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6 Property-focused interventions

Property-focused interventions are those intended to reduce the anticipated rewards of burglary and to increase the risks of handling 'hot' property. Property-focused strategies aim to:

  • interrupt the supply and demand chains of the market
  • increase the probability of detecting those distributing stolen goods
  • make stolen items more easily identifiable by property marking and recording of serial numbers.

6.1 What we found

All Police Areas focused on the second-hand property market from time to time, but with other, more pressing, demands on Police time this effort had not always been consistent. The approach centred around visits to second-hand dealers to remind them of their obligations under the Secondhand Dealers Act 1963[8], to check their registers of goods purchased, and to update Police registers of dealers. The work was often done by special burglary squads. The visits were important in establishing a relationship between Police and traders which could be mutually beneficial. Traders would ring Police when they suspected someone was trying to sell stolen property or when owners identified stolen property in their premises. The trader benefits by avoiding buying goods that might later be confiscated. It was thought that:

  • offenders would be deterred from selling goods to traders
  • stolen property could be recovered
  • some burglars would be apprehended either directly or through identifying stolen property, leading to clearances for other burglaries and uncovering stolen property distribution networks.

Police checks of second-hand registers could identify new sellers of stolen property.

New New Zealand legislation governing pawnbrokers and second-hand dealers came into effect in April 2005 (after the conclusion of the information-gathering phase of this study). The new legislation was expected to facilitate Police property-focused interventions. Key changes in the legislation were:

  • introducing a five-year license with stringent licensing and certification conditions
  • updating a schedule of at-risk goods required to be retained for a period before on-selling
  • requiring that dealers maintain a register that records the name and address details of anyone they have purchased goods from, verified by signature and photo identification.

In Counties-Manukau, Operation SNAP developed through a partnership of Police with the Insurance Council to encourage households to mark property and record serial numbers. This information was stored on a central database and could be checked through an 0800 number. While there was little activity on SNAP early in the research period, in 2004 the new Intel Unit in Manurewa revived the programme.

6.2 Evidence for the effectiveness of property-focused interventions

If the mechanisms associated with property-focused interventions were working as envisaged, we would expect to find that:

  • second-hand dealers were working cooperatively with Police
  • offenders perceived that selling to second-hand dealers was risky
  • victims and the general public marked or photographed their property and recorded serial numbers
  • victims and the general public were aware of Police efforts to close down the selling of stolen property.

Internationally, property marking is seen as an important part of comprehensive market reduction strategies. Property marking schemes encourage engraving, marking or photographing items and recording the serial numbers of any property likely to be targeted. Houses containing items marked in this way may also have window stickers advertising that their property is marked.

In the household surveys in the four Police Areas, 23-36% of participants said they had marked their property and recorded serial numbers and 14-26% had photographed small items. While this indicates a modest uptake of this practice, there was no increase in the proportions engaging in this practice from 2002 to 2004.

Sherman et al. (1997) conclude that the effectiveness of property marking in reducing burglary is uncertain. A successful Welsh demonstration property marking project had a very high take-up rate and was highly publicised across the area, with window stickers displayed by most participants (Laycock 1985). An evaluation of an unsuccessful Canadian property marking programme found an increased burglary rate over the 18 months following the intervention programme (Gabor 1981-cited in Sherman et al. 1997).

Information from interviews with offenders internationally indicates that second-hand and pawnbroker outlets form only one avenue in a diverse stolen goods market which may involve a range of other businesses, drug dealers and, more informally, the social networks of the offenders (Cromwell, Olson and Avary 1991; Wright and Decker 1994; Stevenson and Forsythe 1998; Nelson, Collins and Gant 2002). Burglary offenders interviewed for this project stated they most commonly looked for items that could be sold easily and quickly, could be exchanged for drugs, or could be easily carried. Money, jewelry and electronic items were most frequently mentioned. Most offenders sold goods to 'unspecified contacts' and around one-quarter had sold to each of second-hand shops, drug dealers or friends. There was some evidence that some offenders avoided using second-hand dealers as an outlet for stolen goods. Two of the offenders interviewed had been apprehended by selling stolen goods to dealers and another was worried about this possibility.

Second-hand dealers interviewed for this research were mixed in their comments about the relationship with Police. Some were frustrated that when they did try to contact Police about suspicious people or items, they felt they were treated as criminals and their livelihood threatened, or the information was not acted upon. They rarely got feedback from Police when property was taken and almost never received restitution from the Courts. A few dealers said they had passed information to the Police hotline, resulting in the apprehension of offenders. Some were cautious in the steps they would take to detain suspects while contacting Police as they felt vulnerable to later intimidation. Some traders reported a good relationship with Police and appreciated having a direct line to known officers and receiving a speedy response.

