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Situational and Social Crime Prevention Approaches


The modern world has experienced complexity and chaos. Criminality has given us too much headache, forcing us to live in fear. While we have the technology to deter crime, criminals are also using technology to commit crime. One of the fastest ways to commit crime is through the Internet. Applying preventive mechanisms over the Internet is an example of situational crime prevention.

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Social crime prevention should remain. The children and youth have become victims. We have to safeguard the children from criminals who are freely using the Internet. Drugs and pornography can pass on without the parents’ knowing where they all came from.

The aim of this paper is to present a distinction between situational crime and social crime prevention. Technology has made it complicated how to implement the theories presented by criminologists and has made this distinction even difficult.

The origin of situational crime prevention started in the 1990s although before this time, crime prevention was applied by few officers or law enforcers without the usual blessings from their higher ups.

There was an up and down trend in crimes worldwide. This happened in 2007. The western world experienced a decline in crime rate and victimization. In Canada, the national crime rate for 2007 was down at 7% than the previous year. In England and Wales, crime rates were down to 24% compared to 40% in 1995. During the period 2006 and 2007 in Australia, crime rate also reported a drop of 10% (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2008 cited in Homel, 2009, p. 14). In 2009, there was an increase in crime rate but the increase was minimal.

It is believed that these are the results of effective crime prevention and monitoring by governments, non-governmental organizations and all the other stakeholders in crime prevention. Modern societies have introduced new methods in crime prevention. The science of criminology has termed this situational and social crime prevention which is supported by logical theories and studies by well-known criminologists and experts in crime prevention.

The shift to crime prevention was based on several studies. Crime can be prevented. In focusing on prevention, less harm is done. In focusing on the criminal, there are more mistakes and harm. An example is wrong witness identification and wrong conviction. In crime prevention, there are many benefits for potential victims and potential offenders.

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But although the different forces of society are aiming at defeating criminality through various logical and human means, crime and criminals are becoming sophisticated. The emergence and popularity of technology and the use of high technology by criminals have become a big problem. Criminals use technology to commit crime but we can also use technology to fight or prevent crime.

Brief history of crime prevention

Crime prevention gained popularity in some areas but failed in others. In Britain, for example, Crawford (2008) noted that past focus of the police has been on control of crime through enforcement and rehabilitation. During the period beginning in the sixteenth century up to the early part of the nineteenth century, the police in Europe performed the function of enforcing regulations and the promotion of peace. (Crawford, 2008, p. 868)

Crawford (2008) commented that when the British police shifted focus on crime prevention, it was confined to a few police officers. Prevention-oriented policing failed in Britain because of some factors. There was danger that crime prevention would focus on intrusive surveillance like the French way of policing that would employ spies and saboteurs. The English police became focused locally, unarmed and what Crawford termed as accountable. Another factor is that there was some doubt in preventive policing if it was applied to the rural areas of England which had dispersed population.

Moreover, crime prevention through proactive measures was considered “legalistic, professional, and bureaucratic”. This was not a function of the police which was to gather information on crime.

Crime prevention in general

Crime prevention has multiple objectives which are to improve the way of life of the people and to attain sustainability. Aspects of sustainability include improving human conditions, environmental quality and living conditions of the people in a particular neighborhood. Safety and security are considered one of the basic human needs (Cozens, 2007).

Maslow has included security as one of the basic physiological needs, second only to food, water, oxygen and sex. When this first set is met, the need goes up the ladder. In line with security are stability, dependency, protection and freedom from fear. (Maslow, 1943, p. 236)

Sustainable development assures that basic needs are met. Security and freedom from fear are necessary ingredients. There also has to be a balance among social, economic, and environmental factors to attain sustainable development in society. (Soberon, 1998, p. 263)

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Brantingham and Faust (1976 cited in Crawford, 2008, p. 870) suggested a few typologies of prevention which Crawford said reminded of the narrowness of the concept on prevention:

  • Primary prevention was aimed at the general population and places that would focus on “criminogenic” factors before problems would come out;
  • Secondary prevention pertained to work identified as “at risk” due to some perceived factor;
  • Tertiary prevention was crime prevention that targeted criminals, victims, and places that had already been a part of previous crime. (Crawford, 2008, p. 870)

Crawford (2008) noted that the principle behind these typologies was like treating ill people without knowing whether people live healthily. In other words, crime prevention should have a broader perspective, taking into consideration the built environment and the characteristics and living pattern of the residents in the area.

