Environmental Crime Prevention


(link to Crime Prevention)


Situational crime prevention

Substituting natural gas for toxic gas in British homes was followed by a reduction of the number of suicides.  People have a rational choice to commit a crime or not; if the opportunity is not there then people generally should choose not to commit crime.  This explanation of criminal behaviour was called the rational choice model (Cornish and Clarke, 1986).  The compulsory fitting of steering column locks to all cars in West Germany during the 1960s lead to a 60 per cent reduction in car theft.  There was also a reduction in motorbike deaths following the introduction of compulsory crash helmets probably because they felt they would be noticeable riding a motorbike without a helmet (Mayhew et al. 1989).


Text Box: Situational crime prevention takes the following forms:

•	target hardening
e.g strengthening coin boxes in telephone kiosks, fitting steering column locks, installing anti-robbery screens in banks.
•	controlling access to crime targets
e.g installing entry phones, appointing caretakers, using fencing.
•	surveillance
e.g installing Closed Circuit Television (COT’!) and burglar alarms, providing better street lighting.
•	target removal
e.g installing removable car radios, setting up Women’s Refuges, accepting credit cards rather than cash, organising secure late night transport.
•	property identification
e.g marking property, vehicle licensing.
•	reducing temptation
e.g introducing gender-neutral telephone listings, off-street parking.
•	alerting consciences
e.g installing roadside cameras, posting notices alerting people to crime and the role they can play in reducing it.
•	controlling factors which undermine constraint
e.g banning alcohol consumption from public places, imposing age checks in premises selling alcohol.
•	making compliance easier
e.g introducing more litter bins.
(see Home Office Research Study 187, 1998)

The most common form of environmental intervention is target hardening.  If the targets of crime are difficult this alters the balance of costs and benefits that the offender ways up.  Examples include strengthening: boxes in public telephone kiosks or vending machines, making such machines usable by credit card only, making burglar alarms visible, security lighting, car immobilisation, lockable wheel nuts, etc.  Many of these techniques are used by the general public and are recommended by the police through the use of crime prevention leaflets.  Target removal includes the use of credit cards instead of cash, paying wages by direct transfer to bank accounts and the provision of late-night public transport.


The problem with these types of intervention is that crime can be shifted elsewhere for example once old cars became difficult to steal older cars were targeted.  Pease (1994) felt that this attitude was rather pessimistic and suggested that crime prevention in areas where a crime is prevalent would be seen as a welcome strategy in such areas.  However the case of Tony Martin, the Norfolk farmer who shot an intruder, highlights how criminals are turning to the less protected rural areas as a softer option to urban areas.


Another way of reducing crime is to pay attention to architectural design and the environment.  Oscar Newman (1972) drawing on the work of Jane Jacobs (1961) suggests that designing built environments in such a way as to increase defensible space can reduce crime.  Newman suggests the following:


Defensible space is areas where residents feel some sort of ownership.  In many built up environments there are larger areas, which no one owns or controls.  These areas become magnets for criminal activity and the rest of the community therefore avoid these areas, which leads to their deterioration.  Newman advanced several recommendations to increase defensible space and thereby reduce crime. These were

      the use of boundary markers (real or symbolic barriers, such as pathways, small walls or fences) to reduce the likelihood of intrusion so that residents had control over the outside areas adjacent to their homes and over hallways and staircases

      planning which enabled surveillance of these semi-public areas, for example by the strategic placement of windows

      a design which encouraged positive social attitudes and a sense of community such that residents felt that the area was theirs and worth looking after; such housing should not be stigmatised and should not be designed to set it off from other types of housing such that it was easily identified as housing for the poor

      projects should be sited in low-crime areas.


Zones of territorial influence

Based on ethological theories of territoriality is the notion that if people perceive certain areas as their own space they will take a pride in and defend them. Additionally, a community, which has a shared sense of territoriality, is more likely to repel intruders. Architectural design can take account of this by establishing real or symbolic barriers, for example fencing, which should encourage territoriality.


Formal surveillance

This involves ‘authority figures’ in different ways: police patrols reduce general levels of crime, bus conductors reduce vandalism of the bus, shop assis­tants reduce shoplifting, door attendants in apart­ment blocks reduce burglary.