The market reduction approach (MRA) was trialed in the UK in 1999-2002 to test a strategic framework (put forward by Sutton, Johnston and Lockwood 1998 and Sutton, Schneider and Hetherington 2001) for targeting stolen goods markets (Hale et al. 2004). Neither project area demonstrated any impact on burglary figures, but a great deal was learnt about the Intel gathering and analysis process required to map property markets, about the nature of the local stolen property markets, and about multi-agency cooperation. Liaison with second-hand traders was seen as a productive aspect of the UK MRA initiatives. Information from Intel gathering indicated that offenders were very aware of the projects and had stopped using second-hand shops to dispose of stolen property. Feedback from traders indicated that many genuinely supported the initiatives.

Two recent UK MRA trials also included extensive publicity campaigns to engage the public by seeking information about local stolen property markets and by educating about the costs of purchasing stolen goods (Hale et al. 2004). However, this publicity seemed to have little impact on public behaviour and the report concluded it was not a cost-effective approach at local project level.

Overall the evidence suggests that liaison with second-hand dealers and the mapping of property markets are worthwhile interventions as part of comprehensive market reduction strategies. The surprising extent of the involvement of the general public internationally in stolen goods markets (Cromwell, Olson and Avary 1991; Sutton, Johnston and Lockwood 1998; Allen 2000) supports the suggestion that, in the long term, burglary reduction initiatives could be supported by public education campaigns which create a better understanding of the implications of complicity in crime.

6.3 Good practice in property-focused interventions

The following ideas for good practice in property-focused interventions have been drawn from the case studies carried out in each area as well as from the international literature. They are included as practices that have worked in specific contexts at some times, and are intended as a source of good ideas rather than a prescriptive list.

6.3.1 Liaison with second-hand dealers

The following are examples of good practice in liaising with second-hand dealers.

  • Consistently

- visit all second-hand dealers in the area regularly

- inspect registers and property

- obtain lists of sellers

- check stolen property lists with traders (e.g. Operation Steptoe, Canterbury District).

  • Appoint one or two staff for liaison with traders so lines of communication are clear.
  • Encourage communication between traders in identifying possible sellers of stolen property.
  • Improve liaison with traders across all Police Areas so that local burglars don't take property to dealers elsewhere.
  • Improve relationships with second-hand dealers by:

- liaising regularly with dealers

- acting on information from dealers

- giving them feedback

- fostering rapport

- faxing them a list of known targets, prison releasees, or types of property.

  • Institute proactive weeks bringing together a team from all sections to visit second-hand dealers.
  • Develop a local register of dealers.
  • Supply second-hand dealers with an information pack including:

- copies of the new legislation

- lists of stolen property

- serial numbers of stolen goods

- signs for display on the premises (Operation Crackle, Lower Hutt).

6.3.2 Market reduction approach

The following are examples of good practice in using MRA.

  • Obtain up-to-date information about local stolen goods markets by questioning victims, offenders, shopkeepers, traders, and informants.
  • Encourage members of the public to pass on information directly and indirectly through avenues for anonymous crime reporting.
  • Put in place a multi-agency approach to strategise and implement initiatives, involving, for example, local authorities (Sutton, Schneider and Hetherington 2001).
  • Allow a sufficient length of time (up to 18 months) to get sufficient understanding of local markets and develop appropriate intervention strategies.
  • Identify 'hot' products.
  • Target harden by making property easier to trace by property marking measures.
  • Address the 'handlers' who purchase and distribute stolen goods.
  • Institute public education campaigns to create greater understanding of the risks and consequences of being part of the market (Australian Institute of Criminology 2005).

6.3.3 Other good property-focused practices

The following are examples of other good property-focused practices. 

  • Focus on other potential receivers, such as gangs and those selling over the Internet.
  • Retain flexibility to focus on organised crime as a way of obtaining information on property markets.
  • Comprehensively record property in offence reports, including make, model, and serial number.
  • Promptly store and retrieve serial numbers of stolen property electronically in NIA for ease of checking recoveries on search warrants or second-hand dealer enquiries.
  • Encourage insurance companies and retailers nationally to play more part in ensuring serial numbers are recorded.
  • Encourage victims to record property serial numbers and take photographs of precious items.
  • Encourage victims to circulate inventories to local second-hand shops.
  • Engage broader participation in property marking as a burglary reduction strategy, for example from the public, Police, manufacturers and the insurance industry.

Technological advances offer the possibility of developing 'smart goods', designing in anti-theft features such as unique markers, security coding, and password or PIN protection for electronic goods that make the items usable only by owners.

The insurance industry could offer incentives to clients who have recorded and reported identifying details for stolen items.


8 The Secondhand Dealers and Pawnbrokers Act 2004 came into effect in April 2005, after the period of this research.