Assessing the deterrent effect of symbolic guardianship through neighbourhood watch signs and police signs: a virtual reality study

Iris van Sintemaartensdijk, Jean-Louis van Gelder, Jan-Willem van Prooijen, Claire Nee, Marco Otte, Paul van Lange

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Abstract

This study examines the deterrent effects of neighbourhood watch signs and police signs as measures of symbolic guardianship on burglars versus non-offenders. In a virtual reality experiment, 181 burglars and 172 non-offenders scouted a virtual neighbourhood and were exposed to neighbourhood watch signs and/or signs suggesting police surveillance in the area. With neighbourhood watch signs present, both burglars and non-offenders perceived the neighbourhood residents as more likely to intervene. Burglars were also more likely to select a target closer to the exit than non-offenders when neighbourhood watch signs were present. The presence of police signs reduced the time spent scouting and the distance travelled for both burglars and non-offenders. Furthermore, as compared to non-offenders burglars selected houses with easier access, travelled less distance, and reported higher anticipation of neighbourhood resident intervention. Symbolic guardianship through neighbourhood watch or police sign seems to elicit only small effects in deterring burglars. They should not immediately be discounted as preventive measures, however, as small-effect interventions may be valuable as additions to well-established interventions.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages21
JournalPsychology, Crime & Law
Early online date4 Apr 2022
DOIs
Publication statusEarly online - 4 Apr 2022

Keywords

  • virtual reality
  • guardianship
  • burglary
  • expertise
  • deterrence

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