Has New Zealand Identified the Causes of Crime?

By Ronald F. Pol
2016, Vol. 8 No. 02 | pg. 3/4 |

Police Recognise Criminal Reality Outside ‘The 5 Drivers’

Senior officers recognise the profit motive behind many serious crimes. They also understand its corresponding utility for disrupting criminal enterprise as well as any academic or international body may express it, as, for example, "with few alternatives available in which to convert illicitly gained funds into a usable commodity, money laundering by virtue of what it achieves is in effect the pinnacle of all organised crimes and almost certainly [also] the 'Achilles heel' of criminal activity" (FATF, 2012; Gilmour, 2014, p. 37).

In 'follow the money' crime prevention activities focused squarely on the criminal ‘Achilles heel’, some senior enforcement officials frankly accept that the '5 drivers’ may not be criminally causative. They recognise that the acquisition of money and assets - in short, profit - is a key motivating factor driving a significant amount of serious offending:

[The 5 Drivers of Crime are] not really drivers of crime. Profit is a big motivator for a lot of serious crime: drugs, fraud, others, yet it doesn’t feature on the list. Frontline police still focus more on the product (the drugs) rather than what’s really driving that crime in the first place. It is slowly changing, but it’s a huge mindset shift (Anon, 2014).

The lure of money [is] the ‘invisible sixth driver of crime’ and… can often be overlooked in the course of regular investigations (Brook, 2014).

Since we spoke a few weeks ago, I’ve socialised with quite a few people the idea that The 5 Drivers might not be the real drivers of crime in the sense of actually being the cause of much serious crime. No-one yet has disagreed. This could be one of the worst kept secrets in Police and [other agencies] involved with crime prevention and asset forfeiture (Anon, 2015b).

Another senior officer, in the presence and with the assent of colleagues, said:

Most police think money laundering is too complex and have been told to focus on ‘drivers of crime’, eg drugs, so there's still a heavy focus on product [drugs], but in fact money is a big driver of crime, including drugs and other serious crimes, so that should be a bigger focus (Anon, 2015a).

Similar observations have been made elsewhere regarding the potentially adverse effects of police guidelines seemingly dismissive of the significance of the profit motive relevant to a significant amount of serious offending. In England for example, police reported a lack of knowledge about money laundering ("what we know about it is only stuff we pick up in everyday life, eg films"). They also reported relatively little 'frontline' pressure to tackle the causes of serious financially-motivated offending ("there are no targets for money laundering. That sends a message that it's not as important for example as burglary or auto crime") (Davidson & McGill, 2013, p. 34).

Although not a primary element of The 5 Drivers of Crime, the profit motive behind many serious crimes is nonetheless recognised in practice by police, government, and the courts. For example:

  • In a 2010 report (Organised Crime in New Zealand), NZ Police noted that organised criminal groups are "entrepreneurial" and involved at "every step" of the illegal drugs trade as "the most significant driver of profit for organised crime". The report added that "organised crime is financially motivated", and that "the primary aim of organised criminal activity is the pursuit of profit" (NZ Police, 2010, pp. 4, 7, 9, 12, 15).
  • A 2011 government report, Strengthening New Zealand's Resistance to Organised Crime, asserted that "[removing] profit from crime" is key: "organised crime persists in part because it is profitable" (MOJ, 2011, pp. 14, 17).
  • In late 2014 a "whole-of-government action plan" presented to Cabinet "to reduce the harms caused by ... gangs and transnational crime groups" plainly expressed that "transnational crime groups dominate the market in the illicit importation of methamphetamine precursors,... and profit is a key motivator". Many of the recommended strategies to detect and prevent crime focus expressly on profit-seeking activities. These include strengthening asset recovery enforcement and targeting criminal finance and the legitimate businesses such as professionals who knowingly or inadvertently facilitate criminal financing (Cabinet, 2014, pp. 4-5).
  • In sentencing one of the leaders of a group responsible for the largest quantity of pseudoephedrine imported into New Zealand, the judge noted that Mr Zhang was "driven by greed". He inferred from "astute management of a major drug-dealing enterprise" and that intercepted precursor chemicals could produce methamphetamine valued at up to $116 million that Mr Zhang made “huge personal profits" ("R v Zhang & Ors," 2015, pp. 9, 11).

