Can crime be deterred: hijackings as a case study of the increase in the probability of apprehension

In 1977, William Landes published a classic study of crime and punishment. He investigated what happened to the number of hijackings in the USA after mandatory screening of passengers and their carry-on luggage was introduced in 1973.

During the peak period of hijackings, 1968 to 1972, the probability of apprehension the hijacker was 15%. For those hijackers that were caught, their average prison sentence was 30 years in 1972 to 1974. One quarter of hijackers were committed to mental institutions. Hijackings became so common that:

[a]irliners carried approach plans for the Havana airport and crews were instructed not to resist hijackers. There were also standard diplomatic procedures for obtaining the return of planes and passengers

No hijackers were killed during the course of their crimes until 1971. After that, there is about a 10% chance of the hijacker being shot dead. Air marshals started riding on US planes in 1970;  there were about 1200 of these  air marshals, who had to be about the most boring job in the world.

The primary purpose of hijackings in the USA in the late 60s and early 70s in the USA initially was to obtain free transport to Cuba for the political purposes or to avoid prosecution for crimes. However, in the early 1970s, this demand for air transport started to decline as news filtered back about how poorly these hijackers were treated in Cuba. A few of these hijackers chose to return to the United States.

Interestingly, the substitute for flying to Cuba was para-hijackers. They demanded a ransom of an average of $300,000 and then parachuted out of the plane.  One out of 18 succeeded. Their average prison sentence for the 11 that survived was 43 years.

Hijacking incidences from 1930-1976 from the study of William Landes of University of Chicago Law School focused on hijacking's economic impact. Study was done in year 1977.

As the table above shows, the number of hijackings in the USA  immediately fell from over 20 per year, with a maximum of 38 in 1969, to one or two per year after the introduction of mandatory screening of passengers and their carry-on luggage In 1973.

All hijackers were apprehended between 1973 and 1976. Apparently, hijackers  of all breeds and political complexions do not enjoy the prison experience. Criminals don’t like to be caught.

Interestingly, lunatics could be deterred. They retained sufficient capacity for planning to abandon their plans to hijack a plane because of the inevitability of arrest at the boarding gate after the metal detector sounded off from 1973 onwards. Only to the 12 offenders that were apprehended for attempted hijacking between 1973 and 1976 were committed to mental institutions. The remaining 10 were just plain stupid.

If lunatics cannot be deterred, do not respond incentives, they should  have continued to hijack planes at the same rate as prior to the introduction of mandatory screening in 1973.

That said, mandatory screening was not cheap, which may explain why airlines and their passengers were putting up with up to 40 hijackings per year, as Landes explained using 1977 dollar, which was back when a dollar actually bought something:

Although the mandatory screening program is highly effective in terms of the number of hijackings prevented, its costs appear enormous.

The estimated net increase in security costs due to the screening program (which does not include the time and inconvenience costs to persons searched) is $194.24 million over the 1973 to 1976 period.

This, in turn, translates into a $3.24 to $9.25 million expenditure to deter a single hijacking. Put differently, if the dollar equivalent of the loss to an individual hijacked passenger were in the range of $76,718 to $219,221, then the costs of screening would just offset the expected hijacking losses.

I should add, however,that air travel was much more expensive and much less frequent in 1973. The jumbo jet had only been introduced two years previous. Air travel is much more frequent these days so would the contemporary travelling public be willing to put up with the equivalent of hundreds of hijackings per year?

cuba plane hijacked, Northwest Orient Airlines plane

Caption: A Northwest Orient Airlines plane that was hijacked on July 1, 1968, is pictured at the Miami International Airport after returning from Cuba.

What did happen after the crackdown on hijacking  was the terrorists change tactics.  Embassy takeovers another type of sieges surged. Prior to the crackdown on hijacking, these were rare.

When embassies became fortified, the terrorists instead started kidnapping or murdering diplomats after they left the Embassy compound. As Walter Enders and Todd Sandler found

The existence of complements and substitutes means that policies designed to reduce one type of attack may affect other attack modes.

For example, the installation of metal detectors in airports reduced skyjackings and diplomatic incidents but increased other kinds of hostage attacks (barricade missions, kidnappings) and assassinations.

In the long run, embassy fortification decreased barricade missions but increased assassinations.


Map: The most-stolen vehicle in every state

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The impact of the burglar resistant locks and windows on burglary rates

The Dutch government mandated the use of burglar-resistant locks and window and door frames in all new residential construction as of January 1, 1999. The regulation has now affected close to a million homes. The security was built-in and did not require any change in behaviour.

Figure 1:. Victimisation of burglary by year of construction of the home, the Netherlands

When comparing homes built just before and just after the change in the regulation, Vollaard and Van Ours (2011) found that homes with the built-in security to have a 26% lower rate of burglary.


How to cut prison numbers | vox

The idea of selective incapacitation is to make a distinction between offenders with a high and a low propensity to commit crime.

Figure 1. Average rate of theft from car and domestic burglary – pre and post-introduction of the Dutch habitual offender law

Note: Plotted coefficients show the average crime rate relative to the month preceding introduction of the habitual offender law. The bars show the 95% confidence intervals. Based on monthly data for 31 cities during 1998-2007.

A habitual offender law adopted in the Netherlands in 2001 (Vollaard 2012). Only offenders with ten or more offenses on their criminal record faced enhanced prison-terms.

Between 2001 and 2007, 1,400 mostly non-violent, relatively old and invariably drug-addicted offenders were sentenced under the law. They accounted for 5% of the prison population. The law implied sentence enhancements of some 1,000%, typically a two-year rather than a two-month sentence for the affected offender population.

These sentence enhancements resulted in a 25% drop in acquisitive crime – the crimes that the affected offenders committed.  The law did not have an impact on violent and sexual crimes, offenses that were rarely committed by the affected offenders.

Making the length of prison sentences more dependent on prior criminal records is a cost-effective crime policy. The Dutch policy affected only 5% of the prison population, but reduced property crime rates by 25% to 40%.

via How to cut prison numbers | vox.

Rational Criminals and Profit-Maximizing Police

via Rational Criminals and Profit-Maximizing Police.

Do ‘more police’ make us safe? | vox

The massive re-deployment of police after the July 2005 London bombings is a test of whether more police reduce crime.

There was a 34% increase in hours worked by police in central-inner London in the six weeks that followed the attacks.

Draca, Machin and Witt in Panic on the Streets of London found a 11% fall in crime. A 10% increase in police leads to a 3% fall in crime. This is broadly consistent with previous casual estimates of the impact of police on crime.

Klick and Tabarrok (2005) found that increases in the Terror Alert levels in the Mall area of Washington, D.C cut crime. A 10% increase in police leads to a 3% fall in crime.

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