UPDATE (May 18, 2016, 1049H): The intention of the original article was to focus on car thefts and car burglaries. However, due to length, I limited the discussion to car thefts. However, in at least three places I used the word "burglary" which confused readers. "Motor Vehicle Theft" is a separate category in the Uniform Crime Reporting program. As I was collecting the ECSO data on dispatches, I differentiated between car burglary and car theft. There were 159 dispatches for car burglary during the time period of mid-April to mid-May. That would yield an annual number of 1,908 car burglaries. However, the FDLE does not maintain a database of car burglaries. The FDLE database has an umbrella category for "burglary" which makes trend data for car burglaries impossible to calculate. However, the logic for car burglaries and car thefts is the same: If there is no alarming spike in car burglaries, then why spend $130,080? If there is an alarming spike in car burglaries, then why implement the least effective anti-theft police publicity campaign? In either case we are left questioning the competence of the ECSO leadership and the ulterior motives of Sheriff Morgan. END.
On April 22, 2016, Jay Camac, a retired Deputy (1994-2012) began a comment thread on the Law Enforcement Officer (LEO) Affairs website regarding the "Cost of Lock Your Doors Billboards." Earlier, Camac had submitted a public records request (April 8, 2016) and subsequently posted the Escambia County Sheriff's Office documentation within the LEO thread.
The documentation revealed that the Sheriff's Office had contracted with the Lamar Companies to spend a total of $130,080, of which $122,400 was for rental space for the signs which have a picture of Sheriff Morgan next to the caption "Lock your doors and keep it yours." There are three rental periods: March 7, 2016 to May 1, 2016 at 38 locations; May 2, 2016 to June 26, 2016 at 38 locations; and, June 27, 2016 to August 21, 2016 at an undetermined number of locations. During each rental period, the Sheriff's Office is spending $40,800.
As Jay Camac observed in his original comment, "I'm sure it is only a coincidence that this publicity campaign runs from March 7, 2016 until August 21, 2016. I'm sure it is a only another coincidence that Morgan is featured prominently on these billboards." An anonymous commenter also suggested that "those billboards...are nothing more than Morgan campaign signs disguised as public service announcements." Possibly a second anonymous commenter noted, "Simply put he can't raise enough money to run his campaign fund so he goes and does the unthinkable with taxpayers money! Time will tell!"
Thus, we are led to believe that the Sheriff's Office will be successful in reducing car
The purpose of this CJ's Street Report article is to show that while the ostensible purpose of the billboard campaign is to reduce the number of car burglaries, the real purpose is to promote Sheriff Morgan's candidacy. This argument is based upon empirical research indicating that Sheriff Morgan chose the worst possible type of anti-theft publicity campaign to reduce car burglaries. That is, the billboard campaign that Sheriff Morgan chose to reduce car burglaries is indicative of his incompetence as sheriff. While it is certainly plausible that while he may have chosen this type of billboard campaign because he truly is incompetent, it is equally plausible that he chose this billboard campaign as a cover for its real purpose--to promote his inept political campaign.
After all, what kind of sheriff states on the one hand that he has reduced crime, and thus he needs to "keep the momentum" going, and, on the other hand, tells the voting the public that his office is a failure at combating car
IS THERE A CAR
The first question to ask is whether or not there is a significant surge or spike in "motor vehicle theft" that would warrant a $130,000 expenditure of taxpayer funds.
The problem with law enforcement data is that it lags behind current events. From the FDLE, we have data for Escambia County from 2006 through June 2015. In the chart below, the data for 2015 is a doubling of the reported data for the period of January to June 2015 of 234 thefts. Judging from the available data, the number of "motor vehicle thefts" is significantly down from 2013. A public records request has been submitted for data since June 2015.
The data show that in Sheriff Morgan's first year, 2009, there were 753 "motor vehicle thefts," according to FDLE data. The number declined to 609 in 2010, rose to 726 in 2011, fell to 680 in 2012, rose to 768 in 2013, and fell to 660 in 2014. The first six months of 2015 had 234 "motor vehicle thefts," which is shown on the line graph as 468--an assumed and arbitrary doubling. That number would have to increase three times, to 702 to show a significant increase over 2014. In fact, the 234 figure would have to increase nearly four-and-a-half times to reach the 2006 level of 1,039 "motor vehicle thefts."
