Vol. 78, No. 2On the leading edge

A pile of old cellphones.

Latest research in law enforcement

Research into the growing prevalence of contraband cellphones in correctional facilities found that hand-held cellphone detectors could contribute to solving the problem.


The following are excerpts from recent research related to justice and law enforcement and reflect the views and opinions of the authors and not necessarily those of the organizations for which they work.

Understanding the local government role in crime prevention

By Peter Homel and Georgina Fuller

In Australia, crime prevention is primarily the responsibility of state and territory governments. What is less understood is the significant role of local government in developing and delivering crime prevention at the community level, although councils have long been involved in helping to create safer communities.

This research offers one of the first detailed insights into the valuable contribution made by local government within the multi-layered crime prevention strategies and initiatives which keep Australian communities safe. The Drugs and Crime Prevention Committee of the Parliament of Victoria carried out this research as part of an investigation into locally based approaches to community safety and crime prevention in 2011. The results of a comprehensive survey of the crime prevention activities of local government authorities across Victoria are examined.

A self-completion survey was designed for distribution to all local government authorities (LGAs) in Victoria. The questionnaire was a modified version of a survey form developed by the International Centre for the Prevention of Crime (ICPC) for use in an international study of local government. However, the survey was modified to reflect the committee's needs and Victorian circumstances and included a mix of quantitative and qualitative items.

One of the most consistent issues identified by the LGAs was that they did not feel adequately equipped to make informed decisions about crime prevention and community safety. This was not just about the lack of adequate financial resources, although this was a problem identified by many, but also about a lack of skills and technical capacity for maximizing the potential benefit to their communities when they do manage to get crime prevention and community safety programs going.

While it was clear that most Victorian LGAs are committed to playing a significant role in developing, co-ordinating and delivering crime prevention and community safety policies and programs in their local area, only a minority reported having specific strategies to guide their activities.

Too often, considering the need for developing and implementing a crime prevention strategy is the result of community concern about existing crime problems. If appropriate preventive action had been taken beforehand, these problems may have been prevented from emerging. This is another argument for local government authorities taking the lead in developing a comprehensive crime prevention strategic plan for their communities as a part of their normal social planning processes. These plans should be regularly updated to reflect changes in the social, demographic, economic and crime characteristics of their communities as well as to accommodate developments in state and national crime prevention priorities.

National and state policies and programs around crime prevention and community safety are frequently silent on the role of local government authorities, or see them merely as funding recipients and program delivery agents. As this survey demonstrates, this grossly underestimates the capacity and potential for local government to play a pivotal role in creating safer communities in Australia.

Read the full report: aic.gov.au/publications/

Evaluating the Performance of Hand-held Cellphone Detectors in a Prison Setting

By Joe Russo

In response to the major and growing problem of contraband cellphones, correctional administrators have increasingly turned to technological solutions to prevent contraband cellphones from entering facilities and to detect them. These solutions are marketed to administrators who are eager to address this critical issue. Unfortunately, products are often introduced into the correctional environment without rigorous, independent testing in an operational setting.

To address this problem, the National Institute of Justice funded an evaluation of one particular solution: hand-held cellphone detectors through the Corrections Technology Center of Excellence, which is part of the National Law Enforcement and Corrections Technology Center system. Three different types of detection devices were evaluated: radio frequency detection (RFD) devices, nonlinear junction detector (NLJD) devices and ferromagnetic detection (FMD) devices.

The researchers tested four devices: two RFDs (PocketHound and WolfHound Pro), one NLJD (Orion 2.4) and one FMD (MantaRay). The Pennsylvania Department of Corrections provided a medium-security prison as a test site and officers from their search team to assist with testing. Officers were trained in the operation of each device, and a test plan was developed to evaluate the devices in three distinct settings: baseline testing, operational patrol testing and operational cell search, which were designed to align with the institution's normal procedures for each type of activity.

Each device that was tested employs a unique technical approach and, as a result, is better suited for some search applications than others. RFD devices performed extremely well at long ranges (70 to 125 feet), detecting each cellphone while producing no false alarms. Correctional officers who participated in the study preferred these devices for their utility during cellblock patrols. It should be noted, however, that RFD devices are effective only when the phone is actively making a call. Testing showed that the NLJD and FMD devices can detect cellphones in the on or off positions, which is an advantage; however, the operator must be in very close proximity to the phone (less than 8 inches).

After a 60-day use of all four devices following the formal testing, the officers overall preferred the RFD devices over the NLJD and FMD devices. The officers tended to dismiss the NLJD and FMD devices for two important reasons: frustration by the false alarms that these units generated (more so for the FMD than the NLJD) and the limited detection distance. Officers reported that they are trained to search items in a cell — and the cell itself — thoroughly, so they consider a detection device that operates at such a close range of little value because their thorough manual search would likely find the phone as quickly, or more quickly, than an electronic device would. The exception might be cases in which a cellphone is hidden in a hard-to-access place, such as within a cinderblock or inside a toilet.

Technology can provide a variety of tools to combat the contraband cellphone problem, each with possible strengths and limitations. Thus, corrections personnel are cautioned against making direct comparisons of products that use dissimilar approaches, such as the handheld cellphone detection devices. Results of this study show that hand-held cellphone detectors could contribute to solving the contraband cellphone problem, but are not the sole answer. A multilayered approach that includes sound policies, procedures, practices and proven technology solutions continues to be the recommended best practice for combatting contraband cellphones in correctional facilities.

Read the full report: www.ncjrs.gov/

Final Results — Stop Now and Plan (SNAP)

By Donna Smith-Moncrieffe

Stop Now And Plan (SNAP) is a community-based program for children ages six to 12 who have come into contact, or are at risk of coming into contact, with the criminal justice system, and/or who display early signs of anti-social or aggressive behaviour.

The program uses a cognitive-behavioural, multi-component approach to decrease the risks of children engaging in future delinquent behaviour. The SNAP model is based on a comprehensive framework for effectively teaching children with serious behavioural problems, emotional regulation, self-control and problem-solving skills.

The core program components include the children's and parent's groups. The SNAP Boys and SNAP Girls offer 12-week gender-specific groups that teach emotion regulation, self-control and problem-solving skills. The concurrent SNAP Parent Group teaches parents effective child management strategies. Other program components include individual counselling/mentoring, family counselling, academic tutoring, youth leadership and a gender-specific component called "Girls Growing Up Healthy." These are recommended based on a continuing assessment of the child's risk and need levels.

This summary provides an overview of the multi-site impact evaluation of SNAP that was funded by the National Crime Prevention Strategy (NCPS). The multisite impact evaluation assessed the efficacy of this program in three unique communities (Toronto, Edmonton and Cree Nation – Quebec), contributing to the collective body of knowledge of what works in crime prevention.

Interviews with parents in Edmonton, Alta., and Toronto, Ont. indicated that there were treatment gains in the area of externalizing behaviours and to a lesser extent in internalizing behaviours, parent/child communications and relationships, child sociability and social competence. Moreover, interviews with Cree parents suggest solid treatment gains in children with regards to externalizing behaviour (especially rule breaking, aggression and defiance), parent–child communication and quality of relationship, and overall child sociability. Several parents noted the positive impact SNAP made on their roster of parenting skills resulting in an increase in parenting confidence.

This analysis combined with the qualitative findings contribute to evidence that the SNAP program contributes to favourable changes in key externalizing and internalizing behaviours that, when altered, can reduce future involvement in the criminal justice system.

Read the full report: www.publicsafety.gc.ca

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