Ethical and Social Perspectives on Situational Crime Prevention
Edited by Andrew von Hirsch, David Garland and Alison Wakefield
Oxfrod, U.K.: Hart Publishing, 2000
As noted on page v of the Preface, “‘Situational crime prevention’ refers to crime prevention strategies that aim at reducing criminal opportunities in the routines of everyday life. Methods of situational crime prevention (SCP) include ‘hardening’ potential targets, improving natural surveillance, controlling access to property, and deflecting offenders from settings in which crime might occur.” The editors go on to ask the central question: “‘does SCP work?’, ‘does it merely displace crime to other locales’1 and ‘do its assumptions match what we know about prospective offenders and victims?’”. In fact, one of the many fascinating issues explored in this quite valuable text is the extent to which SCP practices result in communicating to the public that crime is a normal risk of everyday life to be managed by the police. Of course, the corollary proposition is also tested in the course of the twelve chapters: in light of the fact that the police cannot protect everyone at all times, especially in certain areas and at certain times, to what extent are “victims” to be blamed if harm is visited upon them?
Quite helpfully, the book begins with this definition of SCP: “… a set of recipes for steering and channeling behaviour in ways that reduce the occurrence of criminal events … to use situational stimuli to guide conduct towards lawful outcomes, preferably in ways that are unobtrusive and invisible to those whose conduct is affected” (see p. 1 of David Garland’s essay, “Ideas, Institutions and Situational Crime Prevention”). Further, Professor Garland makes the very good point that “… SCP offers an account that seems equally simple and straightforward. Offenders are, for the most part, deemed to be normal, mundane individuals who give in to temptation as and when criminal opportunities arise. The common sense wisdom of age-old aphorisms tells us all we need to know: ‘Opportunity makes the thief.’” (Felson and Clarke, 1999).
The book's first chapter was penned by Professor David Garland and presents a very interesting historical review of the mostly overlooked or ignored contributions of classic thinkers on the subject of "older common sense" including Patrick Colquhoun's propositions to the general effect that crime is often a matter of temptation and opportunity, that wealth and abundance bring crime in their wake, and "... our efforts to control crime should focus upon reducing the occasions and opportunities for crime events rather than trying to change criminal dispositions", not omitting that policing must seek to prevent crime by improving security, hardening targets and reducing the exposure of potential victims" (refer to p. 3).
I also wish to highlight the significant contributions found on pages 4 and 5 regarding the historical rise of "criminal justice" including repressive sanctions as a means of ensuring crime control. As expressed on page 4, "By the start of the 20th century, the idea of crime prevention had shifted to become what we now term social prevention rather than the situational prevention advocated by Colquhoun."
Following this excellent initial chapter, the editors selected a no less valuable contribution by R.A. Duff and S.E. Marshall entitled “Benefits, Burdens and Responsibilities: Some Ethical Dimensions of Situational Crime Prevention”. Of note, although the authors did not seek to advance neat conclusions or to determine which particular kinds of SCP were ethically acceptable, they do offer quite instructive insights respecting the normative perspective that should structure “an ethics of SCP”, as noted on page 18. Moreover, page 19 provides what might be described as a bedrock analytical question: “… we must ask not only which SCP measures efficiently reduce crime, but also whether those measures are consistent with the rights (or other non-consequentialist values) that should constrain our pursuit of the goal of crime reduction.” In the ultimate analysis, the authors posit, “… an inquiry into ‘the ethics of SCP’ should attend not only to the cost-effectiveness of SCP measures, and to their consistency with independent moral side-constraints, but also to their intrinsic appropriateness to the ends that they should be designed to serve, and to their meanings.” I also wish to point out, quite briefly, the interesting discussion on selective incapacitation found on pages 28-31.2
The third contribution, written by Professor John Kleinig is entitled “The Burdens of Situational Crime Prevention: An Ethical Commentary” and is found on pages 37-58. In summary, this essay makes plain that certain elements of the case for SCP appear to inflate the potential benefits of this development and, in addition, that there is a fear that this means of crime reduction might contribute to the development of an unpalatable social vision. As set out on page 40, it appears to be taken for granted that with SCP “... the breakdown, absence, or depersonalization of social trust as a given. If anything, it increases the depersonalization. It is skeptical of attempts to change dispositions (“human nature”), seeing only failure or very limited success in past attempts to achieve such change.”3 This essay is detailed and thought provoking and generates many interesting questions from the viewpoint of both libertarians and communitarians and suggests, with vigorous argumentation, that it is neither necessary nor wise to attempt to erect SCP as a separate field of crime reduction set against more traditional strategies of crime prevention as it ought to be viewed as a complementary development.
