• Center for Problem oriented policing

Step 34: Look for crime facilitators

Crime facilitators help offenders commit crimes or acts of disorder. There are three types of facilitators:

  • Physical facilitators are things that augment offenders' capabilities or help to overcome prevention measures. Trucks extend offenders' capacity to move stolen goods, telephones allow people to make obscene phone calls, and firearms help overcome resistance to robberies. Some physical facilitators are tools, but others are part of the physical environment. Felson and colleagues describe how the old layout of the Port Authority Bus Terminal in New York facilitated a variety of crimes. Types of crimes had specific ecological niches created by the variety of design features in the old station.
  • Social facilitators stimulate crime or disorder by enhancing rewards from crime, legitimating excuses to offend, or by encouraging offending. Groups of young men, for example, can provide the social atmosphere that encourages rowdy behavior at sporting events. Gangs and organized criminal networks facilitate criminal activity by their members.
  • Chemical facilitators increase offenders' abilities to ignore risks or moral prohibitions. Some offenders, for example, drink heavily or use drugs before a crime in order to decrease their nervousness.

Each type of facilitator acts against particular forms of situational crime prevention (Steps 39-43). This is shown in the table. Each facilitator (in the columns) can counter specific prevention methods (marked by dots). Physical facilitators help offenders overcome preventive measures that increase risk or effort. They can also act as provocations to deviancy. Social facilitators can offset each of the prevention methods. Bribes, for example, offset risk. Some crimes require multiple offenders to offset the effort. Perceptions of target desirability are often influenced by what is desired by others. What is an acceptable excuse often depends on what others will accept. And acquaintances can provoke crime or disorder through encouragement. Chemical facilitators allow offenders to ignore the risk and effort involved in committing a crime, and to make unacceptable excuses.

Because of their capacity to blunt crime prevention, it is important to identify the role of facilitators in a problem. Evidence about facilitators can be found in investigative reports and from investigators, by interviewing victims and offenders, and by observing social situations. Analysis of crime reports can be used to determine the association between crimes and various facilitators.

If facilitators do play a role in the problem, then the next step is to find the sources of the facilitators. Sources will, of course, vary by type of facilitator. Physical facilitators might be readily available, as in the case of rocks for rioters or public phones for drug dealers. Or they may be purchased legitimately, as is the case for many burglary tools. Or they may be stolen, as is sometimes the case with vehicles used in serious crimes. Once their source is found, it may be possible to do something about them. The boxes show measures taken to address the use of public phones in drug dealing and facilitating environments around cash machines.

Facilitators Used by Offenders to Counter Crime Prevention Methods

Crime prevention methodType of facilitator used
Increase Risk***
Increase Effort***
Reduce Rewards*
Remove Excuses**
Reduce Provocations**

Measures to Prevent Use of Public Phones by Drug Dealers in U.S. Cities

Before cell phones became widely available, drug dealers often relied on the use of public phones to make contact with suppliers and customers. Many ways to stop them were tried, including:

  • City ordinances to license public phones and ban them or limit their number at specific locations or categories of location.
  • Installation of rotary dials that do not permit outgoing calls to pagers.
  • Modification of phones to block incoming calls.
  • Community pressure on local phone companies or the city government to remove public phones or relocate them in better lit or supervised areas.
  • Permitting only operator-assisted calls or emergency calls during night hours by blocking coin operation of the phones.
  • Removal or modification of public phones by businesses such as convenience stores and gas stations.
  • Other types of intervention such as increased police patrols, warning labels on phones, and "hotlines" to report problems.

Source: Natarajan, Mangai and colleagues (1996). Drug Dealing and Pay Phones: The Scope for Intervention. Security Journal 7: 245-251.

Social facilitators depend heavily on whom offenders associate with, and the settings for the association. Risky facilities (Step 28), for example, can provide settings for social facilitation. Gangs provide the social support for crime. But even legitimate activity can on occasion spark social facilitation, as in the case with some politically motivated violence, or college student disturbances following games against historical rivals.

Chemical facilitators are abundant and frequently associated with crime and disorder. Alcohol is particularly implicated as a facilitator. Various mixtures of facilitators are common, particularly social and chemical in entertainment venues. Several of the 25 techniques of situational crime prevention are designed to reduce the effect of the three kinds of crime facilitators (Steps 39-43).

Next Step

Security Provisions for Bank Cash Machines in New York City and Los Angeles

New York CityLos Angeles
Enclosed cash machine within a secured vestibuleYes
Increased lightingYesYes
Transparent windows in facility enclosure.
Elevated mirrors for usersYes
Reduced vegetation near machineYes
Surveillance camerasYesYes*
Safety reminders to usersYesYes
Security provisions notice to potential offendersYesYes
Crime assessment prior to installation of cash machineYes
Security guard personnelYes^
Reduced cash machine operational hours based on temporal crime patterns in areaYes*
Yes = Required by legislation.
Yes* = Not required under legislation, but commonly implemented at bank's discretion.
Yes^ = Required only during non-banking hours for ATMs located inside bank buildings open for customer use.

Source: Guerette, Rob and Ronald Clarke (2003). "Product Life Cycles and Crime Automated Teller Machines and Robbery." Security Journal 16: 7-18.