"Don't Commit Crime"

This sign is from a gas station in the U.K.

sign saying 'Police Notice: Don't Commit Crime'

My first reaction was to laugh, but then I started thinking about it. We know that signs like "No Shoplifting" reduce shoplifting in the area around the sign, but those are warnings against a specific crime. Could a sign this general be effective? Clearly some comparative studies are needed.

EDITED TO ADD (7/7): This is part of a larger sign. Presumably, whoever put up the sign I saw cut the top and bottom off.

Posted on July 7, 2010 at 9:20 AM • 51 Comments

Comments

JHJuly 7, 2010 9:48 AM

There's the bit in Freakonomics where simply having a picture of some eyes next to the honesty-box cookies caused people to be more honest.

Maybe this would work.

HJohnJuly 7, 2010 10:02 AM

It's entirely possible that it may deter crime by making people think they are being watched. I think that's how no shoplifting signs work.

The sign would probably be better suited, like no shoplifting signs, to have a warning that said "criminal offenses will be punished to the fullest extent of the law."

Such deterrents aren't rational, but then again, neither are many criminals. Ironically, sometimes stupid can affect stupid in a postive way.

JamesJuly 7, 2010 10:09 AM

Seems logical... I think it might have the opposite effect in certain areas.

I'd rather this than facial recognition technology, but seeing as it's already happening in the U.K. it may just catch on over in the North America.

shadowfirebirdJuly 7, 2010 10:11 AM

What this sign says to me is that whoever put it up considers everyone that will read the sign to be a potential criminal.

How insulting is that? I wouldn't stop at that petrol station, given a choice.

kashmarekJuly 7, 2010 10:19 AM

That sign is about as useful as the Tonight Show Jay Leno headline taken from a newspaper story:

"Crime caused by criminals"

scottnottheotherscottJuly 7, 2010 10:19 AM

My favourite version of this message is the warning found on Microsoft cds/dvds - "Do not make illegal copies of this disc".

However, the fact that the warning is there is an implicit statement that the police have, at some point, paid attention to crime in this location. It alerts people to a) the existence of the police and b) the fact that they care about this gas station.

Of course, if you put these everywhere, the effect is diluted.

@shadowfirebird - Don't be insulted. Given the breadth of modern laws, I very much doubt that you are only a *potential* criminal - you're probably a very real one, just like the rest of us normal everyday folk ;-)

passing throughJuly 7, 2010 10:19 AM

@Jan

I saw that sign too!
Those "special sunglasses" made me see all sorts of signage instructing me to maintain the status quo.

GeorgeJuly 7, 2010 10:41 AM

In the Age of Terror, there's neither reason nor time for "comparative studies." According to the Government Accountability Office, the TSA consistently plunges ahead with measures like behavior detection officers and virtual strip searches without any validated basis for their effectiveness. The important thing is to REACT quickly after an embarrassing "incident" to demonstrate conclusively that you're in control of the situation. That way they can avoid wasting taxpayer money with costly, time-consuming studies!

KJHJuly 7, 2010 10:57 AM

@shadowfirebird,
Do you refuse to shop at stores that have the warning to shoplifters? I think that messages/warnings to potential criminals (or established criminals for that matter) can work if the message can rise above the "noise" of advertisements, etc. Most of these messages have a limited life--they work best if they are fresh, funny, and in sync with the culture most likely to offend. I suggest that a more effective message will include undesirable aspects of incarceration, e.g. being someone's bitch, bad food, no drugs.

TTJuly 7, 2010 11:08 AM

This is probably from within a Police Station as a general warning to Police Officers, who are nearly out of (civilian) Control in the UK...

LouisJuly 7, 2010 11:13 AM

Gas stations within the Greater Montreal area, bear a Police force notice right next to the nuzzle, so you can't miss it.

The note is not as much "thought obstrusive" by reminding the customer that not paying for the gas, even by absent-mindness, is to commit a crime.

But this is kind of old since most gas station nowadays require pre-payment, even during day time.

uk visaJuly 7, 2010 11:25 AM

I guess we need some controls - signs saying: Commit Crime
so we can see whether the Don't Commit Crime signs work...

kangarooJuly 7, 2010 11:25 AM

The difference between this and "no shoplifting" is that shoplifting is a "kind of crime" -- it's specific, and therefore there is something in particular that is known to be "watched for".