The next two chapters were penned by Andrew von Hirsch, the second with the collaboration of Professor Clifford Shearing. In the first instance, “The Ethics of Public Television Surveillance”, the first named editor of this text makes a cogent and compelling case for a coherent ethical code to regulate public television surveillance to ensure adequate limits and proper use of this quite invasive and permanent technique of surveillance that may be of assistance in preventing crime but that may, if left unchecked, result in needless victimization. I recommend in particular the discussion on pages 62-65 touching upon the identification of the underlying privacy interests and the imperatives associated with the fundamental quality of life issue of promoting our ability to remain anonymous. Turning to the next contribution, “Exclusion From Public Space” (pp. 77-96), it furthers and completes the discussion touching upon the typical exercise of this power, typically directed against a young male, often a member of a visible minority by which I mean both inherent qualities such as an individual’s colour and situational or contingent elements such as being visibly poor or marginalized, that all of the prior contributors alluded to or addressed in passing. The discussion begins by situating the historical roots of the distinction between private and public spaces, to then provide a contemporary orientation to the emerging phenomenon of apparently public space being in fact private, and subject to exclusionary rules. “Exclusion From Public Space” then guides us in respect of the thorny issue of the status of mass private property. The authors are successful in explaining the multiple controversies that arise in respect to efforts at exclusion by means of numerous examples to then illustrate with particular acumen the nature of profile-based exclusions versus exclusions based on previous criminal offending. Lastly, I wish to point to the merits of the discussion pertaining to the need for a conceptual framework regarding the delineation of the rules governing exclusion.
Ronald V. Clarke’s essay, “Situational Prevention, Criminology, and Social Values” is the next contribution to be reviewed. The learned author addresses directly the various recent lines criticism directed at SCP, notably the concern that too little importance is assigned to the social and psychological determinants of criminal motivation. As recorded on pages 98-99, Dr. Clarke argues “… that the harmful consequences of situational prevention can often be anticipated, and with care can also be avoided or ameliorated. As for the criticism of values [he] argues that this reflects the preferences of most criminologists for social reform over opportunity reduction…” In his view, opportunity reduction ought to attract the attention of most criminologists as equally as do the other fields of study that they pursue. The most significant element of his contribution is found on page 100. Table 1 provides examples of the main approaches to SCP, divided between “Increasing perceived effort”, “Reducing anticipated rewards”, “Increasing perceived risks” and “Removing excuses”. In addition, noteworthy is the discussion found on pages 101-102 regarding the question of displacement, always topical when addressing SCP.
Chapter 7, “Situational Prevention: Social Values and Social Viewpoints”, by Joanna Shapland, emphasises the need for opportunity reduction measures that are properly targeted to real crime problems and for a means or method of regular review. Her contribution is remarkable for her exploration of the theoretical basis of SCP and its acceptability in use and, more particularly, for her ability in examining the potential contributions of SCP as seen from a variety of perspectives, notably the issue of exclusion as seen from communities and from the viewpoint of criminologists. In closing, I note the submission she advances on page 121 to the effect that “… SCP does not itself contain the ethical boundaries and constraints necessary to set acceptable limits to the choice of techniques to apply.”
The next chapter was penned by Dr. Alison Wakefield. Entitled “Situational Crime Prevention in Mass Private Property”, it represents a portion of her doctoral research and dissertation, later published under the title Selling Security The Private Policing of Public Space [Cullompton: Willan Publishing, 2003]. In particular, her contribution drew on case studies of three publicly-accessible areas of mass private property to discuss the function of security guards and how they go about fulfilling their roles. As shown, the three sites revealed work patterns marked by multi-faceted tasks and responsibilities and these are explored quite ably under the rubrics of “housekeeping, customer care, prevention of crime and of nuisance behaviour, rule enforcement and the use of sanctions, responses to emergencies and crimes in progress and, finally, gathering and sharing of information”. Of note, although the paper was written before the events of September 9, 2001, the attention paid to potential acts of terrorism is quite impressive, denoting the British experience with terrorism, as made plain in particular on page 137.
