Getting Inside the "Black Box" of Deterrence : Does Communication of Focused Deterrence Deter Crime?

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2021-05-03

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Abstract

A large body of evaluations has found that the focused deterrence programs, also known as pulling levers policing, generate significant crime reduction effects. Although the mechanisms believed to underlie the focused deterrence effects are founded on criminological theories, less is known about which theoretical mechanisms govern the program’s crime reduction effects. Additionally, no research has investigated whether the crime reduction effects can be observed in an experimental setting. The purpose of this study is to contribute to the existing evaluation studies on the focused deterrence approach in three important ways: First, using a convenience sample collected from Amazon’s Mechanical TurkTM (MTurkTM), the current study examined the mediating role of two deterrence-related perceptions—perceived certainty and perceived severity—to determine whether the crime reduction effects of pulling levers policing can be attributed to increases in perceptions of the certainty of arrest and of the severity of ensuing legal penalties. Second, the study tested the mediating influence of emotional fear of apprehension on the linkages among pulling levers message, risk perceptions, and intentions to offend. Third, the present study addressed a glaring gap in the focused deterrence approach literature by assessing the moderating role of self-control and morality on the pathways passing through the pulling levers message, risk perceptions, deterrent fear, and intentions to offend. ANOVA and OLS regression results found that the pulling levers message has no impact on risk perceptions and intentions to engage in illegal drug sales. Mediation analyses revealed that the effects of the pulling levers message on intentions to offend were not mediated by perceived certainty and severity, although perceived severity was negatively associated with intentions to offend. Regarding the emotional deterrence framework, the results reported no mediating role of emotional fear of arrest on associations among the pulling levers message, risk perceptions, and intentions to offend, whereas emotional fear of arrest was negatively associated with intentions to offend. Further, moderated mediation analyses found that the nonsignificant indirect impact of the pulling levers message on intentions to offend through risk perceptions and deterrent fear held regardless of levels of self-control and morality. Overall, these results indicate that the pulling levers message without the actualization of the threat is not enough to increase risk perceptions and emotional fear of legal sanctions and in turn, reduce offending behaviors.

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Risk perception, Punishment in crime deterrence, Crime prevention

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