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Published: Fri, 02 Feb 2018

Situational Crime Prevention

Offenders and motive

Q. Does it matter what the offender’s motives are when utilizing situational crime prevention?

Leading situational crime prevention (SCP) theorists and practitioners — figures such as Clarke , Garland and Kleinig –agree to define SCP as foremostly, both philosophically and practically, a field concerned with the prevention of crime and withthe limiting of opportunities for offenders to commit crime. According to this philosophy of prevention, the role of individual criminalmotive with respect to the aetiology and causation of criminal acts isrelegated to a position of relatively little significance. For morethan two hundred years, since the birth of Colquhoun’s seminal butunrecognised first attempt at a theory of SCP slipped beneath theoncoming waves of a new type of criminal justice, the predominanttheory of criminal behaviour in the United Kingdom had stressed theinnate or social factors of causation behind criminal acts. Such actswere the consequence of deprived social conditions or psychologicalabuse, and these gave Britain’s poor a strong bent and inclinationtowards committing criminal acts.

According this dominant view, individual motive and motivation and,conditioned by one’s social and psychological environment, werebelieved to be the most powerful and serious causes of criminalbehaviour &ndash no matter what the nature crime. Accordingly, efforts todecrease and reduce crime were targeted at the rehabilitation or moralre-orientation of the criminal: that is, to take away his or hermotivation and incentive to commit a crime. Criminologists of theeighteenth and nineteenth centuries, men like Lombroso, Ferri,Garafalo, and politicians — even those as eminent as Gladstone –sought a solution to the problem of crime in an improvement of thesocial conditions in which Britain’s poor lived take away poverty, andyou take away crime.

Critical to this criminal theory was the concomitant notion that theadvance of capitalism and the wealth that came in its train would bringabout a revolution of society in Britain and that this affluence wouldremove the individual motivation or need to commit crimes — whatevertheir nature — and therefore would eliminate these crimes themselves.Capitalism was thus thought of wholly in positive terms with respect toits relationship to criminology, and Colquhoun’s portentousannouncement that capitalism and its mounting wealth would increasecrime by increasing in turn the opportunities for criminal acts wentfully ignored.

This ruling theory of criminal justice however came under great attackin the twentieth-century as it became increasingly evident to all that neither did rehabilitation work anywhere near as effectively as people had hoped nor did capitalism bring about a collapse of crime rates asanticipated, but rather bore witness to their escalation. Thus, in thelate 1970’s, after years of utter disillusionment and fatigue in theBritish Home Office and criminal justice system, certain criminologistsand then politicians came to the conclusion that something radicallydifferent was needed. The first appearance of this new attitude and philosophy arose with the appointment of Ronald V. Clarke to the HomeOffice Research and Planning Unit (HORPU).

Ronald’s own disillusionmentwith traditional criminal justice, born out of his own experience ofpsychology and is investigations into the behaviour truant children inSpecial Schools, led him to revive the idea of SCP and to set it in anew and bold theoretical paradigm and practical foundation. At theheart of Ronald Clarke’s, and his subsequent adherents’, view of SCPwas the idea that criminal acts do not originate in the social orinnate tendencies of individuals towards particular crimes, but arerather the outcome of opportunities to commit crimes. Moreover, in afull rejection of the basic tenet of the old criminologists’ view,capitalism was seen to aid criminal opportunities by creating more ofthem. Thus, Clarke, and many others since, have proposed that the keyto a successful reduction of criminal activity is to study the criminalevent itself and so reduce the opportunities for criminal acts bytightening security and bolstering vigilance through the use of SCPmeasures like CCTV cameras, sophisticated locks and alarms, and so on.

Paramount to this strategy, is the idea that society as a whole, andnot only the police or other criminal justice agencies, must takeresponsibility for the security of the nation and for the reduction ofcrime, by taking away the opportunities for its enactment. If millionsof Britons were to protect themselves and their neighbours in this way,then the motivation of a minority of potential criminals isdramatically reduced by the social and moral majority of the others.Thus to put it in one sentence: the utilization of SCP has to takeoffender motivation into account, but not in an attempt correct orrehabilitate that motivation, but rather to find explicit and pragmaticways of suffocating it. Only at the extremes of criminal action andbehaviour does offender motive begin to exceed the perimeters of thefield of SCP’s remit and efficacy a serial killer and a suicide bomberwill clearly not be deterred either by alarms of whateversophistication or by any similar such devices. At this extreme,psychological factors, as well as factors of social and cultural abuseand inculcation, have a far greater role to play but, usuallyspeaking, SCP is concerned with and orientated towards crimes of lessserious magnitude, and at which level, it is able to partially dismissor downgrade the significance or type of offender motivation.

