Routine Activities Theory

Routine activities theory seeks to explain the occurrence of crime events as the confluence of four circumstances (Cohen and Felson, 1979; Felson, 1986, 1994). First, there must be a motivated offender. Second, there must be a desirable target. Third, the target and the offender must be at the same place at the same time. Finally, three other types of controllers—intimate handlers, guardians, or place managers—must be absent or ineffective. Intimate handlers are people who have direct personal influence over an offender (such as parents, teachers, coaches, friends, or employers). In the presence of such people, potential offenders do not commit crimes. Most adults are away from intimate handlers for many hours of the day, and many offenders, both juvenile and adult, have few or no intimate handlers (Felson, 1986). People who can protect targets are guardians. They too must be missing from the place. Guardians include friends (as when four women decide to walk together to the parking lot after a night class in order to protect each other) as well as formal authorities, such as private security guards and public police. People or objects that are separated from guardians for sustained periods have elevated risks of victimization. People who take care of the places are place managers. Place managers, such as janitors and apartment managers, regulate behavior at the locations they control. For a crime to occur, such people must be absent, ineffective, or negligent (Eck, 1994).

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