• Center for Problem oriented policing

Step 40: Increase the risks of crime

According to interviews with offenders, they worry more about the risks of being apprehended than about the consequences if they are caught. This makes sense because they can do little to avoid punishment if caught, but they can do a lot to reduce the risks of capture by being careful. This is why situational prevention seeks to increase the risks of being caught and makes no attempt to manipulate punishment.

Extend guardianship. Cohen and Felson showed that the increase in residential burglary during the 1960s and 1970s was partly due to the increasing numbers of women working outside the home. This meant that for much of the day many homes, if not entire suburbs, had no "capable guardians." Other research has found that burglars prefer to commit their crimes on weekday afternoons when people are likely to be out. This explains why people should cancel newspapers and inform their neighbors when they go on vacation. Carrying a cell phone or going out at night in a group are other ways to extend guardianship. Little is known about the effectiveness of these routine precautions and evaluations of neighborhood watch, the only systematic effort to extend guardianship, have not been encouraging. However, "cocoon" neighborhood watch, under which surrounding homes were alerted after a burglary, was an important element of a successful project in Kirkholt in England.

Assist natural surveillance. Homeowners trim bushes near their windows and doors and banks light their interiors at night to capitalize on the "natural" surveillance provided by people going about their everyday business. Enhancing natural surveillance is also the prime objective of improved street lighting and defensible space architecture. Studies in the U.K. have found that improved lighting in public housing reduces crime with little evidence of displacement. One component of an early CPTED intervention to reduce burglary in a commercial strip in Portland, Oregon, was improved lighting of the outside of stores. Oscar Newman has reported successes in reducing crime in public housing through the application of natural surveillance principles. Finally, informant hotlines and crime-stopper programs are attempts to capitalize on the natural surveillance provided by the public.

Reduce anonymity. Expanded car ownership has allowed people to work far from their homes. The development of out-of-town malls has led to the decline of downtown shopping. Low-cost travel has led to increased tourism both at home and overseas. As a result, people spend increasing periods of time among anonymous strangers. The building of large schools has contributed to this trend because pupils are less well known to staff and other pupils. Reducing anonymity is a promising but rarely used situational technique. Some schools are now requiring uniforms, partly to reduce the anonymity of pupils on their way to and from school. Cab driver ID badges and "How's my driving?" decals with 1800 numbers on trucks are two further ways of reducing anonymity.

Use place managers. In addition to their primary function, some employees also perform a surveillance role. These "place managers" include sales assistants, hotel door-men, and parking lot attendants. Canadian research has found that apartment complexes with doormen are less vulnerable to burglary. Rewarding cashiers for detection of forged or stolen credit cards helped to reduce annual fraud losses by nearly $1 million at an electronics retailer in New Jersey. Vandalism on a large fleet of double-decker buses in northern England was substantially reduced when a few of the buses were fitted with video cameras for drivers. Having two clerks on duty, especially at night, has consistently been found effective in preventing robbery of convenience stores (see table).

Strengthen formal surveillance. Formal surveillance is provided by police, security guards, and store detectives, all of whom furnish a deterrent threat to potential offenders. Burglar alarms, video cameras, and speed cameras can enhance this surveillance. A study of an affluent community near Philadelphia found that widespread ownership of burglar alarms reduced police costs by lowering burglary rates for the community at large. Home Office studies have found appreciable reductions in a variety of crimes following installation of video cameras in British cities (see Video Surveillance of Public Spaces, Problem-Oriented Guides for Police, Response Guide No.3, accessible at www.cops.usdoj.gov and www.popcenter.org). An evaluation of photo radar deployed state-wide in Victoria, Australia, showed that it reduced speeding and contributed to a 45 percent reduction in traffic fatalities. A well-publicized bike patrol provided by a private security company in a large park-and-ride lot in suburban Vancouver, Canada led to a substantial drop in theft of cars. When security personnel began systematic, daily counts of high-risk merchandise, such as VCRs and camcorders, thefts by employees dropped by more than 80 percent in the warehouse of a New Jersey electronics superstore. Powerful new ways of enhancing formal surveillance are provided by linking data-sets on individuals, as shown in a study by Eckhart Kuhlhorn. He demonstrated that computerized crosschecking of statements of personal income made by claimants to two separate Swedish government departments reduced welfare frauds. When people claimed for rent allowance they were tempted to understate income, but when they claimed sickness benefits, they were tempted to overstate it. The ability to crosscheck the income statements substantially reduced these frauds.

Next Step

Measures that Reduce Robbery of Convenience Stores
(Results of 14 Studies)

Number of supporting studies*
Two or more clerks10
Good cash handling8
No concealed entrances6
Nearby stores5
Clear view of store front5
Closed at night5
Security technology5
Cashier in secure booth4
Employee training4
Clear view inside store3
Gas pumps at front3
Cashier in center ofstore3
Store on busy street2
Security guard present2

*Not all studies included all measures

Source: Hunter and Jeffery (1997). "Preventing Convenience Store Robbery through Environmental Design." Situational Crime Prevention: Successful Case Studies, Ronald Clarke. Monsey, NY: Criminal Justice Press.

Increase The Risks Of Crime

Extend guardianship

  • Promote routine precautions such as leaving signs of occupancy when away from the house, carrying a cell phone and going out at night in a group
  • "Cocoon" neighborhood watch

Assist natural surveillance

  • Improved street lighting
  • Defensible space design
  • Neighborhood watch and informant hotlines

Reduce anonymity

  • Cab driver IDs
  • "How's my driving?" decals
  • School uniforms

Use place managers

  • Train employees to prevent crime
  • Reward vigilance
  • Support whistleblowers

Strengthen formal surveillance

  • Speed cameras and random breath testing
  • Video surveillance of downtowns
  • Focused bike patrols in parking lots

Read More

  • Painter, Kate and Nick Tilley (1999). "Surveillance of Public Space: CCTV, Street Lighting and Crime Prevention." Crime Prevention Studies, volume 10. Monsey, NY: Criminal Justice Press. (Accessible in part at www.popcenter.org).