Loitering as a Security System

In Kyoto, taxi drivers are encouraged to loiter around convenience stores late at night. Their presence reduces crime.

In Kyoto about half of the convenience stores had signed on for the Midnight Defender Strategy. These 500 or so shops hung posters with slogans such as "vigilance strengthening" written on them in their windows. These signs are indicators to taxi drivers that they are allowed to park there as long as they like during breaks. The stores lose a few parking spaces in the process but gain some extra eyes which may be enough to deter a would-be bandit from making their move.

Since the program started in September 2013 the number of armed robberies among participating stores dropped to four compared to 18 in the previous year. On the other hand, the shops which were not in the Midnight Defender Strategy saw an increase in robberies, up from seven to nine incidents compared to the year before. Overall the total number of robberies was nearly halved in the prefecture.

Hacker News thread.

Posted on January 5, 2015 at 7:10 AM • 33 Comments


Roland DobbinsJanuary 5, 2015 7:20 AM

That may work in Kyoto - but it won't have quite the intended effect in other countries, where the taxi drivers are as likely to rob you as not.

Clive RobinsonJanuary 5, 2015 7:35 AM

I suspect that like CCTV this "security advantage" will only be apparent whilst the number of stores involved is small.

That is the inconveniance to an armed robber presented by this scheme is quite small. Because there is always another store just around the corner that is not in the scheme.

Thus when the number of stores in the scheme in any given area reaches above a certain threshold, the armed robbers being robbed of easy targets will return to the harder targets some with different tactics. Depending on the success of the change in tactics by the armed robbers, some will be caught whilst others will carry on robbing the stores they had prior to this scheme.

I know somebody will complain, but it can be viewed as "evolution in action", more importantly it's why "static" anti crime technology works initialy then fails. To have a chance to be continuously effective anti crime systems need to be dynamic and change at a rate comparable with the criminals evolution.

AndyJanuary 5, 2015 8:34 AM

As kids we would also loiter in the same convenience store parking lot every night. It drove the owner nuts despite us spending money in his store and the store never being robbed even though every other store in the area was robbed as least once a year (including the store right across the street).

Criminals don't like well lit places with lots of eyes.

BarneyJanuary 5, 2015 8:35 AM

The concept that populated spaces are safer is well known. Putting comfortable benches outside shops might also work. I wonder how many shops go as far as putting seating inside and communicating that people are welcome to loiter with no intention of buying.

Penny PincherJanuary 5, 2015 8:56 AM

This is why the stereotype of cops with donuts started!
All night diners and coffee shops offered cops free or discounted food, in order to get some measure of security from disruptive people/armed robbers etc.

EricJanuary 5, 2015 9:10 AM

I recall hearing a story about a parking lot near an airport where there were issues with cars being broken into. What they ended up doing was putting in a dog park adjacent to the parking lot - this brought dog owners in at varying times during the day, and the presence of these extra people seemed to dissuade the crooks. I suppose the crooks simply went elsewhere..

parabarabianJanuary 5, 2015 9:15 AM

Not a bad idea. It may only be shifting the criminal activity to other places but that is still a benefit to the store owners. If I can't make crime go away then I'll try to make it go somewhere else.

NobodySpecialJanuary 5, 2015 10:21 AM

Always felt like this with buskers on the tube late at night when they are the only other person in an empty station.
I imagine they have been removed now as part of a security clamp-down, after all we have CCTV what more do you need ?

zbootJanuary 5, 2015 10:22 AM

And, as many seemed to have missed, this not only shifted crime away from the participating stores, it reduced that crime by half.

There is a larger benefit here than simply having crime move somewhere else.

zbootJanuary 5, 2015 10:28 AM

@Clive Robinson,

The inconvenience to an armed robber is more than just small. Now, in addition to having to actually rob a store, his getaway will likely be observed. Eliminating a witness outside in a car is much harder than eliminating those in the store.

I'm not sure why the criminals will move back to the "hardened" targets. They haven't done so yet. If the number of easy targets goes down, it makes it easier to concentrate resources and arrest the criminals. If they go after the harder targets, they'd be much easier to catch (partly because they must be stupid criminals to pass over the easy ones when the payoff is about the same).

If there is any "evolution" that happens, it would be that criminals move away from armed robbery to something with similar payoff and less risk. I'm pretty sure most criminals aren't doing it simply for the challenge.

EsKayWhyJanuary 5, 2015 11:05 AM

Perhaps we need friendly bots to loiter around corporate networks to keep the malicious bots away. There was an article recently that there were more malicious bots on computers than there are people.

ChucklesJanuary 5, 2015 11:43 AM

In a twist on the theme, when I lived just off Union Square in NYC in the early 80s there was significant drug dealing localized to my block. And there was absolutely *no* other crime -- the dealers wouldn't tolerate it because they didn't want to attract cops to the block. They greeted residents as we came and went, opened doors for old ladies, etc. Looking past the fact that they were in a filthy business, they were very smart businesspeople. And one hell of a 24x7 neighborhood watch patrol.

dragonfrogJanuary 5, 2015 12:04 PM


Not only that, but any witnesses inside the store might give a description like "thickset man, maybe 5'11", wearing a ski mask. He might have been white but I didn't get a good look at his hands."

