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Crime Prevention Studies, Volume 16

Theory for Practice in Situational Crime Prevention, Volume 16

Edited by Martha J. Smith and Derek B. Cornish

Buy this volume from Lynne Rienner Publishers


Title and copyright pages
Classifying Common Police Problems
by John E. Eck and Ronald V. Clarke

Problem-oriented policing establishes a new unit of work for policing and a new unit of analysis for police research. That unit is the "problem." Problem-oriented police management and research has been hampered by an inability to define and organize problems-group similar problems and separate dissimilar ones. To address this deficiency, this paper proposes a method for classifying common problems encountered by local police agencies. Routine activity theory provides the basis for a two-dimensional classification scheme. Using this classification scheme, all common problems are typed by the behaviors of the participants and the environments where they occur. Concerns that cannot be described on both behavioral and environmental dimensions are not "problems" in the technical sense. After explaining the development of this classification scheme, this paper describes how it can be applied, examines its limitations, proposes a research agenda using the scheme, and suggests ways the classification scheme might be improved.

Opportunities, Precipitators and Criminal Decisions: A Reply to Wortley's Critique of Situational Crime Prevention
by Derek B. Cornish and Ronald V. Clarke

Clarke's classification of situational crime prevention techniques is designed to provide a conceptual analysis of situational strategies, and to offer practical guidance on their use in reducing criminal opportunities. It has developed in parallel with a long program of empirical research, conducted by many researchers, on the situational determinants and the prevention of a wide variety of crimes. For this reason the classification has been subject to constant revision and updating, of which Clarke's (1997) version, which lists 16 such techniques, is the latest. Recently, Wortley (2001) has suggested the need to augment the existing classification, which deals with the analysis of situational opportunities, with a complementary analysis of situational precipitators. These are factors within the crime setting itself that may prompt, provoke, pressure, or permit an individual to of- fend. The present chapter examines the assumptions underlying the development of situational crime prevention, and offers some views about the theoretical and practical significance of Wortley's suggested additions and revisions. It concludes by proposing a revised classification of 25 techniques to take immediate practical account of some of the concerns raised above.

Situational Crime Prevention and Prison Control: Lessons for Each Other
by Richard Wortley

This chapter examines the application of situational crime prevention, techniques to the prison environment to address problems such as prisoner violence, sexual assault, self-harm, escapes, drug use and collective disorder. On the surface, the prison would seem the epitome of a controlled environment and it might be assumed that there is little that prison administrators can learn from situational prevention. However, typically control in prison lacks the micro-level, problem-solving approach that characterizes situational prevention. But the lessons are not all in one direction. While situational crime prevention has been concerned largely with reducing opportunities for crime, prison control often deals with institutional pressures that precipitate misbehavior. As well as tightening-up to restrict opportunities for misbehavior, prison control can also involve loosening-off to reduce these pressures. These opposing approaches to control need to be care- fully balanced to avoid counterproductive intervention. The concept of situational precipitators and control through loosening-up can be ap- plied more broadly to community settings. Thus, while prison administrators can learn from situational crime prevention, situational crime prevention practitioners have something to learn from prison control.

Anticipating the Displacement of Crime Using the Principles of Environmental Criminology
by Paul J. Brantingham and Patricia L. Brantingham

Environmental criminology combines rational choice models of crime with theories of the spatial and temporal patterning of human activities to anticipate the patterns of criminal events. Modeling the movement patterns of offenders and victims in relation to the distributions and concentrations of other people and criminal targets can make it possible to anticipate patterns in the potential displacement of crime from one location to another. Analysis of the movement patterns of criminals utilizing particular crime attractors can provide information on likely alternative crime sites. Information on the SES and other characteristics of criminals can be used to predict their activity and awareness spaces, and their ranges of action. Analysis off routine activity patterns and social rhythms can be used to predict temporal displacement potentials. Crime prevention interventions undertaken with probable displacement sites, times and situations included have the potential to increase their preventive power. This article extends development of a conceptual model that can be used to estimate crime displacement in time and space. With appropriate empirical verification and calibration such a model could be used to extend crime prevention interventions from primary to secondary impact sites and situations.

The Process of Co-offending
by Marcus Felson

At least half of all crime occurs through co-offending, which also helps feed much of the rest. Yet the process by which offenders find their accomplices is not well described or understood. Gangs and networks of offenders are surely important, but are amorphous and unstable. Cur problem is to find a more coherent description of how offenders find one another. Such coherence derives from Barker's theory of behavior settings, which locates formal and informal local activities in space and time. Specifically, offender convergence settings help likely co-offenders discover one another in the context of their routine activities. Such settings provide an ongoing structure for criminal cooperation, even as participants change. This makes possible a local process of accomplice re- generation, leading to sustainable criminal behavior. Disrupting offender convergence settings (through design, situational prevention, civil or police action) sets in motion an accomplice depletion process, as potential offenders are no longer able to replace those who age out.