The purpose pursued by Professor David J. Smith who authored the next chapter, “Changing Situations and Changing People” (Chapter 9), was to show that theory can progress only by going beyond simple contrasts and by exploring the links between apparently oppositional terms such as an offender’s long term ‘dispositions’ and features of the immediate situation that make offending more or less likely. As we read on page 148, one of the interesting questions raised by this article concerns the origins of SCP, and how these have led to a too narrow a focus on the immediate effects of situations. I note as well the quite helpful table (see p. 151) detailing three related sets of contrasting terms embracing positivism and classicism. Noteworthy as well is the superb discussion of the impact and importance of psychology on the question of SCP (pp. 154-159).4 This chapter impressed me with the number of examples suggesting that in many instances, SCP may be criticized as simply removing sweets from the reach of children as opposed to instructing them on the proper time and place for sweets, especially when considering the issue of evasion of fares, speed cameras, and the question of graffiti.5 Finally, I wish to underline the value of the overall discussion suggesting that scholars have tended to understate the importance of situations.
The themes explored by Dr. Smith are further illuminated in Chapter 10, “For a Sociological Theory of Situations (Or How Useful is Pragmatic Criminology?” by Professors Tim Hope and Richard Sparks. In essence, we are made to understand that there is a significant potential for inhibiting the potential flowering of SCP as a result of a too great emphasis being placed on pragmatic imperatives associated with this strategy and its partner in crime prevention, the routine activities theory (RAT). By means of their sociological theory of situations, the authors attempt to guide future and further development of SCP and of RAT, insisting throughout on the importance of not overlooking the political implications of any such progressive measures. As we read on page 179, “… we need to ask whether there is a necessary homology between certain preventative practices and certain forms of politics and modes of urban governance.”6 Ultimately, although they provide only an “agenda for enquiry”, as noted on page 189, it is an ambitious undertaking and one well worth our attention and interest for they are surely correct to claim that any “…eschewing of the wider domains of social and political theory may turn out not to be good enough in the longer run for an approach which self-consciously makes a claim to practicality.”
The penultimate chapter, by Professor Adam Crawford, explores the vertical relations between a government and the governed and the horizontal social relations and interactions between people bound together in close proximate spaces or localities. In this respect, “Situational Crime Prevention, Urban Governance and Trust Relations” seeks to draw attention to the largely ignored cultural and social implications associated with the rise of SCP. In my estimation, although the essay is valuable in many respects, it will no doubt be referred to most often by reason of its signal contributions to our understanding of trust relationships. Indeed, although the discussion surrounding localizing pressures juxtaposed to globalising tendencies is illuminating and the review of the paradox of an often inverse relationship between activity and need with regard to SCP is striking, not to speak of the concern surrounding the “blame the victim” elements that will arise with increased governmental reliance on technology and managing crime and risk from a distance within a partnership with citizens,7 the lasting contribution of this splendid essay is found on pages 204-209 which touch upon the subject of trust and transformations in trust and the analysis suggesting that SCP may be inimical to the development and fostering of trust. Noteworthy is the passage found on page 208: “Interestingly, ‘trust in abstract systems’ may increase the importance ‘trust in persons’. Thus, relations may become increasingly characterised by both more and less trust: more interpersonal trust and less impersonal trust.”8
The final contribution is offered by Professor David Garland, whose essay “The New Criminologies of Everyday Life: Routine Activity Theory in Historical and Social Context” completes his initial thoughts as couched in the opening essay, “Ideas, Institutions and Situational Crime Prevention.” He begins by stating this fundamental verity:
Criminological theory has adapted in interesting ways to the structural conditions of late modernity – conditions in which high crime rates are a normal social fact and the limited effectiveness of criminal justice is widely acknowledged. The most fundamental aspect of this development has been the shift in the discipline’s focus away from theories of social deprivation (or relative deprivation) towards explanations couched in terms of social control and its deficits. ‘Control’ is the defining term of the new problematic – social control, self-control, situational control – and criminologies that are otherwise quite opposed nowadays share this common problem-space…9 (p. 215)
Professor Garland goes on to contrast and compare the characteristics of routine activity with the work of David Marza and we are offered what amounts to a riveting and in-depth review of Marcus Felson’s revised text (1994) Crime and Everyday Life and of the theoretical reorientation that would shift criminology’s object of study from the criminal individual or disorganized group to the criminal event and the criminogenic situation.