An earlier United Nations assessment noted that "without financial flows emerging from drug trafficking and other transnational organized crime activities, most transnational crime would not take place" (UNODC, 2011, pp. 13, 99). Similarly in relation to other criminal proceeds. The Financial Action Task Force says "without a usable profit, the criminal activity will not continue" (FATF, 2012; Also Murray, 2011, p. 8). If these views are accurate, it is hard to conceive a more powerful causative descriptor than criminal activity that would not occur in its absence. Severing the causes of offending is the pinnacle of crime prevention policy effectiveness, and goes directly to core policy objectives of the Prevention First operating strategy, and the Policing Excellence and Better Public Services crime reduction targets. The concept of money as a possible causative driver of crime and money laundering as its essential companion is, however, missing from the ‘drivers of crime’ headline factors.

The 5 Drivers of Crime was by 2014 firmly entrenched as representing the underlying causes of offending, as recorded in a series of official documents, noted above. In a diagrammatic representation in the Policing Excellence retrospective published in November 2014, however, 'profit motivation' also appeared, albeit absent explanation, and restricted to the 'organised crime and drugs' element (NZ Police, 2014b, p. 25). But if profit is an important causative driver of many serious crimes - recognised by police, the courts and government - it is surprising that in the construct purportedly encapsulating the causes of offending it is merely a subset of a cobbled together form of criminal enterprise and illicit commodity; not itself a 'driver of crime'.

Does it Matter if the “Drivers of Crime” are Described as Causative?

If the five elements of the ‘drivers of crime’ properly reflect the underlying causes of much offending, overlooking other causative factors may not matter much. It may simply reflect a policy direction or deployment focus on particular causes of offending and victimisation over others. However, if, as contended, The 5 Drivers of Crime does not accurately reflect criminal causation, a focus on five areas correlated with crime as if they represent the underlying causes of offending risks sub-optimal outcomes, particularly if factors arguably causative are excluded.

A recent example reveals the potential impact of a focus on a particular element of criminal activity at the expense of other crime arguably more harmful. With intense political and media focus on outlaw motorcycle gangs (albeit representing only 0.52% of crime), the Queensland Organised Crime Commission of Inquiry found that enforcement agencies “lost visibility” of more extensive serious offending which caused “severe” and “profound” economic and social effects (Byrne, 2015). NZ Police has clearly not lost visibility of serious offending, and senior officers accept that The 5 Drivers of Crime is not causative of criminal offending, as noted above. However, labelling a subset of acknowledged factors correlated with crime as purportedly causative of offending, and excluding others that may arguably be causative, risks elevating their perceived importance beyond ‘priority areas’ for early action, and risks diverting focus and resources from more effective crime prevention activities and better outcomes.

Without the powers of a formal investigation process such as a Commission of Inquiry, it is beyond the scope of this article to suggest that there was any such diversion of focus or resources from arguably more effective crime prevention activities. There is, however, evidence of a concentration of resources on five factors purportedly representing “the underlying causes of offending and victimisation.” For example, the 'drivers of crime':

