The Wall Street Journal provides the grist for our persuasion mill with a story of a government intervention employing persuasion principles. In Peoria, IL, the police employ the “Armadillo,” a refurbished Brinks truck packed with high tech surveillance gear and a large visible sign declaring it a “Nuisance, Property, Surveillance Vehicle.” The vehicle is, thus far, indestructible and when left parked in high crime neighborhoods, crime falls.
As the story develops, it appears that the surveillance features of the truck (cameras and other recording devices) are not the decisive feature. The key attribute of the truck is its appearance. “The ugliness of the Armadillo is what makes it unique,” says Jim Pasco, executive director of the National Fraternal Order of Police. “A police car is not a particular stigma, but if people see that thing in front of your house, they know something bad is going on in there.”
Police claim and offer ancedotal evidence that when the truck is parked in a high crime area or in front of a problem house (legitimate compliants from neighbors about noise or drugs), crime in the immediate area drops almost immediately. Targeted residents also move out quickly, seeking less scrutiny.
This intervention clearly uses several Persuasion Rules. Consider.
You Can Get Farther with a Kind Word and a Gun than with Either Alone. The Armadillo is both a “word” and a “gun.” It represents sheer power and authority – it a police vehicle, it is nearly indestructible, and it watches you ceaselessly – and it also uses psychology and persuasion – the 24 hour surveillance, the clear label of Nuisance.
All Persuasion Is Local. A police officer was pondering how to solve this kind of crime when he drove into his station and noticed an old and faded Brinks truck sitting in the parking lot. It had been purchased for one dollar for a vague purpose of security. He hit on the idea of the Armadillo and built a persuasion plan from his local resources.
More Is the Enemy of Less. Police could put a lot more personnel on the streets to handle problems like this. They could have officers patrolling in car or on foot. Of course, that would cost a lot more and could get more people, police and innocent bystanders, hurt. That big ugly truck with a large sign and continuous surveillance is a much simpler solution.
And finally: It’s About The Other Guy, Stupid. The truck actually works. Deadbeat, drug-using, delinquent people don’t like a truck watching them and especially don’t like being labelled as a “nuisance.” As the story demonstrates, law-abiding citizens call in and request the truck be parked near them if necessary. They don’t feel intimidated or shamed.
From a conceptual perspective, I’d say this persuasion play combines both arguments and cues. If you are engaged in criminal or near-criminal behaviors, a strong argument would be surveillance. A cop doesn’t have to be there in real time because a camera is. You can certainly move to another location, but then the cops can move the truck, too. It makes crime more difficult. The truck may also create arguments that you will be ridiculed and dismissed in your own neighborhood.
The play can also operates as both a norm-based cue and an authority cue. The Comparison Cue works as, “If other people are doing it, you should, too.” In this instance, the norm is be law abiding. If the Armadillo is parked in front of your house, you clearly violate the Cue. Passersby don’t have to know much or think much, just observe the truck and know that there lives someone who has no respect for norms or rules. Further, the markings on the vehicle clearly demonstrate the Authorities Are Here and They are doing the job. Word up, fools.
The Armadillo is a nice play that reveals people who know how to do their job with persuasion. There are some smart and deep cops in Peoria.