Creative crime prevention

     Although law enforcement is often the focal point in community crime prevention, the National Crime Prevention Council (NCPC) reminds us the responsibility of crime prevention is everyone's.

     "There isn't a single member of the community who shouldn't be involved and engaged in crime prevention," emphasizes Michelle Boykins, NCPC media relations and marketing director.

     While involving the community isn't always easy at first, there are many tools from NCPC and others that law enforcement can use to talk about safety and get people interested in taking an active role in crime prevention. The tools an agency uses depend on what it is trying to achieve, and, of course, how much money an agency can spend to reach its goals.

NCPC resources

     McGruff the Crime Dog first put on his trench coat and went out into the public speaking about topics like home security and neighborhood safety 28 years ago. Today, McGruff's safety lessons include topics like the dangers of drug abuse, gun violence, bullies and Internet surfing.

     To help the popular crime prevention icon deliver his safety messages, the old dog has learned new tricks. McGruff is everywhere. He's on and has a weekly blog.

     Boykins suggests local law enforcement tap into social networking sites because they have far-reaching abilities and require little effort and few financial resources. For example, she says, agencies could combine their efforts and put together a YouTube video with tips on how to prevent gasoline theft.

     While the Internet, or more specifically social networks, may be the perfect way to reach teens and young adults, that's not where most senior citizens get their information. If a crime prevention message needs to reach a broader audience, she says that same crime prevention message could be sent in different formats.

     "We always take a look at what is the appropriate medium to communicate the message," Boykins says. "We still have to use TV and newspapers as a way to get the message out there."

     NCPC has free PDFs, brochures, Webinars, CD-ROMs of PowerPoint presentations and more on its Web site,

     "We try to make sure that everything we're doing we're providing as a resource to help law enforcement in doing their local outreach," Boykins says.

     Many crime prevention topics are covered in an NCPC calendar. The Crime Prevention Month Action Kit (a calendar) is free (in bulk orders the calendars are $2 each) and includes reproducible educational brochures. The calendar can be ordered or downloaded from the NCPC site. Other items for purchase include posters and trading cards.

     "Technology is great, but sometimes people just want something tangible they can stick on a refrigerator or tack to a wall," Boykins says.

Interactive robots

     Not all McGruff tools are available directly from NCPC. A robotic McGruff (and a McGruff costume) can be purchased from Robotronics Inc., which has more than 8,000 other interactive robotic characters, along with thousands of costumes including McGruff's nephew (Scruff), puppets and printed educational materials featuring its safety characters, all geared toward children ages 14 and younger. The company's robots are industrial grade — with an average life of nearly 15 years. In addition to McGruff, Robotronics' popular crime prevention characters include Faux Paw the Techno Cat (a new Internet safety character), Eddie Eagle (from the Eddie Eagle GunSafe Program), Daren the D.A.R.E. Lion and Bucklebear. Robotronics is also licensed to produce other well-known safety characters such as Smokey Bear, Woodsey Owl and Sparky the Fire Dog.

     Robots leave a lasting impression with children, says Paul Schwen, Robotronics director of marketing and sales.

     The key with any teaching tool is to get the message across in a way that sticks, adds Dave Jannke of Probotics America, a company specializing in custom-designed robots.

     "Robots make a good teaching tool because they are able to convey a message in a memorable way by talking with kids at their own level," he says.

     Wearing bike helmets or seat belts, robots become living examples of what (or what not) to do. For example, Probotics America has Bike-Bots for bike rodeos and toddler-sized Baby-Bots for car safety seat programs.

     The company's Super Star Series shines with 5-foot, 2-inch robots that have interactive and multimedia features such as a DVD player.

     Both Probotics America and Robotronics say features can be added based on an agency's needs.

     Using a two-way voice system, an officer can be 100 yards away and still carry on a conversation. Many children unaware that the officer is speaking for the robotic character may be more likely to speak to the robot than they would a uniformed officer.

     "When using a robotic character to communicate with kids, remarkable things can happen," says Schwen."

     To capture the attention of young children, the Tarrant County Sheriff's Department teamed with local high school drama students to help write a script and record the voices for Bike-Bot Officer Bruce, which were downloaded to an MP3 player. (The free recording is available at

     To choose the best robot for the job, agencies need to determine what they want to help the community understand; how they're going to get the attention of the audience and deliver the message effectively; which events they will attend; and who they're going to talk to. Again, budget will come into play, but there are some things agencies can do to cut robot costs.

     For example, a fire department and police department purchased two vehicles but only one robot that they share. In another example, a car dealership funded a robot driving the same make that the dealership sold.