One strategy has been to focus police surveillance on particular situations in which crime is likely to occur. In this light, Ekblom (1980) discusses the operation of police truancy patrols. These patrols, working in conjunction with an education welfare officer (EWO), pick up children playing truant found on the streets. The justification for this is twofold: to prevent offending, given the link between truancy and delinquency (Belson 1975); and to return the child to school and allow the EWO to examine the reasons for the truancy. The effectiveness of the patrols has proved difficult to measure but, as Ekblom notes, the potential is certainly apparent for those children detected.

In the absence of formal police surveillance there are other possibilities for crime prevention. Sturman (1980) reports a study of vandalism on buses which has clear policy implications for reducing damage through formal surveillance. In comparing damage to different types of bus, Sturman found that vandalism was much greater on buses without a con­ductor; further, on all buses, with or without a conductor, damage was greatest at the rear on the upper deck. As Sturman suggests, bus com­panies must balance the costs of running defaced vehicles against the costs of repairs and of conductors to supervise passengers. Other studies have also pointed to the importance of an ‘authority figure’ in reducing crime. Walsh (1978) reported that the presence of a shop assistant reduces levels of shoplifting. Waller and Okihiro (1978) suggested that apart­ment blocks supervised by doormen are at less risk for burglary. R.V.G. Clarke (1982) notes that supervision of public telephones in public houses and launderettes is associated with low levels of vandalism; car parks with attendants have lower rates of damage to cars; while the presence of football club stewards reduces hooliganism on trains by supporters.

While the visible appearance of employees appears to be advantageous in reducing offending, the formality of the surveillance can be increased by the use of closed circuit television (CCTV); indeed, CCTV has become a feature in many shops, banks, and building societies. Burrows (1980) describes the use of CCTV to attempt to reduce robbery and theft on the London Underground. CCTV was installed at four Underground stations, positioned to give a view of the parts of the stations plat­forms, ticket halls, escalators which are high-risk areas for crime. In the stations with CCTV there were 252 reported offences in the twelve months prior to the installation of the CCTV: this fell to seventy-five offences in the twelve months after installation, which is 70 per cent fewer crimes. Over the same period, the comparable figure was a fall of just over 25 per cent in fifteen Underground stations geographically close to the four stations with CCTV. On 238 other stations over the whole of the Underground system the fall was 38 per cent. This pattern of figures clearly illustrates that while reported crime was falling throughout the system, the fall was greatest where the CCTV was in operation. However, the figures from the fifteen stations close to the CCTV-protected stations give some cause for concern. The significantly lower fall in offending in these stations suggests that displacement, par­ticularly of theft, was occurring. As Burrows notes, if displacement was occurring then ‘it may have nullified up to 85 per cent of the savings in theft offences apparently produced by CCTV installations’ (1980: 81).

The first British town to adopt a CC TV was Kings Lynn and this was funded partly by raising car-parking fees; the results were so successful that the general public were happy to pay the higher cost.  In 1991 there were 200 cases of car theft or damage in Kings Lynn but in 1992 after CC TV was installed the number of cases was down to 10.  In Northampton after the introduction of 120 CC TV cameras in 1993, using 120 cameras, police claimed that there has been a 27% decrease in crime; however house burglaries, not covered by CC TV, have increased.  Evidence of displacement?


Informal surveillance

Another effective form of situational crime prevention involves the community taking action to protect itself. The introduction of neighbourhood watch schemes has proved popular, and Mayhew, Elliott and Dowds (1989) describe such schemes as:


[having] made more of an impact, in terms of visibility if nothing else, than any other community crime prevention effort in Britain (p.51).


Members of these schemes are encouraged and supported by the police to keep an eye out for any suspicious activity in their community, and to inform the authorities if they do see anything untoward. This activity is very much seen as a partnership with the police, as evidenced by the advertising slogan ‘Crime together we’ll crack it’. The effectiveness of neighbourhood watch schemes, however, seems to lie more in the fostering of community spirit and reducing fear of crime rather than in reducing crime itself (Brantingham and Brantingham, 1990). There is a danger of an over-zealous commitment to community protection which can lead to vigilantism, particularly true in areas where communities have wanted to get rid of prostitution, or known sex offenders.

