Fighting Crime with High-Quality Signage

Fighting Crime with High-Quality Signage

Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman might be more well-known crime-fighters, but did you know that simple security signage can do wonders as a theft deterrent?

Today’s post reviews some scientific research on the efficacy of anti-theft signs, and shares 4 valuable design tips for high-performance signage.

What does science have to say about the crime-fighting power of signage?

Previous research found that displaying images of “watching eyes” made people behave in more socially desirable ways, but signs’ specific crime-fighting potential was not yet known.

The study

In 2012, the Public Library of Science conducted a study measuring the impacts that simple anti-theft signage had on bicycle thieves (Nettle et al., 2012).

Researchers built and installed signs displaying simple anti-theft messages like “Cycle thieves – We are watching you!” and “Crime-stopper community.”

They were placed in high-crime areas on a local university campus and monitored for 12 months. “Control areas” without any signage were also monitored as a point of contrast.

The results

After three months, bicycle thefts had decreased by 62% in the experimental locations, but increased in areas without signs by 65% (Nettle et al., 2012). This supports the efficacy of anti-theft signage, and also sheds light on their “displacing” effect; in other words, the signs aren’t stopping criminals from committing crime, but rather just convincing them to commit them somewhere else.

These findings underscore the need for security signage in your home or business. Clearly, anti-theft signage works, which is great news for those seeking cost-effective solutions, as signs are cheaper than closed-circuit cameras and require no actual surveillance staff. Moreover, in crime-stopping communities, any home or business lacking security signage will become a target for criminals who were deterred by a sign elsewhere.

4 Tips for Better Security Signage

  • Adding an anti-crime message is important. Though simple imagery of watching eyes was shown to be effective for encouraging pro-social behavior, anti-theft research has suggested that signage with wording that acknowledges that crime occurs in the area is a much more powerful deterrent.
  • Aggressive, eye-catching colors are key. Don’t try to deter criminals in a calming blue or earthy green font. In their study, Nettle et al. (2012) used signs with “WE ARE WATCHING YOU” written in bolded red lettering. Intense, eye-catching colors like these are much more effective for getting a stern warning across.
  • Indicate to the reader that you’re part of something bigger. One home or business owner posting signs isn’t particularly intimidating for a criminal. But including the name and information of a Crime-Stoppers Community or even the local police force sends the reader a message saying they’re up against a whole army of do-gooders. In their study, Nettle et al. (2012) used the name “Operation Crackdown” on all their signs, and included the logo of the local police force.
  • Visibility is essential. Installing your anti-crime sign in the right place is critical. It needs to be highly visible. In the study, Nettle et al. (2012) mounted theirs directly about the bike racks that were being victimized. The signs were at or above head height, and manufactured at a size that couldn’t be ignored.

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Nettle, D., Nott, K., & Bateson, M. (2012). ‘Cycle thieves, we are watching you’: Impact of a simple signage intervention against bicycle theft. PloS one, 7(12).


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