Gun safety materials

     Another popular crime prevention icon who has stood the test of time is Eddie Eagle. While supplies last, free gun safety materials (workbooks, brochures, stickers, instructors' guides and a DVD) are available to law enforcement agencies, says Eric Lipp, Eddie Eagle program manager at NRA headquarters. Lipp points out the materials are often grant funded. Since 1988, Eddie Eagle's common-sense message "STOP! Don't Touch. Leave the Area. Tell an Adult." has been important for all communities.

     "Whether you live in a rural or urban setting, children need to be taught what to do if they come across an unsupervised firearm," says Lipp.

     The Eddie Eagle GunSafe Program teaches children in pre-K through third grade what to do if they find a gun. The program never mentions the NRA and prohibits use of the mascot anywhere there are guns.

Seat Belt Convincers

     Seat Belt Convincers also have been around since about 1988. Sometimes telling someone to wear a seat belt isn't enough; according to NHTSA's 2008 National Occupant Protection Use Survey, about 20 percent of the nation still does not buckle up.

     "Until someone actually experiences the forces generated during a collision, they are not able to grasp the benefits that seat belts can provide," says Bret Lanz, commercialization manager, Advanced Manufacturing Institute, a department in the Kansas State University College of Engineering.

     The Convincer allows riders to experience the force generated in a mock low-speed collision (reaching between 5 to 10 mph), to help them understand the benefit of a seat belt.

     The Convincer can often be purchased using state or federal grant funding, including National Highway Traffic Safety Administration funding.

Safety on the Internet

     Like driving without a seat belt, navigating the Information Superhighway can be dangerous. Cyber crimes are among the most popular topics in crime prevention programs today. The non-profit i-SAFE Inc. has been dedicated to protecting the online experiences of youth since 1998. I-SAFE incorporates classroom curriculum (for K-12) with community outreach to empower students, teachers, parents, law enforcement and other concerned adults.

     "Children need to learn how to identify risks and threats and dangers online, and they need the critical-thinking and analytical skills to make safe and responsible decisions," says Denny Shaw, i-SAFE chief operations officer.

     Prevention is the answer to the Internet safety problem, he says, because there are more bad guys using the Internet than law enforcement can ever catch.

     "If we can keep children from making victims of themselves," he says, online predators are not going to be able to commit crimes.

     All the tools law enforcement needs to be proactive are free. Broad and in-depth training are available through i-SHIELD Online, a five-video series. There is also live, interactive online training available.

     It doesn't make sense for law enforcement to try to reinvent the wheel by writing its own Internet safety education programs, Shaw says. Furthermore, he says providing safety briefings, or awareness tips, is a good start, but that's not enough.

     "We are into culture change so children can be savvy and safe online," he says.

     I-SAFE's National Assessment Center reports 85 to 95 percent of the i-Safe students are changing their online behavior.

A perfect storm

     While there are always new crimes, old crimes still cause problems.

     "We still have people doing things like not locking their doors," Boykins says. "We still have to remind people what they need to do when it comes to basic, personal safety issues."

     NCPC works with and manages two associations: the Crime Prevention Coalition of America (made up of national, state, federal and community-based organizations including law enforcement) and the National Crime Prevention Association (for crime prevention practitioners) to help stay current with crime trends.

     Today, she says, "We're in sort of a perfect storm for crimes of opportunity — with high gasoline prices, an economic downturn, a housing market in the state of flux, banking and mortgage companies in financial trouble. In some cases, people have not been able to access their money. When you have all these things going on, some people who wouldn't necessarily be looking at turning to a life of crime or taking those crimes of opportunity may now start to do so."

     Across the country, communities are dealing with many issues that require law enforcement to take preventative measures. New technology helps us get things done in a different way, but it is a supplement to what can't be replaced.

     Boykins reminds, "You can't replace that law enforcement one-on-one interaction with the community."

     Rebecca Kanable is a freelance writer specializing in law enforcement topics for more than a decade. She lives in Wisconsin and can be reached at

Web resources
  • — This site is hosted by the National Crime Prevention Council on behalf of the National Sheriffs' Association and the Bureau of Justice Assistance. It was designed to help local law enforcement agencies and their community partners kick off celebrations of Crime Prevention Month every October.
  • — The National Crime Prevention Council offers many campaigns and resources through its site, including the Prevention Works Blog.
  • — The National Rifle Association's Eddie Eagle GunSafe Program teaches children what to do if they come across an unsupervised gun.
  • — Ten-year-old i-SAFE, a non-profit foundation, states its mission is to educate and empower youth to make Internet experiences safe and responsible. According to the Web site, its goal is to educate students on how to avoid dangerous, inappropriate or unlawful online behavior. The organization combines educational programs for elementary, middle and high school students with community outreach for parents, law enforcement and community leaders in its effort to promote Internet awareness and online safety.