Crime and Innovation: A Script Analysis of Patterns in Check Forgery
by Julie Lacoste and Pierre Trembley

While the rate of check frauds in Canadian urban settings has recently dropped, the pay-off per fraud has increased. In this paper we suggest that a script-theoretical approach to crime events provides a useful: analytical strategy for uncovering innovative crime designs and identifying patterns in "smart offending." The primary data set in this study is drawn from investigative files on 23 cliques of "checkmen" operating in Montreal between 1991 and 1996. We start by unraveling the sequence of unit-actions involved in the commission of check frauds and identify groups of co-offenders who have chosen to modify, tinker or elaborate in various ways the design of their initial crime-script. We then consider the extent to which these more creative or innovative cliques can be shown to be more successful in their attempts to lower their odds of being arrested and convicted and increase their gains from crime. The main goal of the paper is to provide a more systematic understanding of illegal innovations and the social dynamics of criminal opportunity structures.

Exploring Target Attractiveness in Vandalism: An Experimental Approach
by Martha J. Smith

Historically, situational crime prevention has used a broad spectrum of theoretical and empirical work to better understand how to limit offending through prevention initiatives. While it is important to know what works, planners must also have information about why certain techniques are more likely to succeed than others and about the conditions that may lead to success. Received wisdom must be subject to challenge and confirmation. The present study seeks to explore one of the assumptions underlying rapid repair and paint out campaigns, that is, that the presence of vandalism leads to further vandalism. The research described here was carried out in 1994 in the Greater London area with I1 to 16-year-olds who were asked to imagine themselves in a vandalism crime script involving damage of and graffiti writing on fences, walls, or barriers ("fences"). The repeated measures factorial design allowed them to rate the likelihood of their vandalizing fences that: (1) were easy or hard to damage (2 levels); (2) had wide or narrow surfaces to write on (2 levels); (3) had graffiti tags present or not (2 levels); and (4) were damaged or not damaged (2 levels). In addition, three between-subject factors were explored: respondent sex (2 levels); recent fence-damaging behavior (2 levels); and recent fence graffiti-writing behavior (2 levels). The findings reported here support the importance of considering what attracts the motivated vandalism offender, here operationalized as a youngster who has vandalized a similar type of target within the previous six months, whenever planning a paint-out campaign or building in a graffiti or damage prone neighborhood. The study also found, consistent with previous research on vandalism and repair issues, that the presence of graffiti, as well as the width of the fence surface and the material out of which the fence was made, may be properties that structure the choices of young vandals.

The Motives, Methods and Decision Making of Convenience Store Robbers: Interviews with 28 Incarcerated Offenders in Massachusetts
by Anthony J. Petrosino and Diana Brensilber

Convenience stores remain frequent targets of robbery, placing employees at risk for injury and death. Effective crime prevention measures implemented by stores and police departments are crucial. As part of a plan to develop effective strategies, it is necessary to understand the motives, methods and decision making of perpetrators who rob stores. To accomplish this, the authors conducted structured interviews with 28 incarcerated offenders convicted of robbing at least one convenience store. The 22-item instrument, guided by the rational choice perspective, generated information on robbery events and the thought processes of offenders. In this chapter, we report the results of this survey, drawing out the implications for prevention of convenience store robbery.

Measuring and Interpreting Repeat Victimization Data Using Police Data: An Analysis of Burglary Data and Policy for Charlotte , North Carolina
by Graham Farrell and Ken Pease

This study of repeat victimization and crime prevention tackles issues relating to the measurement and interpretation of police data. In a study of repeat burglaries in Charlotte , NC , published in this series, LeBeau and Vincent (1997) framed their discussion as a critique of our work on preventing repeat victimization. We reanalyze and reinterpret the data and findings from that study. First, we explain why the police data significantly understated the true rate of repeat burglaries in Charlotte . Second, we reanalyze the published data to show that, nevertheless, there were at least nine times more repeat burglaries than would occur by chance and that, after a first burglary, the predictability of repeats rises dramatically with each subsequent burglary. Third, we explain why the policy conclusions of LeBeau and Vincent were misleading in relation to preventing repeat burglary. Fourth, we explain why their policy conclusions were misleading with respect to the potential use of burglar alarms as part of a prevention strategy. Fifth, we list some of the relevant literature that the study should have considered more closely. We conclude that their 1997 study did a disservice to the study of repeat victimization and crime prevention, and we reassert that the prevention of repeat burglaries could be a useful component of crime prevention strategy in Charlotte . More generally, the need for academic studies to consider the methodological issues relating to the measurement of repeat victimization is not sufficient reason to avoid or delay practical crime prevention efforts. We conclude with a "hit rate challenge" that crime prevention research should seek to identify predictors that are more efficient than, and at least as practical as, prior victimization.