  1. is a key element of leadership ethos, for existing and aspirant leaders:
    The 2014 Statement of Intent records that "Police will have leaders who actively pursue what's most important", that changes implemented under the Policing Excellence program and Prevention First operating strategy "have supported our focus on the five drivers of crime … and this is an area in which the "Police Executive provides direction,.. [and is] communicated to all staff" (NZ Police, 2014c, p. 43).
  2. has been recognised in a formal review of police performance:
    Changes implemented have supported its focus on the five drivers of crime – alcohol, families, youth, road policing, and organised crime and drugs (SSC, Treasury, & DPMC, 2014, p. 5)
  3. is seen as contributing to performance:
    A 13% reduction in recorded crime [was achieved] through a focus on the ‘crime triangle’ (victims, offenders, locations), the 5 drivers of crime, and a 19% reduction in prosecutions (NZ Police, 2014b, p. 59).
  4. is regarded an important element for achieving high-level outcomes:
    Prevention First [and] Policing Excellence ... will deliver better outcomes for New Zealanders through a continued focus on improving outcomes for victims, targeting the drivers of crime, and improving community reassurance through deployment of staff to the right time, place, and people (NZ Police, 2014c, p. 47).
  5. has been embedded into strategic frameworks:
    A 'drivers of crime' strategic intelligence assessment has … been finalised (SSC et al., 2014, p. 7).
  6. is expressed at the core of priority activities to reduce crime:
    Priority 3: Less crime:.. Police is targeting its action to the drivers of crime: youth, alcohol, organised crime, dysfunctional families, and high-risk driving behaviours (NZ Police, 2014c, p. 19).
  7. is used to concentrate effort:
    Prevention First provides police with the means to remain tough on criminal offending while reducing victimisation by concentrating effort on the underlying drivers of crime, in tandem with tactical interventions aimed at preventing crime before it occurs (NZ Police, 2014b, p. 18).
    The five drivers of crime are set for even closer attention now the National Tactical Plan is in place. The plan … will guide district staff as they develop local tactics to crack down on the main causes of crime and victimisation. “Alcohol, families, organised crime and drugs, road policing and youth make up the five drivers of crime,” says Deputy Commissioner Operations, Mike Bush… If we are to achieve our Prevention First goals, we have to focus our attention on these drivers” (Bush, 2013).
  8. is used to explain the success of the Prevention First national operating strategy:
    Prevention First has driven change in results through four key components, [including] understanding and responding to the drivers of crime, addressing the underlying causes of offending and victimisation – families, youth, alcohol, and organised crime and drugs (NZ Police, 2014a).
  9. influences tactical decision making:
    Tactics employed by [Neighbourhood Policing Teams] include ... community engagement and participation in setting agreed local priorities that align with police priorities, ie tackling the drivers of crime with a focus on addressing the underlying causes of crime and safety problems (NZ Police, 2014b).
  10. is at the core of tactical planning:
    District Command Centres provide deployment managers "with a real-time, big-picture overview of how best to deploy resources to beat demand and prevent crime", and "supervisors use their District Tactical Plan (which outlines the tactics to be used to combat the 5 drivers of crime)" (NZ Police, 2014b, p. 49).
  11. appears throughout operational guidelines:
    Policing Excellence Programme Charter: The general approach for dealing with identified problems is through interventions that focus on the 5 drivers of crime, namely youth, alcohol, families, organised crime and road policing (NZ Police, 2013a, p. 18).
    The Good Practice Index[is an] evidence-based online database to keep staff informed about what works, what might work and what doesn’t work in policing. [The GPI] aligns with the focus on evidence-based policing [and grades tactics] with a lightbulb icon to indicate their effectiveness in preventing or reducing crime or fear of crime, [and it helps make Police] smarter in understanding the drivers of crime (Evans, 2015a).
  12. prompted a new national Policing award:
    Judged by a member of the Police Executive, assisted by frontline staff and visiting academics, the Excellence in reducing harm from the drivers of crime award is one of four awards that "recognises and rewards Police staff for excellence in addressing long term sustainable crime prevention and reduction" (Evans, 2015b).
  13. is embedded as one of the 'primary messages' instructed to be incorporated in police communications, ie that:
    Our officers are more efficient and effective, and doing the job they signed up for - in short, targeting the drivers of crime (NZ Police, 2014b).
  14. may cause other ‘drivers’ to be overlooked:
    Detective Inspector Paul Hampton, who manages the [Asset Recovery units] within the Financial Crime Group at Police National Headquarters calls the lure of money the ‘invisible sixth driver of crime’ and says it can often be overlooked in the course of regular investigations (Brook, 2014).
  15. may undermine or under-record crime prevention efforts in relation to important ‘drivers’ of crime not listed:
    What gets measured gets done. When a police officer visits licenced premises, it’s coded as ‘prevention’. Alcohol is one of the 'drivers of crime'. However, nearly identical activities that might detect or deter serious profit-motivated crime [example given] are classified 'investigation'. Money obviously drives much serious crime, but it's not on the list (Anon, 2015a).

