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Study Notes

Situational Crime Prevention

AS, A-Level
AQA, Edexcel, OCR, Eduqas, WJEC

Last updated 11 Aug 2018

Situational crime prevention refers to how, in certain situations, adaptations can be made to prevent criminal acts. It involves looking at what crimes people commit, and where they commit them, and what can be done in that situation to prevent the crimes from happening.

Approaches to situational crime prevention include:

  • Target hardening
  • Designing out

Target hardening decreases the opportunity for crime with measures like window locks, window shutters, car security features, anti‐climb paint, CCTV, etc.

Designing out means that some features of an area are re‐designed in order to make impossible common associated crimes. Sloping seats at bus shelters prevent people sleeping on them; a more extreme example is the use of "anti‐homeless spikes" outside certain town‐centre properties. Similarly, spikes and other designs can be used to make buildings and structures harder to climb for those seeking to vandalise, or to steal lead from roofs, for example.

Some of these measures also help the criminal justice system catch and prosecute offenders (e.g. the use of CCTV footage in court or anti‐theft paint to identify stolen items) but the main reason for their use is to deter the crimes in the first place.

Evaluating Situational Crime Prevention

  • These measures can be very popular with councils and businesses as they can be effective at a relatively low cost (compared with employing security guards, for example). As we shall see, there are several criticisms of situational crime prevention, but few of them relate to the direct interests of the individuals or organisations seeking to protect their property for whom these are appealing options.
  • However, a significant problem with situational crime prevention is displacement. While the measures might prevent crime in a specific situation, it is likely to simply move elsewhere. For example, areas with CCTV may see a significant drop in crime; but more than likely the crime has merely moved to another location, one without cameras, rather than actually being prevented altogether.
  • Some of the situational crime prevention methods prevent activities that most would not consider criminal (such as rough sleeping).
  • Some post‐modernist sociologists, such as Lyng (1990) argue that the seduction of crime comes from the thrill of taking risks. From that perspective the situational crime prevention methods provide a challenge and therefore extra levels of thrill and risk.
  • There is no question, based on evidence from the police as well as from a range of criminological studies, that burglar alarms, CCTV and improved car security features all have a significant impact on reducing specific crimes.
  • Zygmunt Bauman has accused such measures of turning contemporary cities (in the period of fluid modernity) into "fortress cities" where people are at once controlled and kept safe. In his image of the future development of cities, he imagined people not daring travel far from the "fortresses" just as people sought protection in medieval fortified towns.
  • Only a certain type of crime is prevented by such measures: mostly opportunistic street crimes, for example. It does not provide people protection from corporate, white collar or state crime. Marxists, then, would point out that these measures control the working class, but not the ruling class.

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