Center for Problem-Oriented Policing

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Situational Crime Prevention

While the Problem Analysis Triangle helps to analyze problems, situational crime prevention provides a framework for intervention. By assessing the opportunities that specific situations offer for crime, situational crime prevention has identified five main ways in which situations can be modified. These are:

  • Increasing the effort the offender must make to carry out the crime.
  • Increasing the risks the offender must face in completing the crime.
  • Reducing the rewards or benefits the offender expects to obtain from the crime.
  • Removing excuses that offenders may use to “rationalize” or justify their actions.
  • Reducing or avoiding provocations that may tempt or incite offenders into criminal acts.

These five approaches to reducing opportunity can be expanded to list 25 techniques of situational crime prevention.

Review the 25 techniques of situational crime prevention.

These techniques have been constructed according to two important theoretical premises: that “opportunity makes the thief” (opportunity theory) and that the offender (or would-be offender) makes choices (rational choice theory) in order to make the best of those opportunities.

The 10 principles of crime opportunity

  1. Opportunities play a role in causing all crime, not just common property crime – For example, studies of bars and clubs show how their design and management play an important role in generating violence or preventing it.
  2. Crime opportunities are highly specific – For example the theft of cars for joyriding has a different pattern of opportunity than theft for car parts. Crime opportunity theory helps sort out these differences so responses can be appropriately tailored.
  3. Crime opportunities are concentrated in time and space – Dramatic differences are found from one address to another even in a high crime area. Crime shifts greatly by the hour and day of the week, reflecting the opportunities to carry it out.
  4. Crime opportunities depend on everyday movements of activity – Offenders and targets shift according to routine activities (e.g. work, school, leisure). For example burglars visit houses in the day when the occupants are out at work or school.
  5. One crime produces the opportunities for another – For example, a successful break-in may encourage the offender to return in the future or a youth who has his bike stolen may feel justified in taking someone else's as a replacement.
  6. Some products offer more tempting crime opportunities – For example easily carried electrical items such as DVD players and mobile phones are attractive to burglars and robbers.
  7. Social and technological changes produce new crime opportunities – Products are most vulnerable in their 'growth' and 'mass marketing' stages, as demand for them is at its highest. Most products will reach a 'saturation' stage where most people have them and they then are unlikely to be stolen.
  8. Crime can be prevented by reducing opportunities – The opportunity reducing methods of situational crime prevention can be applied to all aspects of everyday life, but they must be tailored to specific situations.
  9. Reducing opportunities does not usually displace crime – Wholesale displacement is very rare and many studies have found little if any crime displacement.
  10. Focused opportunity reduction can produce wider declines in crime – Prevention measures in one area can lead to a reduction in another nearby, a 'diffusion of benefits'. This is because offenders might overestimate the reach of those measures.

The two principles of rational choice theory

  1. Offending behavior involves decision making and the making of choices, which are constrained by time, cognitive ability and information, resulting in a 'limited' rather than a 'normal' rationality for the offender.
  2. Decisions and factors that affect offender decision making vary greatly at both the different stages of the offense and among different offenses. Cornish and Clarke (1998) therefore stress the need to be crime-specific when analyzing offender decision making and choice selection, and to treat separately decisions relating to the various stages of involvement in offenses. For example, treating decisions relating to the offenders' initial involvement in the offense separately from decisions relating to the event, such as choice of target. This, they claim, allows a more 'holistic' view of offender decision and choice making and a broader analysis from which to implement appropriate interventions.

Learn more about rational choice theory with The Reasoning Criminal.