Examining How The Environment Can Prevent Crime Criminology Essay

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The fundamental logic in designing a specific environment to prevent crime seems reasonable for vast amount of reasons, for example; current crime prevention efforts aimed at people through legislation are to a limited success, they are less sure to work because their objective is to reduce crime with reactive strategies employed by the police, courts and correctional facilities (Wallis, 1980). Whereas, as addressed by Brantingham and Faust, crime prevention through environmental design (CPTED) concentrates on the "conditions of the physical and social environmental that provide opportunities for or precipitate criminal acts… and the alteration of those conditions so that no crimes occur"(1976: 289). By approaching crime with proactive strategies and in success in elimination of such opportunities, there would be reductions in the fear and incidence of crime as well as improvement in quality of life which is a major public concern in our contemporary world. This coursework will concentrate on what the relevant theories suggest can be done to prevent crime in inner city areas by taking into account different views and evidences that may support or contradict the suggestions.

Situational Crime Prevention (SCP), proposed by Clarke (1995, 1997), is another theory which focuses on reducing crime in inner-city areas by increasing the risks and efforts, reducing the rewards and provocations and removing the excuses of a specific crime (Popcentre). The reward does not necessarily have to be monetary; it can also be an intangible benefit. To prevent crime from occurring the theory aims to create unfavourable circumstances for those who are disposed to crime, for example denying benefits with the use of ink merchandise tags, disabling stolen cell phones, installing burglar alarms and many more. A positive outcome which had been approved by many scholars is that it can often reduce crime beyond its focus (Clarke and Weisburd 1994). A study carried out by Pease (1991) revealed that a security installed to a house which had been burgled a few times in Kirkholt had a dramatic improvement on preventing repeat-victimization but also tackled offending for the whole estate this is because offenders weren't sure whether if anticipated measures were introduced, thus they could not risk being detected. Studies from Pease (1991) and Scottish Central Research Unit (1995), Poyner (1991), Masuda (1992) fully support the thesis that rather than displacement of crime, diffusion of benefit is prominent. Having said this, there are also examples of crime displacement. For instance a study by Hesseling (1995) found that once new cars became difficult to steal older cars were targeted by individuals.

Both theories proportionately concentrate on opportunities which have remarkable influence in the decision-making process. The logic is if the opportunity is not there then people will give up the intention to commit crime. Following that logic: the number of crimes in an area will depend on number of opportunities available. Thereby the theories advise to remove or conceal targets. For inner-city areas this could involve avoiding leaving cars parked overnight on the streets, installing removable car radios, not wearing jewellery in public, and organising late night transport and many more to reduce temptation. What should not be ignored according to SCP is the thesis that even law-abiding individuals can be drawn into committing crimes if they regularly come across with easy opportunities.

In modern times we are very familiar with territorial reinforcement which is directed at promoting a sense of ownership aimed to discourage illegitimate users from accessing property. It is often visible on the use of sidewalks and porches to create a border to separate public and private space. Fences either tall or short are components of territorial reinforcement that acts as a symbolic and physical barrier to offend. It would make it difficult for anyone to climb over a big fence and enter private space without owners consent. Whereas small fences are not there to prevent anyone from physically entering, it sends a message to the individual to stay out by identifying the property and deflecting passers by. Theories suggest more fences and bushes should be used to mark territory but it should not be very high so it does not obstruct the view or provide hiding spots for offenders. A study conducted by Brown and Bentley (1993) showed the effectiveness of territorial reinforcement on individuals decision-making process and its ultimate positive impact on reduction on recorded crime and fear of crime (Ratcliffe 2003). However, this study, just like any other, is to a limited success because the results are only effective at the local level. As concluded by Merry (1981) there is a variation of results between different cultures, neighbourhoods and individual groups.

The existence of cyclone fencing and razor-wire fence topping in inner-city areas is not recommended by CPTED nor SCP as this gives an impression of absence of people which motivate the individual to intrude as the risk of being caught is lower, although the effort to offend is greater. By contrast, keeping premises clean and gardens landscaped illustrates to offender of an active presence in the private space, which encourages them to step back. However the problem with such architectural designs must not be hidden. Design changes for CPTED can be a fortune to implement. There are construction costs in remodelling or creation of new buildings and often misfortunes occur in the construction process such as delays in planning and approval. Other than that, architectural designs have often been criticised for having a narrow approach on crime prevention. It ignores the possibility of residents and other users of the space that can commit crime.