While the results of these types of intervention targeting specific communities can look quite impressive, there have been criticisms. They can be costly, and reducing criminal opportunities in one area may result in displacement, whereby criminals turn their attention to other types of crime or other areas. Pease (1994), however, feels this view may be a little pessimistic, especially since introducing crime prevention techniques in specific communities may also provide much-valued protection in those areas particularly beset by crime. The pattern of crime ensures that some Text Box: S. Wilson (1980) investigated vandalism and defensible space on a housing estate in an inner London borough. As might be predicted, vandalism occurred mainly on the ground floor, particularly in the areas where children played. Public areas such as entrances and underground garages were particularly heavily vandalized, with glazing the most common target. Wilson reported little overall variation in the levels of vandalism in housing blocks of different design. However, there were some variations of note: if entrances also acted as routes to other locations, thereby affording access to outsiders, vandalism was unduly high; alternatively, if the entrance design was such that it was exclusively for the use of residents then vandalism was lower. The child density in a given block was one of the best predictors of vandalism: when too great numbers of children were concentrated on a single estate, vandalism was at its peak. Wilson suggests that future design of housing estates might look to a number of points to increase surveillance and defensible space and so prevent vandalism:

Dwellings should overlook outside areas so that children at play can be seen; impersonal space which is not part of residents’ territory should be reduced; and entrances should be made discrete for residents’ use only. Reducing child densities through dispersal of families with children is problematic but may have a significant part to play in prevention. Where possible, families with children should be housed in buildings small enough not to need lifts or much semi-public access space..
More robust materials should be used in construction and repair. . . and where possible the use of glazing reduced. (S. Wilson 1980: 61—2)

areas are significantly more at risk than others, and it is there that attention needs to be focused in an attempt to discover what factors make an area more vulnerable.

Opportunities for surveillance

If buildings are designed in such a way as to allow residents to naturally observe areas, and to recognise outsiders, it is more probable that any offences will be noticed early and reported. Lack of surveillance was caused by several factors

      Buildings housed large numbers of people with many entrances, all of which gave access to the whole building. With such frequent pedes­trian traffic, residents could not be distinguished from outsiders who could, once in the building, move freely within it using the undefended staircases.  Wilson (1980) (see box) compared housing blocks in inner London and, in particular, entrance design. If the entrance acted as routes to other locations there was more vandalism than if the entrance was solely for the residents.


      The areas between the buildings were desolate open spaces with no territorial markings.


      The height of the buildings meant that there were ‘corridors’ of space between them that could not be overlooked from the windows.


Image and milieu

The design of buildings conveys a visual image and an identity, as does the setting. For instance, high-rise blocks all look the same whereas signs of indi­viduality tend to signal a private area. Similarly, a vandalised area can convey disorder and apathy.


Support for Newman’s theory was drawn from a study in which he looked at crime rates in 100 estates in New York and found that the greater the amount of defensible space, the lower the incidence of crime. Further support was offered by a comparison he made between two adjacent housing estates in New York City, that of Van Dyke

Van Dyke

Entrance to Van Dyke Houses

Central grounds of Van Dyke Houses

Brownsville Houses

 and Brownsville. Although Brownsville was eight years older than Van Dyke, it had a far lower crime rate. The design of this development meant that it had a considerable amount of defensible space. It consisted of six X-shaped buildings with some three-storey wings and entrances which, being used by a relatively small number of families, were easy to keep an eye on. Anyone approaching an entrance could be seen from any one of a large number of windows. Within the buildings the hallways and stairwells were easily monitored; children played on them and residents often left their doors ajar. This greater defensibility meant that there were strong bonds between the neighbours and a positive attitude towards the location and the police, as well as lower maintenance and crime rates. Van Dyke, in contrast, consisted of mostly large 14-storey buildings separated by open spaces that provided little or no defensible space. A similar project, that of Pruitt-Igoe in St Louis, which was designed to reduce crime and vandalism by incorporating open areas between buildings and vandal-proof fixtures, had become such a ruined wasteland that it had to be demolished.

