The Portland (OR) Burglary Prevention Program was implemented in 1973 as part of the Impact Cities Initiative, which was funded by the Law Enforcement Assistance Administration. It was operated by the Crime Prevention Bureau (CPB), a division of Portland’s police department staffed by civilians. The program was intended to mobilize residents of neighborhoods to help develop a community crime-prevention strategy to reduce and prevent burglary in high-crime areas of Portland. More specifically, the program was intended to reduce burglaries at individual households, using private security techniques, and to promote safer neighborhoods by using collective prevention techniques.
Target Sites/Program Components
The CPB began by identifying high-crime areas in Portland and then canvassed selected neighborhoods door to door. CPB officials then held neighborhood meetings for those who chose to participate. During these meetings, details of the program were explained and materials were distributed.
First, the meetings provided recommendations for private protection techniques designed to protect individual homes. These techniques included the installation of different types of locks, alarms, and outside lighting; removal of hedges to increase visibility; and special precautions to take during vacations. Residents were also encouraged to mark their property with engravers, supplied by the CPB, which were intended to trace property if it was stolen. The residents were also encouraged to place a decal outside of their homes, to indicate that the home was protected and that property was marked. These techniques were designed to deter potential burglars and increase security for individual households.
The program meetings also concentrated on promoting neighborhood prevention efforts. During the meetings, residents were educated on burglary techniques to better protect themselves and neighbors. The program also provided information on suspicious behavior, actions to take if suspicious behavior or a crime in progress was observed, and general ways for residents to look out for one another’s safety. These techniques were intended to promote the safety of the neighborhood as a whole.
The program was operated by the CPB and implemented using participation from members of the community.
The theory behind the Portland Burglary Prevention Program is that criminals calculate risks and benefits before committing a crime and that they will ultimately choose targets they perceive as low risk. Following from this idea, the program was designed to increase the risks for burglars to break into homes. Theoretically, if property is marked with obvious indications of protection, the offender will be less inclined to break into the home. Further, educating residents how to be more aware of suspicious activities in the neighborhood will reduce the likelihood that a burglar will strike in the area, since they are more likely to be noticed. In using these techniques, the idea of the program was to increase protection of individual households as well as the entire neighborhood.
Private Benefits/Burglary Rates among Participating Households
Schneider (1986) found that homes that participated in the Portland Burglary Prevention Program had lower burglary rates than those that did not. The two designated high-priority areas had the highest levels of participation; these areas also had the most significant reductions in burglary rates after program implementation. Before implementation of the program, the likelihood that a house in the high-crime areas of Portland, OR, would be burglarized was calculated to be 20 percent or higher. Participants in the Street Lighting Area had this rate reduced to 8.4 percent after beginning the program, while nonparticipating homes had a 24 percent chance of being burglarized. Participants in the Crime Prevention Bureau high-priority area had this rate reduced to 7.7 percent; while nonparticipating homes in this area had a 21 percent chance of being burglarized. These differences were found to be statistically significant, and no evidence of a self-selection bias was found.
For the entire city of Portland, participating homes had a 6.87 percent chance of being burglarized, while nonparticipants had a 10.1 percent chance of being burglarized. The overall difference between participants and nonparticipants was about 30 burglaries per 1,000 households. If it is assumed that participating households would have had the same rate as nonparticipants in the absence of the program, then the “reduction” in burglaries is about 32 percent. These differences were found to be statistically significant.
Collective Benefits/Burglary Rates Citywide
According to the two victimization surveys, the citywide burglary rate for Portland in 1972 was 151 burglaries per 1,000 households, and the rate dropped to 127 burglaries per 1,000 households in 1974. This could indicate a citywide reduction in burglary rates.
The official police statistics indicated that the burglary rate was 68.6 burglaries per 1,000 households in 1971 and increased to 90 per 1,000 households by the end of 1973 and early 1974. However, not all burglaries were reported to the police; thus, the victimization survey data was used to estimate the proportion of all burglaries reported to the police and was adjusted with the official statistics.
When all adjustments in official statistics are taken into account in the reporting, the official burglary rates showed a drop between 1971–72 and 1973–74. These results indicate that there was a citywide decline in burglary rates that could possibly be attributed to the Portland Burglary Prevention Program.