Criminal theory in Britain in the past two centuries has swayed to andfro between theories that derive the origins of crime in innate orsocial individually acquired tendencies, where criminal motivation isthe outcome of these theories, and, on the other hand, betweentheories that understand crime as a reaction to opportunity and assomething neither socially conditioned nor personally motivated, and inwhich motivation is of limited importance. A brief sketch of thehistory of this debate is highly fruitful and enlightening for ancoherent answer to the present question of criminal motive and itsrelation to SCP.

More than two centuries ago Patrick Colquhoun, in 1795, published hisTreatise on the Police of the Meteropolis in which he gave a theoryand set of conditions for crime prevention that came very close to thephilosophy and practice of SCP in the twenty-first century. In thiswork were a number of specific and explicit assumptions about thenature of criminal motivation and about the most effective methodsrequired for the prevention of crime. Colquhoun states, firstly, that&lsquoCrime, especially property crime, is a matter of temptation andopportunity, not a matter of special dispositions. Criminal conduct iswidely distributed, not a peculiarity of particular individuals’ . Inother words, Colquhoun was saying, more than twenty decades ago, thatcriminal acts do not originate in the criminal motivation or the innatemoral or genetic dispositions of individuals, but rather in concrete,random and unsought-after opportunities to commit them. Property crime,at least, is a temporary stimulation of the human desire to enrichoneself from opportunity and chance. Colquhoun then, in a remarkableanticipation of the thought of twenty-first century SCP suggests thatthe way to prevent criminal acts of this type is to introduce measuresto reduce the opportunity for them to be committed &ndash that is, to takeaway the likelihood of a criminal happening upon these opportunities bychance.

Secondly, Colquhuon argued that &lsquoWealth and abundance bring crime intheir wake. Capitalism sets wealth free to circulate and, inconsequence, produces new temptations and occasions for crime’ . Theidea here, explicitly stated before the true explosion of capitalism inthe twenty- and twenty-first centuries occurs, is that the abundance ofwealth created by capitalist economies and societies generate,alongside this capital, vastly increased temptations and opportunitiesfor crime for those who are willing to risk pursuing theseopportunities. Interestingly then, wealth itself is the creator ofcriminal motive, rather than this motive being a inherent disposition .Under this aspect of Colquhoun’s nascent theory of the utilization ofSCP the motivation of the criminal offender did matter &not&ndash but,paradoxically, could and did only matter because the society of thatoffender had created the motivation as a by-product of its capitalistsuccesses.

Thus, thirdly, Colquhoun sets out the foundational principle for theneutralization of criminal efficacy: &lsquo &lsquo&lsquoPolicing” or &lsquo&lsquoprevention”is a matter of improving security, hardening targets, and reducing theexposure of potential victims’ . The ideas in this quotation are nearperfectly those encapsulated and expanded by modern criminology andSCP: the truest and most effective way to prevent crime is to bolsterthe security and defence of buildings and property and to minimize thethreat to victims of crime as far as possible. According to thisphilosophy, criminal motivation is deterred by the array of securityand defence ranged against it and by the increased risks associatedwith the carrying out of any such crimes . To put it in modern idiom:criminals think twice before enacting a crime that they wouldotherwise, had their been no defence, undertaken immediately.

Colquhoun concludes his theory with an analysis of the role of thepolice and other law enforcement agencies in implementing this securityand in increasing the deterrent value that particular crimes carry, andargues that because of the myriad and multifarious opportunitiescreated by capitalist societies for crimes to be conducted, that amassive duty and obligation falls upon the individual citizen to securehis own property and person against crime and to decrease theopportunities for its occurrence. Thus Colquhoun states, fourthly, that&lsquoPolicing is the task and responsibility not of &lsquo&lsquothe State”, nor of asingle specialist agency, but of everyone with an interest inpreserving private property and personal security’ . Nonetheless,Colquhoun’s prototypical theory of SCP was not received as rapturouslyand openly by his peers as he expected, and his theory was nearly asquickly as it was published superseded by a very different theory ofcriminal motivation and so forced into hibernation until thelate-twentieth century where is found a renaissance in the contemporarytheories of SCP.