"Don't commit crime" is in a completely different category. There is no specific action being identified as "watched for" -- it says all actions are being watched for, and then associated with the "crime category".

Don't evade taxes? Don't litter? Don't spit? Don't commit terrorism?

The problem is very similar to the problem of "terrorism" -- you can't pin it down to anything, because anything can be a crime. Terrorism is terrorism because of the intent -- not the action. They are similar levels of analysis, completely different from shoplifting.

There's a categorical error in banning crime, given that crime is already anything that is banned -- which is anything at all, given the proper analysis.

It's dumb. It won't work. Might as well put up a sign saying "Be nice".

bob (the original bob)July 7, 2010 11:49 AM

I've long said they should pass a law against breaking laws.


@uk visa: lol

@kangaroo: it would be impossible to not commit terrorism, since the definition changes with the tide.

kingsnakeJuly 7, 2010 12:00 PM

Especially, original bob, now that one may be prosecuted for supporting terrorism for merely talking to someone classified as a terrorist. Of course, we don't know who all those people are, because it is secret, so basically you can be prosecuted for terrorism for talking to anyone.

GSEJuly 7, 2010 12:00 PM

@G-man

I remember a 'no smoking' sign on my college campus that was covered with burn marks from people extinguishing their cigarettes on it.

BenJuly 7, 2010 12:34 PM

Better than making people think of "commit crime" + "don't", I think a sign in the opposite direction would be more effective.

Something like "You are honest." Even if they're not, most people would say they have a certain level of honesty. So remind them of that...

HJohnJuly 7, 2010 12:42 PM

My dad had two cameras and two signs at his business. Both signs stated intent to prosecute. Two signs also stated "Camera 2" and "Camera 4."

He wanted people to think they were being watched from a location they couldn't identify.

AndrewJuly 7, 2010 12:53 PM

This falls in the same category as manikins wearing uniforms, parked empty police cars ("decoy cars"), "Drug Free School Zone" signs, fake security cameras and other nonsense.

The sheeple think it works and sometimes stop taking appropriate precautions. The criminals feel comfortable that no other security measures have been taken, and move forward. 'Broken windows' theory doesn't just apply to graffiti and litter anymore.

Signs that remind people to take ordinary precautions are far more effective. "Did you lock your car?" "Keep valuables out of sight." One favorite I saw on a controlled door in San Francisco -- "Refusing to open doors for people you don't know is prudent, not rude. Help keep all of us safe."

For my own amusement, I sometimes suggest to people who favor gun control laws that they should put a sign on their house to that effect, to assure criminals that there are reduced consequences to attempting forcible entry. No one has taken me up on it.

It could be argued that alarm company signs from particularly incompetent providers, much like The Club, embolden criminals who know they can outwit the standard install from such companies.

LauraJuly 7, 2010 12:54 PM

If I were a gasoline thief, and I had to choose between stealing from a station with this sign and one without, I'd probably choose from the station with the sign -- after all, why would they bother putting a sign like this up if people weren't stealing gas from them and getting away with it?

DCFusorJuly 7, 2010 12:55 PM

This has been mentioned here before, but awhile back me and my friends at the bank I use had a good laugh about the sign (fairly fine print too) there saying to take off any clothing that would prevent their cameras from getting a good picture of you to ID you if you were going to rob the bank.

As if anyone with that in mind would stop to read *any* sign while going in with that drawn gun and ski mask on. Dumb bureaucrats I suppose. No, wait, that's redundant.

They BTW explicitly said that they prefer I open carry there -- because they know I'm not going to steal my own money and seeing that might prevent someone else from trying. Nice out here in the far boonies compared to lot of places, that way. They don't mind concealed, it's me, after all, but they liked the obvious deterrent effect of the thing showing. The local liquor stores have all said the same things.

Note, I have had the police respond to a call from some hoplophobic idiot that said "there's a man with a gun in here" -- who then left the scene without giving any information at all to the cops.

We had a good laugh about that (we all mostly know one another) and now they ask "is the gun in a holster?" before responding to calls like that.