In none of these years (2009-2015) did Sheriff Morgan believe that the data warranted the expenditure of $130,000 for billboards to advise car owners to lock their cars. Again, CJ's Street Report has requested through a public records request the "motor vehicle theft" data since June 2015.
There is some preliminary data suggesting a very steep rise in "motor vehicle thefts." I did a search of the ECSO's dispatch calls from April 17 to 15 May, 2016. The ECSO database only allows a search of the last 30 days.
In that time period, there were 118 dispatches for a "vehicle-stolen." Assuming that each dispatch for a stolen vehicle represents an actual stolen vehicle, that would produce a twelve-month total of 1,416 stolen vehicles--377 vehicles more than the 1,039 stolen vehicles reported in 2006. In fact, 2006 was the highest year of the data set spanning from 1995 to 2014.
Thus, if 2016 is on a pace to be the year for the highest number of stolen vehicles since 1995--in fact, the all-time worst year on record--then the issue is whether a billboard campaign is the appropriate response by Sheriff Morgan and his faithful sidekick Chief Deputy Eric Haines. Was a billboard the best solution that the ECSO brain trust could come up with?
One of the anonymous commenters on the LEO Affairs website asked, "Why not put a Burglary task task force together? Everybody knows the real reasons why this wasn't done. 1) it makes logical sense 2) Morgan knows nothing about Policing 3) Morgan doesnt [sic] get the Political exposure through real tried and true Policing practices!" Why not, indeed?
Fortunately, there are some pretty bright people in the field of criminal justice who examine the effectiveness of various types of police responses to crime. Those studies suggest that a billboard campaign is the weakest response, and, in order for a billboard campaign to be successful, it must be accompanied by intensive planning and operations.
POLICE BEST PRACTICES
Emmanuel Barthe (PhD) literally wrote the book on police responses to car thefts. He published a short article, "Crime Prevention Publicity Campaigns" (2006) for the Center for Problem-Oriented Policing at the State University of New York, Albany. His much larger study (pdf), "Crime Prevention Publicity Campaigns" was supported by the U.S. Department of Justice's Office of Community Oriented Policing Services.
It is important to note that Barthe's study, as part of the "Response Guide Series" is based on "research findings and police practices in the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the Netherlands, and Scandinavia" and that each "guide is informed by a thorough review of the research literature and reported police practice and is anonymously peer-reviewed by line police officers, police executives and researchers prior to publication."
Thus, Barthe's observations and conclusions regarding best practices for a police publicity campaign need to be considered carefully. Barthe's study is referenced in numerous other police works as essentially the definitive study of best practices.
Barthe's first specific caution is that a police publicity campaign to be effective must be part of a planned operational strategy: "Police agencies should not blindly resort to publicity campaigns or rely on them to replace proper police interventions. While it may be tempting to adopt publicity campaigns to support police efforts, such attempts should incorporate proper planning and adequate implementation." Prior to starting the publicity campaign law enforcement needs to "carefully analyze the crime problem" in order to determine whether the target audience is potential victims, offenders, or a combination of both. Thus, "Agencies should therefore undertake a publicity campaign only in the context of a broader response to a problem."
More to the point, Barthe suggested that simple, stand-alone police publicity campaigns aimed at reducing car thefts were very unlikely to be successful: "Randomly posting signs advising residents to lock their cars is unlikely to reduce a city’s car theft problem.... General publicity campaigns aimed at victims have had limited effectiveness. A four-month national press and poster campaign tried to educate people about the importance of locking their parked cars, but it failed to change people’s behavior. Another campaign used posters and television spots to remind people to lock their car doors, but it also proved ineffective. These studies demonstrate that people often pay little attention to crime prevention messages.... Even with extensive campaign coverage, general publicity attempts show meager results.... General victim campaigns are rarely successful in changing prevention behaviors."