In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries the notion of motivationalirrelevance as propounded by Colquhoun was replaced by the theories ofmen like Lombroso, Ferri and Garofalo and by Victorian morality, whichassigned to motive, this being seen as a consequence of moral laxity,an enormous role in the causation of crime. Thus, in these years, greatattention was spent trying to reform or chastise the mind of thecriminal and to make him obey the laws of society this huge energy inone direction, meant that little effort was spent on the prevention ofcrime in the fashion that Colquhoun advocated: by situational crimeprevention &ndash or the protection of sites and persons against criminalopportunity. Garland has summed up the new attitude and new conceptionof this time well: he states: &lsquo. . . In this new positive science of&lsquo&lsquocriminology”, crime has been reconceptualized as &lsquo&lsquocriminality” andcriminality is chiefly a characteristic of individuals. Criminal eventscease to have much significance in themselves and become, instead,symptomatic manifestations of underlying criminal dispositions’ . Inother words, the study of criminology as an intellectual andepistemological discipline is no longer about the phenomena of crimes,their nature, causes etc., but rather the criminal cognitive processesthat motivate him to undertake such crimes. According to such acriminological perspective, the motivation of the offender is now amajor &ndash and often the only — factor in theory as to how to preventthese crimes from occurring.

Rejecting Colquhoun’s second principle of SCP, as to the explicit linkbetween the rise of modern capitalist society and a rising crime rate,the new theory asserts, in a complete volt-face, that capitalism, morepowerful economies and more affluent societies are tools to lower thecrime rate by removing the conditions of poverty and abuse that lead tothe motives behind individual criminality. Garofalo famously rejectedthe bond between greater capitalism and greater crime in his statement:&lsquoIt is impossible to believe that progress in civilization contributesto the increase of crime . . . its effect is quite the opposite’ . Thisstatement had earlier been affirmed by the famous Gladstone Report of1895 which found that increases in a society’s wealth are directlyproportional to a decrease in the motivation for crime amongst thatsociety’s population. Half a century later, the rejection of SCP wasstill favoured, and a targeting of the &lsquoroot causes’ of crime in thedegeneracy of the individual preferred. Thus the renowned Memorandum onJuvenile Delinquencyof 1949 declared the devices of SCP theory, as had been set out by therebel criminology theorist Enrico Ferri , to be profoundly superficialand palliative without tackling the base cause of crime. The memorandumconcludes &lsquo. . . as a permanent solution something more constructive isrequired’. As late as 1975, even as the spectre of a failed criminaljustice system was all about them, British governments andcriminologists insisted upon a rejection of SCP. Thus at thethree-quarter point of the twentieth-century it was a widely heldconviction that SCPs were essentially cosmetic and ephemeral devicesthat could only be used as plasters to heal a wound that would sooneror later need the proper stitches of real criminal justice and a&lsquosolution’ of the problems of the individual criminal motivation. Butall this was soon to change.

How then can the remarkable renaissance and efflorescence ofsituational criminal prevention of the present be explained? How can adiscipline and philosophy of crime dismissed so comprehensively andtotally for more than two hundred years be revived so quickly and onsuch a scale? And what has this re-emergence to do with there-evaluation by criminologists of our age as to the concept ofcriminal &lsquomotive’ and its influence upon SCP’s?

Outwardly this re-emergence manifested itself in numerous instances ofcriminal legislation in the past two decades, in a profusion of CCTVschemes, sophisticated security systems and alarms, and most recentlyASBO’s and the advent of Community Protection Officers as a furthervisual deterrent against opportunities for terrorism. At the same timeuniversities across the world have begun to place greater emphasis anda proportion of their time on the teaching of SCP its pickup andimplementation in so many ways by government perhaps though the surestsign of its successful re-emergence. Many people and many eventscontributed to this re-emergence &ndash in terms of events, thedisillusionment in the justice system in the 1970’s and 1980’s was veryimportant — but more important than all these was a revision andrevolution amongst criminologists as to the notion of criminal motiveand motivation as the basic &lsquoroot’ causes of criminal behaviour. Nolonger was this thought to be solely or even largely resident in genesor predetermined behaviour, or social conditions either, but it was tobe found in terms of the opportunity to commit crime and the profusionof opportunities created by more than three centuries of capitalistgrowth. Thus the notion of &lsquomotive’ has been dethroned and relegated bySCP criminal theorists and replaced and SCP’s own principles ofopportunity.

