Dr Helen Innes from the Crime and Security Research Institute at Cardiff University explains how an experiment with a cartoon cat has generated new evidence about how to better use crime prevention communications to influence public behaviour.
Just think about how many crime prevention messages the police and their partner agencies send to the public that are effectively trying to scare people into changing their behaviour! Ultimately, by using this 'fear framing' approach the irony is that in trying to reduce crime, they might be increasing public fear. Moreover, there is very little reliable research evidence about 'what works' in relation to different crime prevention communication strategies, and a lot of what has been done has focused upon would-be offenders rather than encouraging improved security behaviours amongst potential victims. In an environment where key recorded crime types are increasing and the profile of crime is shifting, where there are fewer police officers and where digital communication channels are multiplying, there is potentially public value in establishing how improved crime prevention communications might contribute to crime reduction outcomes.Set against this backdrop, the 'Nudges, Tugs and Teachable Moments' project funded as part of the What Works Centre for Crime Reduction academic consortium set out to generate new evidence by incorporating psychological insights about human judgement and decision making from behavioural economics and Thaler & Sunstein's (2008) theory of 'nudging' behaviour change. The approach tested three models of behaviour change:
The research was organised around two main phases: (1) the creation of a new evidence base about 'what works' in public crime prevention messaging based around a model of 'Behavioural Crime Prevention', and (2) the application of this evidence to a real-world preventative campaign conducted in partnership with the Metropolitan Police. Phase 1 'What Works?'The work started by identifying key ways in which communication can influence and persuade. These clustered around characteristics of: the 'messenger' (who conveys the information); the message (the content of what is conveyed); the 'mechanism' (the social-psychological behaviour change trigger); and the 'mode' (the media platform utilised). These elements were blended together in different combinations across 8 short crime prevention films, each dealing with different crime victimisation scenario.The films were played to 1064 members of the public, with different groups seeing different films. The audience members were then asked a series of questions about their thoughts, feelings and potential behavioural responses to the films.
Analysis of the data were used to derive ten principles of Behavioural Crime Prevention informed by the insights about which messenger, mechanism and message combinations are especially influential in getting the public to engage with crime prevention issues. Amongst them were:
Phase 2 Behavioural Crime Prevention with #CopCatFindings from the film experiments were then used to design an innovative crime prevention campaign. This used a colourful, likeable cartoon cat messenger to give simple, practical messages in a humorous and non-threatening way. Focused upon a problem in London with thieves on mopeds and bicycles stealing mobile phones, the preventative campaign encouraged people to be more aware of their surroundings, including going hands-free when using their phone on the street. The idea was to test the performance of the #CopCat campaign when compared with a far more traditional set of fear-framed messages in the Metropolitan Police led #loveyourphone campaign. Importantly, the idea was to do this 'for real' to see how the different messengers and messages performed in busy and 'noisy' urban settings. Each campaign was assigned to a separate London borough. Poster panels, stair and pavement stencils were placed in and around relevant tube stations and short films delivered by social media in June 2016. The effects of the campaigns were evaluated by a Cardiff University research team who conducted observational research, street questioning, social media analytics and a staff survey of local employers to discern how far people recalled the different messaging and their reactions to it.Key findings were:
The take-home message from this field trial is that you can influence crime prevention behaviour without causing people to feel more afraid or angry.What Next?The success of the London trial has attracted the interest of other police forces and partners overseas. The Society for Evidence Based Policing in Canada and the Community Safety and Justice Division of the Squamish Nation have approached us with a unique and exciting opportunity to work with their indigenous community to explore the development of culturally appropriate messaging informed by Behavioural Crime Prevention.For further information, please contact Dr Helen Innes at InnesH@cardiff.ac.uk If you would like to receive our College What Works updates, please email firstname.lastname@example.org and ask to be added to our distribution list.