Similar observations were reported by Mike Langenbacher and John Klofas in their 2012 review of the literature (pdf), "Media Campaigns and Crime Prevention" for the Rochester Institute of Technology's Center for Public Safety Initiatives. They noted that a 2004 study found that "Often times they are the brainchildren of politicians, who often seek to use such programs to show that they are tough on crime or that they have been effective in reducing crime...Perhaps as a result, Atkin and Decker point out that there exists only a limited understanding of the effects of prevention publicity, despite their now widespread use."
Their 2012 literature review also included Poyner's 1989 analysis of the effectiveness of various measures. Although there was no discussion of Poyner's analysis--suggesting that the study is well known and understood--there was a relevant table regarding "campaigns and publicity." A tactic could have an effectiveness score between +2, +1, 0, and -1. Police talks in schools had an effectiveness measure of 1. The highest, at 1.78, was "doorstep campaigns by the police." The least effective method of stopping crime was "advertising/publicity to encourage the use of security devices." That method was even less effective than a police talk at school with a rating of 0.71.
It is impossible to know whether or not Sheriff Morgan has directed an intensive data analysis of the stolen vehicle data to determine the geography of the crimes, the time of day, the vehicles stolen, the methodology of the crimes, and whether there is a pattern to the crimes. Nor is it known if the Sheriff's Office has formed a Car Theft task force to do intensive hot-spot policing which is more effective than standard policing, according to a 2004 study.
The best practices literature suggests that the approach taken by Sheriff Morgan and his trusty sidekick Deputy Chief Haines is not likely to reduce vehicle thefts. Stand-alone police publicity campaigns without intensive data analysis, operational planning, and focused patrolling is known not to be effective.
However, there appears to be an effective police publicity campaign that originated in Dallas, Texas, called the "Hide Lock Take" program. According to program's website, the "Hide Lock Take program throughout the United States and Canada has reduced auto theft and vehicle break-ins by 85%.... We have helped through community awareness signs to reduce 3 out of 4 auto theft and vehicle break-ins throughout Texas including Dallas." The company noted that the Hide Lock Take program is "most effective" when combined with the formation of "Auto Theft Task Forces."
Essentially, the Hide Lock Take program posts signs in areas advising motorists what to do to prevent their car from being stolen. The company also sells rearview-mirror hangers and fliers. Each sign costs $17.50 and there is a minimum order of 50 signs. An order of 1,000 signs would have cost the ECSO $17,500.
The sign used by the Dallas Police Department looks like this:
The Hide Lock Take program also has a poster for police that explains the system:
And, there is a poster explaining the program for neighborhoods:
The available data suggests that Escambia County may be experiencing an unprecedented number of stolen vehicles. If the data for 17 April to 15 May, 2016, is an accurate reflection of the overall trend data, then 1,416 vehicles will be stolen in 2016. The police publicity best practices literature indicates that stand-alone police publicity campaigns--apparently like the one initiated by Sheriff Morgan for more than $130,080--is bound to fail. There is no data to indicate that such a stand-alone publicity campaign will be successful. Thus, Sheriff Morgan is apparently wasting $130,080 dollars of taxpayer money on a proven ineffective anti-theft publicity campaign. The Hide Lock Take program appears to be not only cheaper, but also more effective when combined with an anti-vehicle theft task force. Thus, we are left to conclude that given the almost certain failure of Sheriff Morgan's publicity campaign to stop vehicle thefts, the most plausible reason for the $130,080 worth of advertising from March 7th to August 21st featuring Sheriff Morgan is to promote his political campaign for re-election. I'm sure his faithful sidekick Deputy Chief Haines will be barking that the expenditures are legal and they will be successful and yada yada yada. Sure, anything you say. But, retired deputies and anonymous deputies inside the department who know how to fight crime simply do not believe you. And neither should the taxpayers who are being ripped off for $130,080 to support Sheriff Morgan's political campaign for an unprecedented third term while the county experiences, perhaps, the highest number of vehicle thefts in its history.