The chief influence upon this usurpation of the throne of traditionalcriminal justice was the theorist and practitioner Ronald. V. Clarkeit was with his ideas that the revolution begins. Ronald Clarke was notthe only figure in the beginning of this revival &ndash the names GloriaLaycock, Derick Cornish, Miike Hough, Ken Pease and many others deserveto be mentioned also &ndash but it was above all Clarke whose intellectualvigour and passion engendered this revolution in the conception ofcriminal motive. Clarke was influenced by several diverse and eclecticsources, such as his own former psychological investigations, theviscosity of Home Office rehabilitation programmes and ideas aboutdelinquent behaviour, Wilson’s pleas for a pragmatic criminology and,perhaps above all, by is own studies into truancy of pupils fromSpecial Schools and the overwhelming evidence he collected showing thatthis had more to do with the pupils’ close environment than theirsocial background or innate disabilities . It was from these firstobservations — or should we say rediscovered observations in light ofColquhoun’s earlier discoveries — that further empiricalinvestigations took place and thus, slowly, slowly, enough material andcase data had been collected to make the foundation of a new theory ofsituational crime prevention . Clarke was a member of HORPU (HomeOffice’s Research and Planning Unit) and there he saw rapid increasesin crime rates sand a growing disillusionment with thesocially-orientated and well-meaning but ultimately ineffectiveness oftraditional criminal justice, despite the vast amounts spent by on therehabilitation of criminals &ndash that is, upon investigation of the causesof their motivation to commit criminal behaviour.

As chief of the programme Clarke was able to gather together hisvarious theoretical insights from preceding years, as well as practicalobservations in the field, and thus coordinate for the first time acomprehensive and cogent programme of SCP-based concept strategies.What appealed most to Clarke and those who developed theory andpractice in his wake was the pragmatic and concrete basis of SCP: itpromised to bring about direct, palpable and tangible results and coulddo this because it was not tethered and so restricted by a particularpolitical or social philosophy. SCP was an essentially independentdiscipline — as far as any discipline can be independent of others –that could be set to work immediately. In Garland’s words: &lsquo. . . (SCP)offered a new direction for research and action: a direction withinherent appeal for pragmatic, empirical researchers whose bottom linewas to develop politically acceptable policies that could work andcould be shown to work’ .

At the centre of this pragmatic approach was a rejection of thetwo-hundred year old concept of crime as originating in the degeneracyand concupiscence of the individual mind and behaviour — that is, ofindividuals having an innate or socially-formed motivation towardscrime. This central tenet of eighteenth and nineteenth criminal justiceis replaced with the notion of the opportunism of most types of crimeand thus the &lsquopreventability’ of such crime by reducing the openingsfor its enactment. For instance, in modern Britain, escalating rates ofburglary and petty theft are not motivated by the need to improvesocial position (few people are in such dire need today) but becauseour affluent society provides an abundance of opportunities for suchcrime to be committed easily. SCP therefore does not seek to cancel orcheck the supposed social motivation of criminals by rehabilitation,education and such like, but simply and directly takes away thepossibility of any such motivation occurring on the spur of the moment.

Thus the implementation of SCP under Clarke and the adherents of hisreasoning picked up the idea originating in Colquhoun thought thatcrime rate rises are related to the progress of capitalism these risesare an inevitable concomitant of social progress, but they can beremoved by a reorientation of the attitudes of criminologists andgovernment ministers to recognise this fact. Moreover, what is alsorequired is the fundamental realization by all members of such anadvanced society that each and every one of us must assume the bulk ofthe responsibility for limiting crime. By individual action, byinstalling alarms and CCTV cameras on properties and businesses, bysupporting government legislation that buttresses SCP, by increasinglocks on properties and so on, society as a whole works for its owninterest by reducing on a massive scale the opportunities for criminalbehaviour. A police force of several thousand members will always havesevere limitations upon its ability to prevent crime on-mass: there aresimply too many members of society with the opportunity to commitcrime. Under capitalism, property can only be protected if the millionsof law-abiding citizens take it upon themselves to take away theinnumerable cases of immediate motive. This distinction is crucial. SCPrecognises &lsquomotivation’ as an instinct and sensation that occurs onlyat the moment when an opportunity to commit crime arises. For instance:a burglar sees the door of a house left wide open or the window of acar, and at that precise moment he acquires the motivation to undertakethis crime. Crucially though, the motivation did not occur to himearlier that morning or even as he turned the corner of the streetwhere he found the house or car to break into rather, the motivationswells up simply upon the realization of the opportunity of aprofitable crime.