Further support for Newman’s theory comes from a project in Ohio (reported in Bell et al, 1996) in which a neighbourhood called Five Oaks was split from one large residential area into several small ones by the blocking of certain streets and alleys and the use of speed bumps. Once these ‘mini-neighbourhoods’ were established, crime rates decreased by 26 per cent. However, the use of barriers to separate areas into smaller units and restrict access has been heavily criticised by some groups who see this as a means of restricting the access of poorer people to higher-income areas.

In Britain

Like America, Britain has had considerable problems with housing projects that were at one time considered to be ‘Utopian’ (Colenian, 1990). Jephcott & Robinson (1971) conducted a large-scale study of high-rise developments in Britain, interviewing nearly 1,000 residents of 168 multistorey blocks. There tended be an equal number of likes and dislikes, with likes being the interiors of the flats and features independent of design such as a good bus service and local amenities. The dislikes, on the other hand, were very much rooted in the design features inherent in high-rise blocks: the lifts, the loneliness and isolation, the entrances, vandalism, noise, poor maintenance and problems of refuse disposal.

Alice Coleman, a defender of Newman’s theory, has extended the work on defensible space and points to various design features (namely number of storeys, number of dwellings per entrance, number of dwellings per block, overhead walkways and spatial organisation) which she believes encourage all manner of antisocial behaviour. She maintains that some design features promote child crime by undermining the normal child­rearing practices that operate when residences are separate and do not incorporate shared space (Coleman, 1990). She compared housing estates with blocks of flats (apartments) in terms of litter, graffiti, vandal damage, children in care, urine pollution and faecal pollution. The 3,893 houses surveyed showed far less sign of social breakdown than purpose­-built flats. Litter was less common, graffiti extremely rare and excrement virtually unheard of. Like those before her, Coleman acknowledges that design is not the only factor in the promotion or prevention of social breakdown but thinks that criminology would do well not to ignore its probably considerable influence.


Rubenstein et al. (1980) have identified the major design approaches, which can be used to make space more defensible:


   improving external lighting;

   reducing opportunities for offender concealment;

   reducing unassigned open spaces;

   locating outdoor activities in sight of windows;

   increasing the number of designated walkways or paths;

   increasing pedestrian activity


Whilst Poyner (1991) adds the elements of fencing, house improvements, road closure and landscaping. All of these variables can contribute to a reduction in crime in terms of increased commitment to the community, increased likelihood of reporting and a higher risk of detection acting as a deterrent. Moreover, they can add to the quality of life experienced by residents.


In relation to house burglaries, Brown and Altman (1983) suggest the use of three features, which can help deter burglars in addition to the normal security measures — barriers, markers and traces. Barriers can be fences, hedges, walls and gates, whilst markers and traces include indications of occupation, for example house nameplates and garden furniture. Garages also help prevent burglaries because they make it hard for potential burglars to know whether anyone is home.


Entrance to Van Dyke Houses


Criticism of Newman’s ideas

Newman’s work has provided a commonsense and practical approach to crime prevention but it is not without its critics. The relationship between crime rates and defensible space is only correlational and therefore does not demonstrate cause and effect. Furthermore, as Repetto (1976) pointed out, we should be cautious about any theory heavily dependent on a single case study (the comparison between Brownsville and Van Dyke), especially since there were many other housing projects that could have been studied but were not. Other factors may also have been neglected in the analysis of crime rates. Mawby (1977), in a study based in Sheffield, found that while business premises based in the lower floors of residential high-rise buildings did indeed suffer from higher crime rates, this was because of greater reporting of crime rather than design features.  In a study of vandalism to telephone kiosks, Mayhew et al. (1980b) tested the ‘defensible space’  hypothesis that kiosks would be less of a target for vandalism if they were overlooked by people’s homes. Analysis of the frequency of vandalism showed, as predicted, that there was less van­dalism when the kiosk could be seen from a home. The effect was not however of high magnitude and, as R.V.G. Clarke notes, this ‘perhaps emphasises that defensible space is only part of the solution to crime in public housing settings’ (1982: 224). It is probably more than coincidence that, as in Wilson’s (1980) study, the major determinant of vandalism was the number of children living in the vicinity. With children in mind, Hope (1986) discusses the prevention of school burglary through design of the school buildings.