Crime prevention has evolved in many respects. In organizations and businesses, crime prevention is effective risk management.

Risks create fear, uncertainties, and losses. Risks are due to factors that can be avoided and minimized. Risks have to be identified so that risk management can be applied. This is a challenge on the part of risk managers, owners of buildings and residents to ascertain and identify risks and more importantly the causes of these risks. If they are identified, plans and strategies should immediately be applied.

Risks can cause loss or damage in case of a physical structure. Loss, which occurs after an event, can threaten the existence of tangible and intangible assets. Risk management plays an important role in crime prevention. In organizations, there are operational risks caused by internal fraud. This is what they call ‘inside job’. This too can be avoided by reducing the opportunity for fraud.

Risk management was first introduced to protect assets of the company, to prevent losses, and prevent harm and injuries to workers in the workplace. This form of management emphasizes and deals with what is going to happen that might cause losses, impede the formal flow of events, disrupt operations and hamper organisational objectives. (Gallati, 2003, p. 4)

Fighting criminality needs effective risk management. It involves people and systems. A good, experienced and effective team with a qualified leader should carry on the task of risk management with a system that is flexible and tested.

The risk manager and the risk management team must be composed of experienced planners and designers who must conduct risk management according to the collected data, information and knowledge with careful environmental study. This combination provides the necessary expertise in dealing with future, unexpected events.

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Methods of crime prevention

Crime prevention is pre-emptive intervention of happenings in the social and physical environment with the objective of influencing behaviour of potential criminals and potential victims. (Crawford, 2008, p. 871)

Methods of crime prevention vary in different societies. Crime prevention through environmental design is one effective means in modern society. The principle behind situational crime prevention is to focus on the physical characteristics of the environment.

Situational crime prevention

Crime prevention through designs of buildings and the built environment traces its origin in the 1960s and the 1970s. Jane Jacobs (1961) published “The Death and Life of Great American Cities” which dealt on the environment as a primary influence on crime incidents. It was later expanded by other authors such as Jeffery (1971) who suggested the phrase Crime Prevention through Environmental Design (CPTED) and later by Newman (1972).

Greenberg et al. (1982, p. 141) have investigated methods in crime prevention. One method is to study the physical characteristics around the neighborhood, for example, the street pattern, the design of buildings, and the land characteristic. Another study focused on the social characteristics of people, focusing on racial and ethnic background, stability and economic composition. (Jeffery, 1971)

Crime prevention lies on the physical aspects. Another factor is the physical form of the environment which has something to do with occurrences of crime. Geographical and demographic factors also influence crime incidents (Higgins and Millard, 2009; Sorensen, 2003 cited in Marzbali et al., 2011, p. 162).

Situational crime prevention is based on the fact that the design of the built environment negatively influences crime pattern. Architects and designers play an important role in crime prevention by creating designs that influence the behavior of potential offenders (Glasson and Cozens, 2010). Place-specific crime prevention focuses on the location with emphasis on the “physical design, security, and property management changes” (Marzbali et al., 2011, p. 162).

Jacobs (1961) argued that land use for multiple purposes has something to do with the occurrence of crime. Places have different uses, such as for residential, commercial, and leisure or entertainment purposes. People diverge in these areas, and the presence of population controls crime. Newman argues that control of activities of people through environmental design is an important factor in crime control. Poyner and Webb (1991) added that the design of a particular area can control residential burglary. (Marzbali et al., 2011, p. 162)

Crime prevention that emphasizes space has three important factors which include the design, effective management, and use of the place.

Theories on place-based crime prevention

Defensible space theory

This theory focuses on the physical design of a residential neighborhood. The design influences crime incidents and the people’s fear of crime (Newman, 1972; 1982 cited in Marzbali et al., 2011, p. 163). Newman’s theory focuses on certain types of crime like residential burglary. Defensible space is an emphasis of Newman’s theory: houses with high accessibility, such as those situated in major arteries, are vulnerable to burglary. Many authors support Newman’s defensible space theory as the primary theory on space-based crime prevention, i.e. to enable residents control of their own built environment (Clarke, 1977a, 1977b, cited in Marzbali et al., 2011, p. 163).

Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design theory

This theory draws on the fact that most crimes are committed due to opportunities created by environmental design. The CPTED theory states that opportunities can be reduced through manipulating the built environment in order to influence people’s behaviour that will ultimately reduce crime. It further states that “the proper design and effective use of the built environment can lead to a reduction in the fear of crime and the incidence of crime, and to an improvement in the quality of life” (Crowe, 1991, p. 1 cited in Marzbali et al., 2011, p. 163).

Some methods used in CPTED include redesign of some parts of the built environment in order to reduce the opportunity of crime prevention. It also involves natural, mechanical, and procedural methods in the redesign (Sorensen, 2007 cited in Marzbali, 2011, p. 163). A study in the UK found that CPTED is effective in reducing crime (Abdullah, 1999 cited in Marzbali et al., 2011, p. 164).

In Singapore, the government through the National Crime Prevention Council (CNPC) of Singapore has enlisted a partnership with construction and real estate industry in fighting criminality. (National Crime Prevention Council, 2003)

This is remarkable in an advanced city state like Singapore since in other countries in Asia one can seldom see that the construction and real estate industry have a role to play in crime prevention.

Some of the strategies involved in CPTED include natural surveillance and natural access control wherein users of buildings are kept under observation and are denied access to some areas or potential targets. (Marzbali et al., 2011, p. 164)

A part of CPETD approach is territorial behavior which emphasizes control of territory; territory refers to doors, shrubs, fences, and other physical aspects of a building or residential area. Surveillance refers to location of windows that should be placed in areas where users can see or be seen or allow intended users to be seen when entering the premises. (Crowe and Zahm, 1994, p. 2)

Territoriality allow residents to feel their sense of belongingness and thus be aware of what is happening and what is going to happen. The objective in territoriality is to change the behaviour of potential victims, i.e. to let them feel that they are part owners of the territory they live and mingle; thus, they have to take control of the environment they live.

Opportunity Theory

The opportunity theory first gained popularity in the 1970s. Mayhew et al. (1976) first explained this theory in line with their work for the UK Home Office Research Unit. This theory generally draws on the fact that to reduce opportunities is to reduce crime.

This type of prevention is directed at “highly specific forms of crime”. It involves the management, design of the building or premises, and alters the behavior of the potential offender by making crime more difficult and dangerous, or less rewarding. (Clarke, 1997, p. 4)

Social Crime Prevention

Social crime prevention is also known as developmental and community crime prevention (Crawford, 2008, p. 882). Developmental prevention focuses on identifying “risk factors”, the children and youth and groups who are delinquents. Developmental prevention draws strength through risk assessment. It is focused on “identifying, classifying, differentiating, and seeking to correct risk factors” in society (Crawford, 2008, p. 883).

Developmental prevention also focuses on communities known to be risk factors. Some communities or neighborhood which are high-rate crime areas are targeted for surveillance and application of situational prevention. This is then an application of the situational and social prevention.

Social crime prevention focuses on the social aspect as opposed to situational wherein the physical environment is given emphasis. It tends to dig up deep social issues and causes of criminality and motivate offenders into doing positive for his/her good or avoid committing crime.

Social crime prevention has a wider area of concern in that it touches on various social issues in order to reduce crime. A theory states that criminal behaviour and victimization start at an early age. It is for this reason that the UK government and civic and non-governmental organizations in the UK are focusing their attention on children and youth.

The focus is on the community. One helpful strategy is an inter-agency collaboration to widen the area of crime prevention and to cover social elements of crime and criminality in different local areas. (Caledon Institute of Social Policy, 2000, p. 1)

This leads us to situational and social crime prevention. The children and youth should be protected from immoral features of the Internet. Parents can program their computers in such a way that websites which contain pornographic materials cannot be accessed by the children. A software can also be installed that will deny access to sites bearing words such as drugs, etc.

Some studies found that there is a link between an increasing crime rate and influx of immigrants in certain areas. For example, a study was conducted in Lisbon, Portugal where there was a concentration of immigrant population, among them Gypsy, African and Brazilian nationals.

Vala and Monteiro (2006, p. 207) state that “often the cycles of violence/crime are triggered by the disturbance and cultural inadequacy, loss or ambivalence of cultural roots (especially in the cases of the second generation, children of immigrants) and the still recent history, the Portuguese colonialism, then exploitation, marginalization and inferiority of African ethnicity (racism)”.