This article does not suggest that focusing on any of the factors in The 5 Drivers of Crime quintet is wrong, particularly if it simply reflects operational concentration on important areas correlated with offending and selected by policymakers as ‘initial priority areas’. It is contended, however, that focusing on The 5 Drivers of Crime as if it represents the underlying causes of offending risks diverting resources from the prospect of achieving better results. In selecting activity and output measures with the greatest bearing on outcomes, mischaracterising correlation for causation matters. A ‘drivers of crime’ construct may be a useful way to focus effort and resources, but labelling it causative risks elevating the perceived crime prevention validity and capability of its constituent factors beyond the scientific evidence-base. It also risks systemically undervaluing the crime prevention capability and significance of other factors, including some which may have some direct causal relation with serious offending.

This article does not make a value judgment about the relative importance of the constituent factors of The 5 Drivers of Crime, whether as between themselves or compared with other factors that may have a material impact on crime. There is, however, evidence to suggest that Detective Inspector Hampton’s “invisible sixth driver” of financially-motivated ‘economic’ crime (Brook, 2014) represents a significant area of serious offending. For example:4

  • Non-economic crime. Assuming that the Police Commissioner’s reference to the estimated costs of crime to society "in excess of $11 billion per annum" (NZ Police, 2012a, p. 3) includes similar proportions of economically-motivated crimes as detailed in New Zealand Treasury’s earlier cost of crime report (Roper & Thompson, 2006), the total estimated cost of “non-economic” crimes (offences against the person, such as violent and sexual offences and robbery, together with property damage and drug and serious traffic offences), may be roughly in the order of $6.9 billion annually, or $9.6 billion if the costs of theft and burglary are included.
  • Economic crime. Although not formally published, the Minister then responsible for the Serious Fraud Office confirmed that “many Ministries had been working for two years on a Cost of Economic Crime report” (Nippert, 2013) which reportedly provisionally estimated the cost of ‘economic’ crimes such as fraud and tax evasion as between $6.1-$9.4 billion per year (Rose, 2014; Serious Fraud Office, 2012), or between $8.7-$12 billion if the costs of theft and burglary (from above) are included.

These reports use different methodologies, with likely under- and over-counting in both. But whatever the ‘correct’ figures, it is at least plausible that the cost of the “equally damaging” (MOJ, 2009b, p. 43) effects of white-collar crime represented by the “invisible sixth driver” may be broadly similar to the total cost of blue-collar crime on which ‘the 5 drivers’ appears mostly to focus.5 Omitting important factors arguably causative from a construct purportedly reflecting “the underlying causes of offending and victimisation” risks misaligning crime prevention activities and objectives. As Professor Levi remarked in relation to the shelved Cost of Economic Crime report, “the headline figure [is] not as important as the ability to prioritise which crimes to target” (Rose, 2014).

The intention to establish "a new approach to reducing offending and victimisation by working more effectively across government to address the underlying drivers of crime" (Cabinet, 2009, p. 1; 2010, p. 1) and the transformation into an evidence-based organisation that "puts prevention at the front of what Police do" (NZ Police, 2014c) are laudable aims. Even inspirational. The preceding commentary and following suggestions are offered in that context, constructively supporting effective crime prevention interventions.

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