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Cops and Robbers Thinking


 by Steve Houseworth, MA

To give you an idea of what we do at Offender Solutions® it helps to keep in mind that all of our work focuses on looking at the world from the offenders point of view. We look at their thinking.

The first step is to get the offender to assume personal responsibility for their actions. This may seem simple however it is a much more difficult task than it appears.

We have put a label on some of the specific kinds of thinking we have identified. As an introduction, the first kind of thinking is called "Cops and Robbers Thinking". Cops and Robbers Thinking is the thinking someone goes through to increase the odds they don't get caught. Looking for locks, lights, cameras, dogs, signs, police, undercover, electronic tags etc. are all examples of common ways to follow through on Cops and Robbers Thinking. Additionally, the planning of how to stash the item, the time of "night" and the get away are examples of Cops and Robbers.

What we have found is that most people use an external control system to facilitate their decision making skills. Their thoughts are, "I won't steal this if I think I am going to get caught" and therefore their logic is "don't get caught - get good".

Our belief is that the threat and fear of punishment are not effective at stopping people from stealing because - when they make the decision to steal they "think" they are not going to get caught and therefore, they "think" they are not going to get punished. Don't get me wrong, I am not suggesting consequence should not be imposed, but I am suggesting it does not work for the purpose most people use it for.

In regard to punishment we offer our offenders the following guarantee (each word is carefully chosen):

"If, your only reason to choose not to steal is the fear

of punishment - then, you will steal again"

It is certain that each of us will, someday, be in a situation where we THINK we won't get caught. If we believe we won't get caught, we won't worry about the punishment. Don't let offenders tell you they knew they were going to get caught. This kind of thinking occurs immediately after having gotten caught. Cops and Robbers Thinking occurs prior to committing the theft.

"THEFT TALK" informs each of our clients of Cops and Robbers Thinking. We tell them the purpose of Cops and Robbers Thinking is TO GET GOOD. Those who truly want to stop stealing must stop their Cops and Robbers Thinking. If you really want to stop stealing you can not simultaneously be working at getting good. Thinking precedes behavior.

We have found that each and every one of our theft offenders has mentally rehearsed stealing many times before they acted it out. Those who have stolen many times have their minds saturated with Cops and Robbers Thinking those who have stolen a few times have mentally rehearsed thefts many many times before acting on it for the first time. Compare it to a rapist. It would be naive to assume a rapist has not been obsessed with the thought many times before following through.

Theft offenders commonly say, "I've learned my lesson", "I'm never going to steal again", "You will never see me in here again." And, of course, many of these same people come back time and time again. The reason they come back is because when they stole they thought they were not going to get caught and would not have to experience the consequences. They were relying on the system (the fear of consequences, external controls) to stop them from stealing, they found themselves in a position where the fear was removed (in their mind) and said "go for it".

Our position is that punishment works when people think they are going to get caught and therefore is very effective at PREVENTING a theft, here and there, now and then. But - punishment will not STOP that person from stealing.

Some techniques to stop Cops and Robbers Thinking start with building the offenders awareness of the frequency of its occurrence. I have my clients wear a rubber band around their wrist, and each time they catch themselves doing Cops and Robbers Thinking they are to snap the rubber band. The purpose is NOT to induce pain, it is to increase their awareness level of the frequency of its occurrence. As one client put it, "You jinxed me, I'm always catching myself".

Once they have snapped the rubber band they are to take out a pocket tablet and record (via a count mark) that incident of Cops and Robbers Thinking. At the end of seven full days they are to total their count. The average offender does Cops and Robbers Thinking 50 to 150 times a week. The sophisticated offender does it 250 to 350 times a week. Over a few weeks the incidences of cops and robbers thinking will naturally reduce due to their awareness level and of course laziness on the reporters part. We also suggest they have a pre-planned thought in mind at all times, to direct their thinking toward, when they catch themselves doing cops and robbers thinking.

We summarize all of the above by asking the offender, "WHO can stop you from stealing?" If they think police, parents, counselors, priests or friends can do it, we have not been successful.

The above is critical to work each offender through. If this information interests you try it out. This is one small part of a larger whole but it is a start.


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If you don't like something change it; if you can't change it, change the way you think about it. 

~Mary Engelbreit | |


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