The police confront the young and the people in these areas who are prone to commit crimes. But the white collar crime is sometimes ignored and the police do not exert much effort and resources on this type of crime. (Parry, 2011, p. 64)

In the UK, there is renewed focus by the government on human trafficking, especially child trafficking. The government is concentrating its efforts on children and youth abroad before trafficking hits our own. The activity raises awareness and identifies victims. This activity was launched in July 19 this year. (Home Office, 2011)

Situational and social crime prevention

Situational crime prevention addresses the environment or the settings instead of the criminal. This is opposed to social crime prevention in that it aims to forestall the commission or occurrence of crime rather than sanctioning potential offenders. The settings include public and private places, commercial establishments; examples are schools, hospitals, shopping centers. The products and services of these areas and establishments create opportunities for different crimes. (Clarke, 1997, p. 2)

Examples of situational crime prevention include installation of caller ID systems in telephones to prevent obscene phone callers or so-called frank-callers, installation of alarms in cars or immobilizers so that it would be nearly impossible to steal cars. (Linden, 2007, p. 140)

There are many instances of situational crime prevention that have been proven successful. This includes measures for the installation of CCTV in most business establishments, offices, and even private homes; electronic systems for access to homes and cars, traffic schemes for residential places, and the use of the Internet in security.

Security in IT infrastructure is a situational crime prevention strategy. This encompasses areas pertaining to risks and threats and how to conduct risk management and protect IT infrastructure from threats of viruses, worms, and different types of malware (malicious software). The initial step for this kind of crime prevention is installation of a software to prevent viruses from penetrating computers and create havoc.

Organizations can store as much knowledge and data in databases through computers. But the more data and information are stored in computers, the more risks and threats there are from hackers, computer saboteurs, criminals and terrorists. Risks are multiplied if computers are continuously connected online.

While communication is fast and effective, criminals find this a tool to advance their evil intentions. Criminal activities find haven in the Internet. In the comfort of the homes, illegal activities can find safe haven. Drugs, pornography, prostitution, cyber-sex – they are inside people’s homes and offices – if no extra precaution is enforced. (Kayworth and Whitten, 2010, p. 163)

Studies have found that risks pertaining to IT infrastructure have risen even if organizations spend much for the protection of their IT infrastructure. According to Bulgurcu et al. (2010, p. 524), success in this security endeavor can be achieved through a coordinated effort involving technical and socio-organizational factors.

Socio-organizational factors can refer to people and employees. The focus therefore is ‘to shift to employees’ compliance with information security policies (ISPs)’ (Boss and Kirsch, 2007 as cited in Bulgurcu et al., 2010).

Employees who have the tendency to abuse and misuse information systems can jeopardize security. Bulgurcu et al.’s (2010) study focused on preventing inappropriate behaviors of employees in their use of information systems. Straub and Nance (1990 as cited in Bulcurcu et al., 2010) suggested that organizations should provide a punishment mechanism for erring employees who abuse organizations’ information systems. This can serve as a deterrent to others with the same behavior.

Aside from placing employees as security threat, organizations should also focus on assuring employees’ safety. Business Link (n.d.), an organization that promotes situational crime prevention, says that employers should protect their employees as part of their responsibilities of promoting the general welfare.

It has recommended some measures for employees’ safety, such as checking visitor or who are coming in to do business; checking the identity of individuals you do business with; and acquiring proper receipts of products given. Security guards must also be detailed to high-risk areas.

Combination of situational and social crime preventions

There are instances that situational and social crime prevention methods can be implemented at the same time in order to effectively combat criminality. Tillyer and Kennedy (2008) argued in an article that situational crime and social crime (e.g. focused deterrence approaches) can be done and are indeed compatible.

A combination of situational and social crime cannot be undermined. In fact, this has been proven effective. There are situational crime preventions that focus on the place and the victim and also on altering the behavior and characteristics of potential victims and the physical environment. The objective of this situational crime prevention is to make potential offenders recognize changes in the place, or recognize that the purpose of such changes is to reduce crime, and to warn potential offenders of doing any offense. (Tillyer and Kennedy, 2008, p. 76)


In conclusion, the risk manager has to include several methods in crime prevention. Crime prevention became a trend because it was proven effective in controlling crime. Prevention should be applied because of the complexity of crimes that have been happening. Social crime prevention has to continue. The children and youth are vulnerable targets of criminals disguising as online pharmacists. Homes should be protected from criminals using the Internet. This is an example of situational and social crime prevention.


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