A Theory of Crime Places

Recent perspectives in criminological theory provide a basis for constructing a theory of crime places. However, such a theory must be developed in reference to a growing literature about the relationship between crime and place.

Several theories help explain why crime occurs in some places and not others. The environmental criminology approach was developed in the 1980s by Paul Brantingham and Patricia Brantingham. They focused on environmental or context factors that can influence criminal activity. These factors include space (geography), time, law, offender, and target or victim. These five components are a necessary and sufficient condition, for without one, the other four, even together, will not constitute a criminal incident (RJ. Brantingham and P.L. Brantingham, 1981).

Despite the obvious multifaceted nature of crime,scholars and practitioners often attempt to study them separately. For instance, lawyers and political scientists focus on the legal dimension; sociologists, psychologists, and civil rights groups generally look to the offenders and victims; and geographers concentrate on the location of the event. Environmental criminologists examine the place and time when the crime happened. They are interested in land usage, traffic patterns and street design, and the daily activities and movements of victims and offenders. Environmental criminologists often use maps to look for crime patterns; for example, using metric topology (Verma and Lodha, 2002). We discuss metric typology later in this chapter.

The work done on environmental criminology' in the 1980s, spearheaded by Paul and Patricia Brantingham, helped to fuse the principles of geography with criminology and develop new criminological theories. Some of the new criminological theories developed since the early 1980s include:

  • • Routine activities theory
  • • Situational crime prevention theory
  • • Broken windows theory
  • • Crime opportunity theory
  • • Social disorganization theory
  • • Crime pattern theory

Routine Activities Theory

While this theory has already been described in this chapter, you should recall that it suggests that crime occurs when a motivated offender, a suitable target, and the lack of a capable guardian converge in the same place at the same time. Criminals choose or find their targets within the context of their routine activities, such as traveling to and from work or shopping, and tend not to go too far out of their way to commit crimes.

Situational Crime Prevention Theory

The situational crime prevention theory suggests that crime and public disorder can be prevented by reducing opportunities for crime. For example, if crime occurs regularly in a dimly lit alley, public works could improve lighting and increase police presence in the area. Among the most important contributors to the theory is Ronald Clarke. In 1983, he defined the core of the theory and focused his new approach on the event of the crime, instead of the perpetrator. The event of the crime, to Clarke, has to do with the immediate physical and social settings, as well as wider societal arrangements. Clarke summarizes it as the science and art of decreasing the amount of opportunities for crime, using “measures directed at highly specific forms of crime that involve the management, design, or manipulation of the immediate environment in a systematic and permanent way” (Clarke, 1983, p. 225). This approach relies on the assumptions that more opportunities lead to more crime, easier ones attract more offenders, and such an existence of easy opportunities makes a “life of crime” possible.

Broken Windows Theory

This theory, developed by George Kelling and James Q. Wilson, explains how lesser crimes, untended areas, blight, graffiti, and other signs of disorder decrease neighborhood residents’ willingness to enforce social order, which in turn leads to more serious crime (Wilson and Kelling, 1982). If police target minor transgressions, they may prevent serious crime from developing in those places.

Crime Opportunity Theory

Crime opportunity theory suggests that when offenders want to commit a crime, they look for an opportunity or a practical target. For example, if a city neighborhood or busy CBD offers no guarded parking or patrolled parking facilities, it may be a prime target for vehicle thefts. These theories, because there may be several crime opportunity theories, rest on a single principle: Easy or tempting opportunities entice people into criminal action (Felson and Clarke, 1998). Felson and Clarke (1998), for instance, take the position that “opportunity makes the thief.” But they go further and suggest that no crimes can be understood without taking into consideration settings and opportunities.

 
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