Furthermore, territorial reinforcement is not only about distinguishing public space from private. Scheduling social activities in common areas is an important element of the theory. However, one disadvantage of 'creating spaces' or 'scheduling social activities' is highly dependant on residential surveillance. Those areas which are outside of surveillance would be a motivation to offend since it is without the presence of residents. This could make new opportunities for offenders such as burglary since houses are left unattended. This concept fits in well with the routine activity theory. Although the theory is often criticized for its simplicity, according to the theory the presence of a suitable target, in this case an empty house, is one of the three requirements for a crime to occur (Wortley and Mazerolle 2008).

Natural Surveillance is the second concept of CPTED and a fundamental strategy of SCP which has long been used to prevent crime. It is directed at promoting self-surveillance by physical designs to act as a capable guardianship (Painter and Tilley 1999). Self-surveillance involves designing windows, lightning and landscaping to improve residents ability to observe what is going on inside and around the property. In our contemporary world we are very familiar with 'clever designs' which does not only make properties less attractive, it also increases the potential for 'intervention, apprehension and prosecution' (Wortley and Mazerolle 2007: 97). Self-perception of offenders being observed (even if they are not) would make it less likely for a potential offence (Wortley and Mazerolle 2008). Nowadays neighbourhood watch schemes are widely used. This scheme could relatively be compared to a group of meerkats. What is so inspiring about them is their natural instinct to work as a team to protect themselves and others. They take turns to carryout their duty of being alert and reactive when anything suspicious or threatening is present. As Sir David Attenborough puts, "This is the team where it's one for all and all for one." Having realizing this is a strange comparison, but this is what neighbourhood watch schemes are about. It is one of the most efficient and effective crime prevention strategy initiated in the UK. What this means is that dozens of eyes and ears are combating crime by picking up anything that could cause worry or concern. In return residents feel more safe and secure.

Although natural surveillance has remarkable advantages, similar to territorial reinforcement, it relies solely on the citizens and does not necessarily mean that surveillance is constantly taking place, or that any action by residents is guaranteed. For example, although everyone may be involved to take part in neighbourhood watch scheme, the contribution can easily reduce after. (Barr and Pease, 1992). Also, the controversy in watching over people is that it would give better personal knowledge of residents thereby they would be more predictable. This would emerge new crime patterns within the area such as robbery, burglary; since houses are left empty, abuse and car theft. Stalking is another crime which may evolve from natural surveillance and any form of persistent harassment which can bring fear into a person's life. This states, as well as preventing crime, natural surveillance can also motivate individuals to offend through the benefit of environmental designs.

In relation to crime displacement, Sorensen (2003, cited in Saville 2005) carried out a study concentrating on residential burglary. Sorenson highlighted how burglars avoid targets that are observable by neighbours and passersby. They are subsequently diverted to properties with poor environmental designs that provide concealment opportunities for burglars. On the other hand, Hakim and Rengert (1981) claimed displacement of crime had been over exaggerated. Rather than encouraging individuals for a change in location, time, target or type of offence, by contrast diffusion of benefits in relation to surveillance has been observed. (Cozen 2001)

Other than natural surveillance, mechanical surveillance is strongly advised by crime prevention theories. However, there are two ways in looking at this issue. As with others, there is an argument concerning privacy of individuals. The question is do you really want someone to invade your private life and do you trust that the information will not be misused? On the other hand, security is another issue. It works by reducing the level of fear of crime as well as confidence due to the presence of a camera. In different parts of Britain studies were conducted to test its effectiveness. Overall as asserted by Armitage (2002), there is insufficient evidence suggesting the perfectness of CCTV. This is because study finding support both sides of the argument. It is often problematic because alcohol-related or drug misuse crimes, such as public disorder, do not consider "rationality" therefore the deterrent effect of CCTV on individuals could be worthless. But CCTV may deter rational criminals. Poyner (1988) evaluated the deterrent effect of the installation of CCTV on target busses with reductions in vandalism and public disorder. Another study by Poyner (1991) and Tilley (1993), shown CCTV at parking spaces and private garages has shown to decrease vehicle-related crimes. What is interesting, as clarified by Chenery, Hernshaw, Pease (1999) who studied illegal parking in disabled bays, is that illegally parked cars were more likely to be illegal for other aspects. Broadly, this means that minor infringements help to identify more major crimes. As a result criminals would be penalised for their other offences.