A witness in the parking lot might give a much more useful description - "blue Mazda hatchback with a scratched up driver's side door, license number ABC123"

Sancho_PJanuary 5, 2015 12:23 PM

@ Clive Robinson

“evolution in action” - good point.
Simply let nature do it (at the public conveniences).
Of course no one will consider that there might be a reason for this kind of crime,
let alone our sovereign will be acting more than to praise the free market and self regulation.

I’d suggest to sell the shops automatic shotguns to blow up “wrong” customers and immediately upload that CCTV video to YuGoog for the “Best Shot Contest” [1].

- This would reduce that crime by the half! (@ zboot)

[1] Music suggestion: “What a wonderful world” e.g. sung by the black Luis Armstrong,
or even better https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ddLd0QRf7Vg.

AnuraJanuary 5, 2015 12:34 PM


Some street gangs got their start as basically a neighborhood watch. Police departments didn't want to expend resources on protecting non-white people, so people from these minority communities got together to protect themselves. Eventually they all realized they could get rich off of drugs, causing the gangs to become much more violent to protect and expand their territory.

WaelJanuary 5, 2015 12:47 PM

@Clive Robinson,

I know somebody will complain, but it can be viewed as "evolution in action"...
Not at all! You are absolutley right! It's evolution alright, just from a different perspective. This is called a symbiotic relationship where a police officer gets free dounghts and coffee and the shop owner gets the "cheap" protection and piece of mind. There are three types of symbiosis mutualism, commensalism, and parasitism. Theoretically, the symbiosis of "loitering for secutrity" is of the "mutualism" sort, until the police officers eat way too much dounghts, then it turns into a "parasitic" sort of relationship, in which case, the idea breaks down[1].

[1] Store owner's evaluation of the situation just before it breaks down: Dang it! The officers are coming every few minutes and eating my dougnuts at a staggering rate! I'm losing 36 dozens a day, and for what? It'll be cheaper if I get robbed once a month! And the evolution continues... (I'll charge them half price instead.) Or perhaps, I can get them to dismiss these two speeding traffic tickets I got (this happens, by the way.) Or maybe, I'll see if they can give this cheap customer that stiffs my waiters a ticket ;)

A Nonny BunnyJanuary 5, 2015 12:48 PM


>> And, as many seemed to have missed, this not only shifted crime
>> away from the participating stores, it reduced that crime by half.

I also noticed the numbers are hardly significant enough to say anything about effectiveness one way or the other.
To start with what's the base variability in crime rate there?

WaelJanuary 5, 2015 1:25 PM

I'll try to reduce noise by adding some minor "noise"!
I meant to say "doughnuts" instead of the mistyped variants. No spell checker...
It's strange that everything looks fine after several reviews, and the mistakes show just after the submit button is clicked.

Clive RobinsonJanuary 5, 2015 4:11 PM

@ zboot,

First off the numbers are in a range that suffers from the "law of small numbers" so reducing by a half may be more chance of time periods and areas covered.

You will note I mentioned that the criminals may change their tactics and that the arrest rate would change.

This something that is difficult to evaluate due to the basics of supply and demand, if the crime rate drops the number of officers available goes up thus response times drop and arresst numbers rise. It's why small changes can have dispropotianate effects. It's one of the reasons behind statistical saturation policing, where a computer model trys to predict where crime is likely to happen a number of hours into the future, and an increased number of patrol cars are sent there to make thmselves highly visable. It has two effects, the first is it acts as a deterent and petty / opportunistic crime drops, which has a secondary effect, processing an arrested person takes a couple of policemen off the street for quite a period of time, thus deterrent rather than arrest keeps more police visable...

However there is a downside to this scheme, just as there is with "Cops-n-doughnuts" in that as more shops join the scheme the number of available taxis to sit outside decreases per shop, because the supply of waiting taxis is efectivly finite and probably smaller than the number of shops. Further the taxis will tend to wait closer to places where they are going to pick up business, thus some shops may enter the scheme and not see any change in the robbery rate so will change the large area statistics for robbery reduction.

However the citizens will probably continue to benifit, because the taxis will be able to wait closer to where their customers are the response time will be shorter, this will mean that the time for vulnerable to street crime citizens on the street will reduce, thus reducing street crime disproportionately in that area.

In turn that is likely to make the area more popular and the shops in the scheme in those areas will see an increase in business disproportionate to what you would expect, and businesses outside of those areas will actually see business decrease.

These are some of the simple and known effects of such changes in the dynamics of city life, which also accounts for why groceries tend to be more expensive in areas around transport hubs than else where because the shops can cash in on the conveniance / safety factor.

Dirk PraetJanuary 5, 2015 5:02 PM

@ Barney

I wonder how many shops go as far as putting seating inside and communicating that people are welcome to loiter with no intention of buying.

Probably none, as it would only attract bored youths and homeless people.

Ole JuulJanuary 5, 2015 5:28 PM

Seats inside? They would have to have room. That sounds like a North American thing were real estate is cheap. I admit that it's been a couple of decades since I was in Kyoto and things may well have become less crowded since then, but I doubt it.

