Hear the words, “la cucaracha” and you may think of the lively
Spanish Mexican song and its associated dance. Sounds like fun. The translation from the Spanish is “the cockroach.” Suddenly not so much fun.
Our topic today is cockroaches. Or actually, cockroach behavior. Perhaps you’ve seen it: you enter a kitchen at night, turn on a light and watch them scramble. Any bright light will do the trick. A flashlight. A spotlight. A match.
Or maybe you’ve tried this: swinging a flashlight through the room. You’ll see cockroaches in places you hadn’t expected. And so it is with the pedophilia reports emerging in the news media. A flashlight is shone at Penn State, but as it swings through the room, there are cockroaches everywhere.
- The latest shoe to drop is Bernie Fine. Accused. Fired. Next?
- More revelations are expected at other institutions.
Here’s Mitchell Garabedian, the attorney who took on child sexual abuse accusations against Boston archdiocese priests:
“The sexual abuse revelations at Penn State are a further tip of the sexual abuse iceberg that exists in this country and in the world,” said attorney Mitchell Garabedian, who won millions in settlements for scores of victims preyed on as children by Boston archdiocese priests.
“Victims in many institutions, whether they be educational or otherwise, will come forward to reveal the fact they were sexually abused. What has happened in Penn State has empowered victims, just as the Catholic Church cases have empowered victims to come forward,” he added
The Penn State scandal has indeed empowered additional victims to come forward. Garabedian himself reports taking calls from 10 to 15 people in the wake of the Sandusky revelations; they tell him they were prompted by the Penn State reports. We’ve seen the same impact at Penn State itself, with new victims coming forward against Jerry Sandusky. The spotlight is now on las cucarachas. Watch them scramble.
The Cockroach Effect is not of course a new one. Indeed, we have seen law enforcement purposely use a cockroach approach against selected crime categories or locations. Often to good effect. Some examples:
- Beginning in the mid-70s, law enforcement increased its focus on forcible rape, in great part because of a burgeoning movement among women to increase awareness and foster an improved police response. The number of reported forcible rapes per capita went from 52 in 1976 to a high of 84 in 1992. Were there more rapes or just better reporting? Evidence suggests social changes removed barriers to reporting rape.
- Closer to home, we notice how DUI emphasis patrols never fail to bring in a host of arrests. A three week patrol in Pierce County, Washington, netted 287 arrests.
- A more recent approach is so-called “hot spots policing,” where police use crime mapping to identify crime hot spots, then increase patrols or other police activity to reduce crime in those areas. The results have largely been positive, with decreases in calls for service, varying reductions in crime rates and in one case (Kansas City), both increases in guns seized by police and a decrease in gun crimes.
Our takeaway? The Cockroach Approach, aka Hot Spots Policing, is ideal for focusing laser attention on crimes or neighborhoods too long neglected. It usually takes some combination of scandal, rising crime rates or associated social changes to put these spotlights into effect. Not every crime will rise to the occasion. And sadly some crimes hit the headlines today, only to disappear tomorrow. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have our flashlights always at the ready. Las cucarachas are very persistent.