Crime Prevention Behaviour Change

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Funders: What Works Centre for Crime Reduction, Economic & Social Research Council, Metropolitan Police Service

Crime prevention communications targeted at the general public commonly adopt a ‘fear frame’, using perceived risk and threat to evoke a fear reaction in its audience and trigger subsequent preventative behaviour. 


Recently, an alternative approach to behavioural change founded in social psychology has come to the fore. Underpinned by Thaler and Sunstein’s ‘Nudge’ (2008), focus is placed on modifying communications to bring about a desired behavioural response. To date, the application of nudging to public crime prevention communications has remained neglected.

UPSI were funded by the What Works Centre for Crime Reduction and the ESRC to address this research gap and empirically test, in a real-world setting, crime preventative messages that vary what is communicated, howwhen and by whom.

These are (1) The Social Experiment and (2) #Copcat Field Trial stages of the research:

1.     The Social Experiment

A quasi-experimental study was carried out with a variety of public audiences between January and March 2016. Participants recorded their responses to nine short films based on real life crime victimisation scenarios.  Each film manipulated different ways of presenting information altering: the contents of the information conveyed (the Message); who was providing the advice (the Messenger); and, what behaviour change was being invoked (the Mechanism). The data were analysed to understand the effects the communications had on peoples’ emotions, behavioural intentions and attitudes. 

2.     The #Copcat Field Trial

The Communications team at the Metropolitan Police Service were developing a crime prevention campaign in early 2016 to tackle the emergent problem of bike-enabled snatch theft (offenders using mopeds to snatch mobile phones on the street). The police’s #loveyourphone campaign drew on the traditional fear framing approach and warned people about the dangers, showed them real life incidents and told them what to do. In partnership with the communications team, we developed an alternative ‘mirror’ campaign drawing on Behavioural Crime Prevention principles. #Copcat was an animated cartoon cat and a likeable and empathetic messenger.  This campaign used humorous puns, offered simplified preventative advice and, importantly, showed people the desired behaviour change.

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