[Cool] NYTimes: Creative thinking foils car thieves
The LoJack security system has hurt the business model of auto theft, forcing thieves to go into new lines of work -- and that should inspire us to think more creatively and systematically about how to reduce crime.
Sold for $695, the LoJack is a radio transmitter that is hidden on a vehicle and then activated if the car is stolen. The transmitter then silently summons the police -- and it is ruining the economics of auto theft.
Car theft, it turns out, is a volume business. And so if even a small percentage of vehicles have LoJack, the professional thief will eventually steal a car with one and get caught.
The thief's challenge is that it's impossible to determine which vehicle has a LoJack (there's no decal). So stealing any car becomes significantly more risky, and one academic study found that the introduction of LoJack in Boston reduced car theft there by 50 percent.
Two Yale professors, Barry Nalebuff and Ian Ayres, note that this means that the LoJack benefits everyone, not only those who install the system. Ayres and another scholar, Steven Levitt, found that every $1 invested in LoJack saves other car owners $10.
Nalebuff and Ayres note that other antitheft devices, such as the Club, a polelike device that locks the steering wheel, help protect that car, but only at the expense of the next vehicle.
An article in The Milken Institute Review proposes other ideas for reducing crime. The author, John Donohue of Yale, notes that both building prisons and adding police officers reduce crime rates. But he argues that we get much more bang for the buck by hiring police.
We have about 300,000 more prisoners than is cost-effective, Donohue calculates. In other words, every extra $100 spent on incarceration reduces crime losses by some smaller amount, say $50. But he also finds that we could add up to 500,000 police officers, and they would pay for themselves in crime savings.
Some social programs also pay for themselves in reduced crime. Donohue argues that a good bet is the Perry Preschool program (which involves weekly home visits). Its graduates end up 40 percent less likely to be arrested than those in a control group. The Job Corps for at-risk teenagers has also been shown to be very effective.