Clive RobinsonJanuary 5, 2015 5:54 PM

@ Barnaby, Dirk,

In the UK a number of supermarkets have seating between the external windows and the checkouts for people to sit and wait.

To my embarrassment a short while ago I was stumping through a supermarket on my crutches when the manager came up and offered me a shoping assistant to help, so that she would either carry my basket or if I had a shopping list she would go around for me so I could use the seats to wait...

To my now shame, the assistant was a very attractive young lady young enough to just about be my granddaughter and rather than politely decline the offer of her assistsnce, I chose to have her come around with me carrying my basket...

Also in some UK "out of town" hypermarkets the they have the equivalent of a taxi rank outside, where you can get a cab to take you home with your shopping. I have on the odd occasion done a six month shop for "store cupboard" shopping and brought home palets of canned goods and joints for the freezer that way. Certainly enough to fill the back of an "estate vehicle" and get the suspension down on the end stops ;-)

I prefer to do this than use the "online delivery" systems, because I found with Tesco's especially, you got stuff way to close to the Best Before Date thus no good for the store cupboard.

Also if you think about it, it can act as a "security break" I almost always pay cash, and don't use loyalty cards etc, thus my purchases don't get linked to me which is what does happen to you atleast twice when you use "online purchase" (ie store and Credit Card DBs).

A friend goes a slightly different route, they setup a limited liability company to buy the materials to build their new home and thus claim back the sizeable VAT component. As part of that they registered with a couple of major suppliers to small shops and restaurants, which they still use for taxable purchases to reclaim the value added component. Supprisingly if done the right way it's perfectly legal in both the UK and Europe because of the daft way VAT and other taxes work...

Dirk PraetJanuary 5, 2015 7:12 PM

@ Clive

In the UK a number of supermarkets have seating between the external windows and the checkouts for people to sit and wait.

They should put ashtrays too 8-)

Just Passin' ThruJanuary 5, 2015 8:32 PM


So, corporations should encourage hackers to hang around their networks?

Close... Corporations should encourage the FBI, NSA, state and local police, and Google to hang around their networks.

ThothJanuary 5, 2015 8:50 PM

@Clive Robinson

"Also if you think about it, it can act as a "security break" I almost always pay cash, and don't use loyalty cards etc, thus my purchases don't get linked to me which is what does happen to you atleast twice when you use "online purchase" (ie store and Credit Card DBs)."

That is a nice and simple security mechanism. Nice thinking :) . Plastic cards and chipsets in them are not secure anyway. So much chipset and EMV breaking down at so much conferences especially the recent 31C3 event where a good amount went to length to show that those cards are pretty much not doing what they should do.

XachJanuary 5, 2015 10:19 PM

I suspect that like CCTV this "security advantage" will only be apparent whilst the number of stores involved is small.

This is interesting because after applying this change they were able to statistically show crimes[1] were reduced significantly. The fact that this was implemented effectively to reduce crimes[1] says a lot about criminal behavior of going after low hanging fruits, where the money is.

I suspect this is also symbiotic mutualism because there will be less mugging the taxi driver, too. This is a great example of good people helping each other in a good, trusted society for mutual benefit.

[1]'crime' in this context is store robberies in Kyoto Prefecture

Andrew_KJanuary 6, 2015 2:58 AM

I was told that in Germany police officers can free travel with most trains when they are wearing their uniform.

I'd really like that -- if one could trust them these days.

WmJanuary 6, 2015 8:21 AM

A transport company (tanker) I worked for used to have to deliver early in the morning to a diesel engine test center in San Antonio, TX. The test center wouldn't allow the drivers to park on their open property during the night and there were no truck stops nearby. There was a convenience store across from their entrance that allowed 2 to 3 trucks to park around the store all night. They relished the protection they were obviously getting with all the additional eye and ear parked around the store (not to mention having the meaner than hell image that some people have about truck drivers).
Some businesses also give cops discounts on food (Luby's cafeterias for one after the Killeen massacre) for the extra protection due to their presence.

SharpJanuary 7, 2015 7:52 AM

This is the concept of "eyes on the street". Time to (re)-read The Death and Life of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs.

joaoJanuary 9, 2015 11:22 AM

Many robbery's don't like people around, because it introduces additional "security" problems for them... example: they may be undercover cops, they may be train military with special skills, they may react in an unexpected way, they may shoot them, they may call the police earlier then they expect, they may know them, may give more details about them that takes the police more quickly to them...

Having people around, special many of them, if they are good people, they will bring a good vibration to the area making it less interesting to some kind of robbery's.

CCTV (close circuit television) is not the same concept! Because most time their isn't anyone watching the cameras! Even if someone is watching the cameras they must have the capability to: 1) really see every single camera with attention (most times is one person seeing many many cameras!) 2) call the security or the police (whatever is the more appropriated). Many times CCTV is only useful if their is on site security (armed ones probably... but in most country's security guards can't have guns in most situations, or are highly unlikely to use them) or the police to react immediately... or the CCTV won't stop anything... just some kinds of people that don't like to be on TV, and are less and less of them.

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