Early definitions of CPTED did not consider formal and mechanical access control; however, refinements added another strategy titled 'target hardening'. But this is often criticized because "excessive use of target hardening tacking can create a fortress mentality and imagery" (Wortley and Mazerolle 2007:164). This results in ineffectiveness of surveillance and territoriality measures because residents are withdrawn from observing others and their properties through the extreme use of physical barriers. However, target hardening can successfully be applied to some environmental features such as strengthening public telephone boxes or vending machines, car immobilisation, lockable wheel nuts, security doors, etc. A study carried out by British Crime Study suggested that installing basic target hardening measures can be helpful in deterring crime. For example between 1997 and 1999 the number of burglaries in England fell by 21% as a result of target hardening. In addition, research findings showed 72% of attempted burglaries failed because of the installed security measures (BCS 2008). Having said this, deflecting offenders are not always beneficial. In some circumstances rigorous restrictions and controls in society can produce frustration; as a consequence it can increase levels of expressive violence (Wortley 1998).

Many critics point their finger at target hardening measures for generating crime displacement. Displacements may become very prominent because those households who cannot afford to introduce basic security measures (students, single parents and particularly those with low incomes) will be more likely to fall victim to burglary. In extreme circumstances some neighbourhoods will construct negative reputation with widespread crime, perhaps entirely out of police control at night times. But some critics argue that crime displacement is a good thing because in some circumstances crime can be moved to lesser damaging areas.

Theories suggest 'access control' to an area, which may mean entrances as well as exits should be taken into consideration, so that potential offenders are discouraged by prohibiting criminal's perception of 'low risk'. This can be harder to achieve because of health and safety regulations. Fire regulations prohibit locking buildings' exists which in return works out well for criminals as they will maintain stronger sense of control by slipping out unnoticed. But this problem could be eliminated by increasing the risks of getting caught. Installing delayed exit hardware on fire exists is a solution which the theories suggest. The hardware will sound the alarm and keep doors locked for fifteen seconds which will draw attention to someone who is trying to sneak out and will also give the victim an idea of when to respond. A study carried out in Finsbury Park, London, showed the effectiveness of access control in relation to crime prevention. In 1992 government tackled street prostitution by using road closures, re-routing and increased surveillance. This also had an impact on reported crime which fell by 50% (Matthews, 1992). Other than that, numerous studies by Newman (1973; 1980, 1996) and others (Poyner, 1983; Coleman, 1985; Poyner and Webb, 1991) showed reduction in crime in residential areas with restricted pedestrian movement. On the other hand, some researchers like Hillier and Shu, (2000a, 2000b,) have found busy streets with some public movement has also shown reduced levels of recorded crime.

Image/space management is one of the new elements of CPTED and an important strategy of SCP. Environmental cues play big role in individuals and can decide the ultimate decision in a given situation. For example uncollected newspapers on the front step signals that the house is unattended, which can motivate potential burglars. Based on the same context, some signals can introduce certain behaviours as inappropriate. Wilson and Kelling (1999) supported the significance of physical condition and the effect it has on criminal behaviour. Therefore it is crucial to maintain positive appearance by eliminating factors such as prompt removal of graffiti or rapid repair of vandalism that may contribute to further unwanted circumstances.

In relation to environmental cues, the 'Broken Windows Theory' is a valuable tool within contemporary criminology which explains the importance of signals and maintenance in deterring crime. It is crucial to approach property maintenance with zero tolerance because visible signs of disorder in a private space will breed further disorder and possibly lead to a more serious offence. Newburn (2007) addressed the solution as to take earlier action to improve the physical appearance of property. Many research findings supported the hypothesis that individuals engage in delinquency when there are social cues indicating acceptance of criminal behaviour. With no doubt Phillip Zimbardo's experiment is the most influential to support this claim. His method for this study involved leaving two cars abandoned in two different neighbourhoods; crime prone and crime ridden area. In course of time both cars were ultimately destroyed; while the car in crime-prone area was untouched for weeks before the window was broken by the researcher (Wilson and Kelling 1982). The result emphasises the importance of disorder and the effect it has in the decision making process. Ultimately the work of Zimbardo and other scholars helped governors to create strategies to fight against crime.


As can be seen, crime prevention measures do not fully eradicate crime, as they are all fraught with problems. However, at present it is easy to give good reason for optimism because theories' suggesting the ways to reduce crime is clearly building up simultaneously with strong empirical tests showing the effective way to combat crime.

Looking toward future, given that the effectiveness of CPTED has been realised by many nations, including the Criminal Justice System of England and Wales who is increasingly blaming landlords for their insufficient security precautions. More people would be aware of how much impact designs can have upon criminal behaviour and as a result more people will introduce crime prevention measures for their health and safety.