Taylor et al. (1980) suggest that Newman’s model is inadequate because it does not take sufficient account of other social factors such as the number of families on welfare which could have contributed to the different crime rates. They contend that sociocultural variables and social conditions, as well as design, determine the level of crime in any neigh­bourhood. Merry (1981) suggests that defensible space is necessary for crime prevention but it is not enough on its own. Even when the archi­tecture of a site lends itself to defensible spaces these may not be defended if there is a heterogeneous ethnic mix of residents which results in them not intervening in each other’s affairs.


Newman himself now acknowledges that social variables, such as the percentage of families on welfare benefits, the percentage of single-parent families, the income level and the ratio of teenagers to adults, are more closely related to crime rates than are the design features of the immediate environment. However, even though defensible space may not be the best explanation for crime, it offers a very practical way of improving things.


Other research has shown that design changes by them­selves could not produce long-term reductions in crime. For example, design changes (like removing overhead walkways) on the Mozart Estate (London) cut burglaries, assaults and street robberies for five months, but then they rose again (quoted in Hall, 1995).



Most of the environmental approaches to crime prevention rely very much on the principle of informal social controls operating in cohesive communi­ties and the idea that environmental design can help to encourage a sense of cohesion. As Murray (1995) points out, however, improved environmental and building design can enhance the quality of life in a community, but if there are elements within that community, which continue to contribute to a pattern of disorder, or there are serious rifts within a community, then no amount of environmental intervention will produce a reduction in crime. Thus, those areas which could most benefit from crime prevention strategies are probably the least likely to show an improvement. Skogan (1990) feels that these areas are characterised by disorder and he distinguishes between physical disorder (abandoned or neglected buildings, broken streetlights, litter, etc.) and social disorder (public drinking, prostitution, sexual innuendo, etc.). Whilst this might sound rather judgemental in the sense that different people presumably perceive disorder differently, Skogan found that the area in which people lived was a more significant indicator of the number of disorders they reported than any other personal characteristic. Skogan went on to identify disorders as being most numerous in areas with low neigh­bourhood stability, poverty and a high ethnic minority population. He suggested that the significant consequences of disorder included less willing­ness by residents to help one another, higher crime rates and a desire to leave the neighbourhood.


Situational measures of crime prevention ignore the ‘person’ side of the person and environment interaction. Farrington, with particular emphasis on delinquency prevention through schools, is firmly of the opinion that ‘it is just as plausible to locate the causes of delinquency in the individual as in the environment’ (1985: 40), a point which is recognized by pro­ponents of environmental measures, who point to social factors alongside architectural design (0. Newman 1980). It must be emphasized that the theoretical stance in situational prevention, which has a great deal in com­mon with social learning theory (R.V.G. Clarke 1982), postulates an interaction between the person and the environment. To prevent or reduce crime both sides of the interaction must be considered. In a critique of situational crime control, Trasler works towards just such a position:

Policies of crime reduction really demand two strategies: deterring occasional or low-rate offenders from committing crimes . . . and identifying and incapacitating high-rate, persistent offenders. Situa­tional crime control offers effective measures for the first, but is likely to have little impact on the second group. (Trasler 1986: 24)


Another objection lies in the domain of civil liberties; recordings on videotape, photographs on credit cards, and so on. (Although, as Laycock (1986) describes, the marking of personal property can reduce the incidence of domestic burglary.) This is clearly an area in which moral and political decisions have to be made, as R.V.G. Clarke notes: ‘A certain level of crime may be the inevitable consequence of practices and institutions we cherish or find convenient and the costs of reducing crime below this level may be unacceptable’ (1982: 227). A similar argu­ment applies to objections concerning the aesthetics of an environment at worst bristling with guard dogs, barbed wire, and security cameras. Situational measures can have an effect but their implementation requires caution, planning, debate and consultation.

