control victims. Differences also emerge regarding acceptance of the sender’s
view on opportunity crime: agreement is stronger among exposed subjects. Police
communication also effectuates a shift in perceived police protection against burglary:
exposed victims are more positive. Risk-orientation, too, is influenced positively
by police communication: compared to non-exposed victims, those who received
information shift to a more internal orientation to victimization. A final significant
difference concerns reported willingness to take preventive action against burglary;
police information increases willingness to do so. In sum, results suggest that police
communication has a favourable impact on the dependent variables surveyed here.
At any rate, compared to the control group, the experimental group more strongly
confirms to a number of preconditions (cf. risk-orientation, agreement with sender’s
view, perceived burglary protection) relevant to the avoidance of side effects. The
question whether the present campaign actually does circumvent undesired effects,
especially relative to fear of crime, is answered in Table 2.
Police communication programmes
Table 2. Means (m) and standard deviations (SD) of fear of crime indoors for control and
experimental subjects in general and for victims with either an internal or an external riskorientation and for male and female victims, with test statistics ( f ) and levels of departure
Control group
Fear of crime
ExternaI risk-orientation
Internal risk-orientation
Experimental group
0.0 1
* In
addition to analyses of variance, analyses of co-variance were always applied (also for the results
to be reported later). Testing of the interaction effect communication x risk orientation is checked for
gender influence. The calculated statistic is F = 5.86 (p = 0.00). Testing of the interaction with gender
IS checked for risk orientation influence. The calculated statistic is F = 1.99 (p = 0.07). Since the analyses
of co-variance yielded no different interpretation of the data they are not reproduced here.
Prior to determining the influence of police communication on fear, two indices
were constructed: fear of crime indoors (cf. Table 2) and fear of crime outdoors.
The first index is composed of seven variables (alpha = 0.87). The second index contains five variables (alpha = 0.83). Table 2 suggests that communication, among
victims in general, does not result in side-effects in the form of increased fear. However, a reduction of fear of crime indoors is not visible either. Table 2 further reveals
an exposure by risk-orientation interaction and a trend for male and female victims
to react to police communication in a different manner. Reported means suggest
that victims with an external risk-orientation react to communication with increased
fear, while among ‘internals’ fear is reduced. The means also reveal a tendency for
women to react to police communication with increased fear. Among males the
opposite effect is visible. Police communication, then, appears to result in side-effects
among female victims and among victims with an external risk-orientation. Table
3 offers insight with regard to the subjective perception of burglary risk and the
expected negative impact of burglary.
Analyses of variance performed with respect to the variables listed in Table 3
suggest that police communication does not result in main effects on subjective risk
of burglary ( F = 0.007; p = 0.78) or on the expected negative impact of burglary
( F = 0.00; p = 0.95), nor does it give rise (in interaction with the receiver’s gender)
Table 3. Means (rn) and standard deviations (SD) on the subjective burglary risk and the
perceived negative impact of burglary of experimental and control victims with an internal
or external risk-orientation, with test statistics (F) for the interaction term communication
x risk-orientation and levels of statistical departure (p)
Control group
External burglary risk
External negative impact
Experimental group
F, W. Winkel
to differential effects on subjective burglary risk ( F = 0 . 0 5 ; =
~ 0.81) or on the expected
negative impact of burglary ( F = 0.26; p = 0.60). According to Table 3, differences do
occur for subjective burglary risk in interaction with the risk-orientation, while for
expected negative impact of burglary a tendency to differential effects becomes visible.
Given Table 3, police communication to the externally oriented proves to occasion
a higher estimate of subjective burglary risk, while among internally oriented victims
a lower subjective risk assessment obtains. Further, there is a tendency that among
the externally oriented, police communication reinforces the expected negative impact
of burglary, while among the internally oriented it is weakened.
Police communication has no influence at all on fear of crime outdoors. Neither
the main effect of information ( F = 0.37; p = 0.54), nor the effects of interaction
with gender ( F = 0.31; p = 0.57), nor the interaction with risk-orientation ( F = 0.23;
p = 0.62) are significant. In short, police communication appears to have no sideeffectsin the area of fear of crime outdoors. With respect to expected negative impact
of violent crime the situation is identical. Police communication has no effect on
this. Neither the main effect of information ( F = 1.18; p =0.27), nor the effects of
interaction with gender ( F = 0.15; p = 0.70), nor the interaction with risk-orientation
( F = 0.95: p = 0.33) are significant. For the most part this situation is repeated in
the case of subjective victimization risk regarding offences other than burglary (alpha
= 0.84). Neither the effect of communication in interaction with the risk-orientation
( F = 0.24; p = 0.86) nor the effect of communication in interaction with gender
( F = 0.03; p = 0.86) is significant. A practically significant main effect does occur
(F=2 . 2 8 ; ~
= 0.06). According to the means, police communication results in a reduction of subjective victimization risk. For exposed victims mean subjective victimization risk is rn = 2.72 (SD = 1.18).