Seems neither I nor anyone else has ever seen an armed robbery video where the gun started out in a holster....perhaps a worthwhile tidbit?

mcbJuly 7, 2010 2:46 PM

I've seen signs here in the states informing would be fuel thieves that a drive off will cost them their license. I wasn't offended. In fact it might have even greater impact on its target audience if it also said "And we'll impound your mom's car until you pay for the stolen gas and settle your fine."

DeanJuly 7, 2010 3:19 PM

I'd like to see signs that say: "Thieves suck donkey balls" but I suspect they would be stolen rather quickly.

James FulfordJuly 7, 2010 3:52 PM

When Woody Allen was having problems with pigeons on his New York apartment balcony, one of his solutions was a sign saying "NO PIGEONS."

Tom T.July 7, 2010 7:17 PM

"mcb" beat me to the standard sign here: "Driving off without paying will cost you your driver's license". Specific punishments, especially targeted (those who buy motor fuel usually need a driver's license, and the loss has serious consequences, far beyond a fine or a day in jail), are more likely to deter.

So, can we now get a sign, "No Cyberattacking", to solve the "problem" in the paper described in yesterday's post?

And "No Hacking" at the top of every browser -- including hacking the browser to remove the warning, LOL.

BillJuly 8, 2010 3:20 AM

FAIL - criminals sufficiently stupid to be deterred are too stupid to read.

csrsterJuly 8, 2010 3:45 AM

This "Police Notice" reminds me of a synagogue I know that used to put out signs on holy days reading "Polite Notice - No Parking" in the hope that people driving by would read "Polite" as "Police".

maxJuly 8, 2010 8:30 AM

I'm hopeful that the missing parts of the sign are due to vandalism, rather than modification by the installer.

Steve JJuly 8, 2010 4:45 PM

When UK law banned smoking in workplaces, it also required all workplaces to display "no smoking" signs. The guy lumbered with the job of putting them up didn't object to the smoking ban, but did go online and find some signs along the lines of "no smoking, no stabbing, no breaking any other laws" and suggested putting those up instead, to simultaneously prevent stabbings and other crime. Smoking had always been banned (and successfully prevented) in that office without the assistance of regulation A5 signs.

There's always someone who fails to appreciate irony - in this case that someone must have thought along the same lines. Why be too specific? If you said "don't commit theft - all petrol must be paid for", then people won't know to avoid manslaughter, or high treason, or misconduct in public office...

JBJuly 9, 2010 3:56 PM

It's a pretty classic case of association by juxtaposition--you might know, in theory, that it's against the law to drive away without paying for gas. But if you're doing it, you're probably not thinking of yourself as a criminal--you've probably worked out a justification for why it's OK.

Putting up an easy-to-understand sign with an easy-to-make connection has the implicit effect of saying "not paying is morally a crime" more emotionally effectively than just saying "don't steal gas".

DavidJuly 12, 2010 1:59 PM

I'm surprised no one mentioned my personal favorite meaningless warning sign, as it's very common: "Criminal Trespass Prohibited".

Corey MutterJuly 12, 2010 2:18 PM

I've seen "illegal drug use prohibited" signs in a few parking lots - I was thankful to find out the property owner's stance on whether I was allowed to partake of illegal drugs there.

J ScottJuly 14, 2010 12:00 PM

To quote Mailman:
"Doesn't the entire sign say Don't commit crime - all fuel must be paid for?
If so, it does target a specific crime.
There was an article on the BBC website about this sign in 2007:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/beds/bucks/... "

Note that the article actually says
"Don't Commit Crime is stated on one of Hertfordshire Constabulary's posters - All fuel must be paid for has been added on posters at petrol stations."

I guess this means there were some signs not at petrol stations that do not have the addition regarding fuel being paid for, and are just as per Bruce's original post

Paul JacksonJuly 15, 2010 11:20 PM

Not as funny to me, a Brit, as the sign I saw in a Malibu gas station:

"Drive away pollution!"

I asked the pump attendant to fill the car up with "drive away pollution", but he didn't understand the joke.

Leave a comment

Allowed HTML: <a href="URL"> • <em> <cite> <i> • <strong> <b> • <sub> <sup> • <ul> <ol> <li> • <blockquote> <pre>

Photo of Bruce Schneier by Per Ervland.

Schneier on Security is a personal website. Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of Co3 Systems, Inc..