Another objection centres on the notion of ‘displacement’, that the criminal, frustrated by situational measures, will change either the time, place, method, or form of the crime (Reppetto 1976). Displace­ment is difficult to measure accurately, but there is little doubt that the studies of car steering locks (Mayhew et al. 1980a) and CCTV (Burrows 1980) did show evidence of this phenomenon. The nature and extent of the displacement will certainly be determined by a number of factors. The motivation of the offender may be important: the ‘opportunistic offender’ may be deterred by situational measures, whereas the ‘profes­sional criminal’ is forced to devise other strategies and more sophisticated techniques. The level of implementation is important, so that only partial prevention (as with steering locks) influences displacement. In addition, removing a target may lead to opportunities for other offences: the shift to credit cards may reduce robbery or pilfering but opens the door to computer crime, accounting frauds, and so on. In the final analysis it is a question of balance: if the gains in crime prevention, in both finan­cial and human terms, outweigh the effects of displacement, in a manner acceptable to the majority, then situational measures may be worthwhile. The great problem is the difficulty in measuring the exact effects of situa­tional interventions, so that in the final analysis their implementation becomes something of a social gamble.


Whilst situational crime prevention tries to change the environment, another approach is to target potential victims, changing their behaviour in such a way as to reduce the likelihood of their victimisation. Women and children have tended to be the main targets of such intervention because of their vulnerability in relation to interpersonal violence and campaigns providing information and advice have become very popular. Perhaps not surprisingly, there have been criticisms from feminists because of the assumption behind these campaigns that those who need to change are the likely victims rather than the perpetrators, but more informed campaigns also call on men to change their attitudes and behaviour. The most well known of these is the impressive zero tolerance campaign against domestic violence which was introduced in Edinburgh during 1992 by the council’s women’s unit. The campaign was unusual because, although hard-hitting, it was both educational and empathic, appealing to the whole community to do something about violence in the family. What the numerous posters and leaflets signalled was that the time to tolerate such abuse was over and that without demonising perpetrators or sensationalising victims, the power to end it lay in the community.


Crime displacement

One potential problem in all the discussions of situational prevention is the thorny issue of displacement. The concern is that by introducing measures which make some targets less vulnerable, the determined crim­inal will not be deterred but will simply switch their attention to a slightly easier target. Thus, if all new BMWs are fitted with sophisticated alarm and immobilisation systems, the thief may simply target older cars with less sophisticated protection. The bank robber who is deterred by the installation of a state-of-the-art security and surveillance system in the local branch of Barclays may switch his attentions to the local building society instead. The mugger who is deterred by a large police presence may simply wait until the officers are occupied elsewhere before striking. A rapist may wait until his victim is out of range of the CCTV cameras before attacking. Perhaps even more worrying are cases of displacement in which an offender switches not so much the place or time of an attack, but rather the type of offence. A burglar who is deterred by the increas­ing number of domestic alarms may instead satisfy his need for money by switching to muggings.

As Heal and Laycock (1986) have noted, if offending is merely dis­placed, then situational crime prevention measures are worth little in the long term. The problem is that it is often difficult to prove or disprove whether displacement has occurred. If a crime prevention initiative in one small geographical area proves to be successful, it might be thought a simple matter to measure whether the reduction is mirrored by a cor­responding increase in adjoining areas. However, this is far too simplistic, and, one might argue, naïve. For example, the burglar may shift attention not to the adjoining area, but to one in a different police district or county. In this case, the increase may go unrecorded by any researcher trying to prove or disprove the existence of displacement. Similar problems may well be encountered if the offender switches from one type of crime to another. Thus a domestic burglary prevention scheme may lead to a reduction in the number of domestic burglaries, but to an increase in the number of commercial premises targeted. The police may fail to acknowledge this when reporting on the success of their original initiative.

Those who believe that displacement is likely or perhaps even inevitable are basing their beliefs on a number of assumptions. For example, it is assumed that most if not all offenders are highly motivated and will eventually overcome the initial attempts to prevent their crimi­nal behaviour. Such an assumption seems to suggest that criminals are addicted to their criminal lifestyle (Hodge et al., 1997) and will find some way of victimising society no matter what is done. This may however be a rather simplistic assumption.

Supporters of the displacement theory also seem to presume that offenders are almost infinitely adaptable and they can turn their hand to almost anything. Thus, if the acquisition of money is seen as the primary motivating factor, then it may be immaterial whether this is obtained through robbery, burglary or extortion. However, one must question whether this is actually true. Although some offenders do have convic­tions for a wide range of offences, the vast majority tend to concentrate on a rather restricted range of crimes.  In any case, if a criminal does switch the type of crime they commit then this change might be for the better or for worse. Barr and Pease (1992) make an important distinction between malign and benign displacements. The former involves situations in which an offender switches to a more seri­ous type of offence, while the latter refers to a scenario in which an offender changes to a less serious type of crime. Although both would technically be classified as displacement, one would obviously be seen as less worrying than the other.