Table 4 gives insight into the occurrence of response generalization. Relevant
prevention indices were subjected to a reliability analysis once again. The reliability
of the index for moderate mobilization indoors is alpha = 0.73. Extreme mobilization
indoors corresponds with an alpha of 0.78. The alpha of the index for avoidance
reactions is 0.90; of the index for mobilization outdoors 0.73. The police intensification index has a reliability of alpha = 0.55 (which is too low). Only when the third
item is removed is a reliability achieved of alpha = 0.61. Hence, it was decided to
deal with this item separately in the analyses. At issue is the statement: ‘At night
money and bonds are best kept under your pillow’.
Table 4 suggests that police communication does not lead to response generalization. There are no significant differences in agreement with moderate mobilization,
extreme mobilization and police intensification between those who were exposed
to police communication and those who were not. Nor do significant differences
emerge in relation to agreement with avoidance reactions. Significant differences
do occur in the amount of agreement with mobilization reactions outdoors and
with the statement just cited. The means, however, suggest that in both cases agreement is less in the experimental group than in the control group. In other words,
these significant differences indicate that police communication results in reaction
blockade: agreement with extreme prevention is reduced.
In addition to the analyses of variance reported in Table 4, such analyses were
also performed for victims with a high risk of response generalization. These are
victims with a high communicative involvement with the theme of crime, victims
with an external risk-orientation and victims who displayed preventive behaviour
Police cominunicationprogrammes
Table 4. Response generalization: means (m) and standard deviations (SD) of the degree
of agreement with extreme preventive reactions, grouped according to various prevention
indices of victims in the control group and the experimental group, with test statistics (4
and levels of statistical departure (p)
Control group
Prevention index
Moderate mobilization
Extreme mobilization
Intensifying police surveillance
Money under your pillow
Avoidance reactions
Mobilization outdoors
Experimental group
I .76
Higher score = more agreement.
before. None of these within-groups analyses led to significant differences between
exposed and control victims. Response generalization, then, does not occur in these
groups. To avoid an endless row of figures we will not list the statistics and so
on here. We should, however, mention mobilization reactions outdoors in the group
with a high communicative involvement ( F = 8.90; p = 0.00) and in victims who previously displayed preventive behaviour ( F = 7 . 0 9 ; =
~ 0.00). Inspection of the relevant
means suggests the occurrence of response blockade. Mean agreement with mobilization reactions outdoors of highly communicative involved controls ( m = 3.29;
SD = 1.73) is stronger than that of comparable experimental subjects ( m = 2.50;
SD = 1.44). When preventive behaviour was present beforehand these means are
m = 3.16 (SD = 1.60) and m = 2.57 (SD = 1.49) respectively. Thus, within these risk
groups of victims police communication results in reaction blockade as well: the
amount of agreement with mobilization reactions outdoors is thus reduced.
The impact of the victim assistance programme studied here is mostly positive. Results
suggest that it is possible to achieve important goals through personal contact of
uniformed police officers with burglary victims, during which both oral and written
preventive information is presented and a security inspection is conducted. Apparently, this procedure of police communication holds more promise of success than
‘victim recontact’ programmes conducted in the United States. Those achieved either
zero-effects (in terms of the goals sought) or side-effects. The results reported here,
however, suggest that police communication results in improved relations between
police and victims and will lead to greater satisfaction with the police. Moreover,
police communication contributes to accepting the idea that burglary is an ‘opportunity-induced’ type of crime.
Due to the information offered, police protection as perceived by victims is strengthened and a more internal risk-orientation of victimization established. Willingness
to take preventive action increases as well. With regard to side-effectspolice communication does not result in response generalization. There are some indications that
the programme results in reaction blockade, even within groups of victims ‘vulnerable’
to an increased risk of response generalization. These outcomes underscore the desira-
F. W. Winkel
bility of applying a limitative communication strategy in future assistance programmes as well. Police communication does not lead to greater fear of crime outdoors. The more ambitious goal of reducing fear of crime indoors is realized in
part only, among male victims and victims with an internal risk-orientation. But
side-effects emerge in the form of increased fear of crime indoors among female
victims and among victims with an external risk-orientation. It appears that utilization
of a positive strategy of communication is not sufficient. Nevertheless, in light of
the preponderance of positive effects continuation of police communication programmes seems justified.
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