If society generally and on mass learns a greater cognizance andconsciousness of this fact, then they can take, at the individuallevel, the security measures needed to make these crimes far moredifficult to enact. If a house is obviously heavily alarmed, locked andpatrolled by a guard-dog, then the burglar who randomly comes across ithas a far higher level of intimidation and less of an incentive toprobe and inquire into the possibility of carrying out this crime. Thevast majority of medium level crimes are preventable simply by virtueof small alterations to the level of difficulty attached to them beingcarried out. Such measures will clearly not deter a psychopathic felonbent on murder or a terrorist determined to effect a suicide bombingbut these crimes are very rare and of a wholly different sort to themillions of crimes that occur every beneath this level, and which mightand should be prevented by the means attested above. Thus in the vastmajority of instances crimes may be prevented by repressing theopportunity of motivation &ndash and this is the idea first propagated byClarke so forcefully, and which has taken root so firmlysince.

An interesting development associated with the SCP concept ofmotivation, as has been pointed out by Crawford and Ericson amongstothers, is the notion that alongside the spread of SCP and the changeof consciousness it exerts upon the general population, it is thatthose liable to succumb to criminal acts, given the opportunity, areprovided with a higher level of resistance against these motives, dueto having been exposed to these ideas in public. In other words,falling crime rates due to SCP initiatives, alongside a broaderawareness of a public willing to combat crime, incline potentialcriminals to refuse opportunities for crime and to conform to thegeneral attitude which is against this. Thus SCP has a snowballing andcumulative effect upon criminal motivation: as the public protectsitself with greater security and alertness, potential criminals areabsorbed into this mass and so not only do not commit crimes themselvesbut help society to prevent others doing this. SCP therefore has adoubly effective technique. Moreover, SCP practices instil in thesub-conscious of potential criminals a primary check, where becausethey know of greater surveillance and protection of potential crimesites, they pause before giving in to the immediate temptation if onlyhalf of potential offenders are put-off by this initial check andrefuse the opportunity of a crime, then the crime rate will dropdramatically and will furthermore recruit even more citizens againstthe carrying out of crime.

In the final analysis then, it makes sense to extend the sentencewith which the introduction to this essay concluded. The utilization ofSCP has to take into account offender motive and motivation, but not soas to rehabilitate that motive and motivation, but rather to paint itin as blaring and bright colours as possible so that ordinary Britons,the real victims of crime, can identify its threat and so protect theirhomes and families against it. SCP therefore recognises criminalmotivation in the sense that this motivation arises at chance momentsof criminal opportunity, rather than as innate or premeditateddispositions towards crime. This attitude is clearly is strictconcordance with the principles advocated by Colquhoun two centuriesago it is likewise a wholescale rejection of the basic tenet oftraditional criminological theory that criminal acts are precipitatedby socially motivated inclinations towards crime. SCP theorists haveshown this position to be largely untenable with respect to the vastmajority of crimes. At the extremes of criminal behaviour SCP has todelegate or defer authority to the work of traditional criminal justiceand to theories of social and psychological abuse as precipitating amotive for crime but such motivations constitute only a tiny minorityof crimes, and its remit is not intended to include these. SCP, in itsrecent form, is a young discipline that promises in future decades tomake major contributions, both theoretically and practically, tocriminology &ndash though students of the field should show caution whenassuming SCP to be the only solution to criminal behaviour. The finalwords of this essay might therefore be these: &lsquomotive’ as a criminaland psychological phenomenon is no less important to the practitionerof SCP than it was to practitioners of traditional criminal justicetheories instead, SCP should be understood as holding this phenomenonmerely in a very different and, admittedly, harder and more stringentlight.

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