A final assumption made by advocates of the displacement hypothesis is that there are an almost unlimited number of alternative (and equally attractive) targets available in society. This would appear to be a pre­sumption with little empirical foundation. Not all criminals continue to offend irrespective of what is tried, as the success of some crime preven­tion initiatives confirms. If it were possible to prevent totally the unauthorised taking of cars, what crime would we expect the joy rider to turn to as an ‘equivalent alternative’?

We can thus see that it is all but impossible to prove whether displace­ment will or will not occur in any given situation. A number of the assumptions made by advocates of displacement theory appear to be questionable. While there is some evidence of displacement following the introduction of certain initiatives, displacement is by no means inevitable (for example Hesseling, 1994). It is surely unrealistic to assume that every crime prevented will be displaced. If half of the crime initially prevented by an intervention is displaced, then it could still be argued that the initiative was worthwhile.

Pease (1997) suggests that a fundamental flaw in the displacement argument is a failure to consider how crime patterns arise.  Rather than talking about crime displacement, Barr and Pease (1990) prefer to use the term crime deflection when discussing prevention ini­tiatives. Such a term simply acknowledges that a crime has been prevented, without an over-concern for its possible displacement. Barr and Pease argue that even if some crime is displaced, crime prevention strategists can address this fact, and the original initiative should not be simply abandoned. Barr and Pease (1990) suggest further that whereas crime displacement is always seen as a failure of the initia­tive, crime deflection is not necessarily so. As was noted above, if one particular crime is deflected, and instead a much less serious crime com­mitted, then this might reasonably be labelled a success.

If, as has been argued above, many primary prevention strategies have been successful, then the cynical reader may well be asking why there is still so much crime in society. We should perhaps note that in terms of policy, intentions and actions are not always equivalent (Crawford, 1998). For example, although the British government sees crime prevention as an important priority, Barclay (1995) notes that only three per cent of crime and criminal justice expenditure is spent on crime prevention. Pease (1997) notes that because over three-quarters of Home Office crime prevention expenditure is devoted to CCTV schemes, local authorities quickly learn that the way to get money is to apply for funding for local CCTV schemes. Thus, although a CCTV scheme may not necessarily be the best solution to a local problem, the authority is more likely to be successful in its bid for funding if it goes down this path. There is a fallacy in this approach, for as Pease notes:


...           good primary prevention requires a clear crime focus, an objective analysis of the presenting problem, and a choice of means from among those avail­able. What is actually happening is that, by its patterns of expenditure, the Home Office demonstrates the marginality of crime prevention; by the way it makes money available, it by-passes the necessary analysis, and once the money hits the maelstrom of local politics, expenditure is a matter more of need and expedience than crime control.


Pease goes on to argue that while situational crime prevention is a good way to prevent certain types of crime, it is less adaptable to certain other forms. Thus, such initiatives may well deter a proportion of property crimes, but will probably have less success in deterring crimes such as personal assaults. He also notes that situational crime prevention strategies may be more likely to be adopted by commercial organisations than by public authorities. A company whose financial survival is being threat­ened by a large amount of theft will tend to be highly motivated to take measures to reduce the level of loss. However, local authorities and national governments, while acknowledging the very real concerns of its citizens, may be less motivated to bring in situational crime prevention strategies.


Peter B. Ainsworth, 2000, Psychology and Crime, Longman, 0-582-41424-5

Kevin Brewer, 2000, Psychology and Crime, Heinemann, 0-435-80653-X

Diana Dwyer, 2001, Angles on Criminal Psychology, nelson thornes, 0-7487-5977-8

Philip Feldman, 1993, The Psychology of Crime, Cambridge, 0-521-33732-1

Julie Harrower, 1998, Applying Psychology to Crime, Hodder & Stoughton, ISBN 0-340-70556-6.

Julie Harrower, 2001, Psychology in Practice – Crime, Hodder & Stoughton, 0-340-84497-3

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