In the final analysis, this text is quite useful in identifying and discussing the general ethics and social aspects of SCP and, in particular, the strategies that have been successful and the values that have been upheld and not compromised by the imperatives of police work. Although much has been written on the subject of SCP since its publication, nothing detracts from its contemporary utility and contributions to the ever-growing debate on the ethics and social foundations that ground situational crime prevention.10
Ontario Court of Justice
1 I think it useful to point to a study not referred to by the editors and contributors: “General Deterrent Effects of Police Patrol in Crime ‘Hot Spots’ A Randomized, Controlled Trial”, by Lawrence W. Sherman and David Weisburd, on pages 27-48 of Understanding Social Science research Applications in Criminology and Criminal Justice, by Geoffrey P. Alpert and John M. MacDonald [Waveland Press, Inc.: Prospect Heights, Illinois, 2001].
2 In this respect, note as well Selective Incapacitation and Public Policy Evaluating California’s Imprisonment Crisis, by Dr. Kathleen Auerhahn [State University of New York Press: Albany, N.Y., 2003 in general and, in particular, Proportionate Sentencing Exploring the Principles, by Andrew von Hirsch and Andrew Ashworth, [Oxford University Press: Oxford, 2005], on pages 82-83.
3 It is not without purpose to point out that the writers of Football Hooliganism, Steve Frosdick and Peter Marsh [Willan Publishing: Collumpton, 2005] are of the view that in certain instances, every limit should be assigned under the social credit rubric. As we read on page 82, and elsewhere, social exclusion and the cultural traditions of the ‘uncivilized’ rough working class, to wit maleness, solidarity and aggression, are sometimes so powerful as to render significant police prophylactic measures imperative. See as well Bouncers Violence and Governance in the Night-Time Economy, by Dick Hobbs et al., [Oxford University Press: Oxford, 2003].
4 A valuable complement to this discussion is found in Professor James McGuire’s text Understanding Psychology and Crime Perspectives on Theory and Crime, [Berkshire: Open University Press, 2004], at Chapter five, pages 127-133 (see also p. 35, pp. 62-70).
5 In respect to graffiti, I direct the attention of interested readers to the captivating contribution of Heitor Alvelos, “The Desert of Imagination in the City of Signs: Cultural Implications of Sponsored Transgression and Branded Graffiti” on pages 181-192 of Cultural Criminology Unleashed [London: Glasshouse Press, 2004], edited by Jeff Ferrell, Keith Hayward, Wayne Morrison and Mike Presdee. See my review in (2005), Vol. 1(1) International Journal of Punishment and Sentencing, pp. 70-78.
6 Refer to the illuminating discussion of Marcus Felson’s theories in general and of the rational choice theory in particular in Dr. Keith Hayward’s magnificent text, City Limits: Crime, Consumer Culture and the Urban Experience [London: Glasshouse Press, 2004], pp. 101-104. I have reviewed this text in the Canadian Journal of Criminology and Criminal Justice (July 2005) Vol. 47(3), p. 613 [www.ccja-acjp.ca/en/cjcr.html].
7 A striking example is offered by Dr. Simon Hallsworth who described his experience of being “mugged” by youths in Street Crime, [Cullompton: Willan Publishing, 2005], p. 2.
8 The experiences of one prisoner in a state penitentiary that conforms to this belief is in evidence in Long Dark Road Bill King and Murder in Jasper, Texas, by Ricardo C. Ainslie [Austin, TX.: University of Texas Press, 2004]. (see Chapter 5 “Planet Beto”). See also Maconochie’s Gentlemen The Story of Norfolk Island and the Roots of Modern Prison Reform, by Norval Morris [New York: Oxford University Press, 2002] with reference to pages 68-72.
9 A useful reference to a subsequently published text is to Understanding Social Control Deviance, Crime and Social Order, by Martin Innes [Open University Press, Berkshire, England, 2003].
10 In this respect, I commend Professor Richard Wortley’s excellent text, Situational Prison Control Crime Prevention in Correctional Institutions [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002], especially at pages 176-187.