Australian Institute of Criminology

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Understanding situational crime prevention

AICrime reduction matters no. 3

ISSN 1448-1383
Canberra: Australian Institute of Criminology, June 2003

Situational crime prevention is a primary prevention measure. This means that it is directed at stopping crime problems before they occur. Like other primary crime prevention measures, situational prevention tends to focus on reducing crime opportunities rather than on the characteristics of criminals or potential criminals.

Situational prevention seeks to reduce opportunities for specific categories of crime by increasing the associated risks and difficulties and reducing the rewards. It comprises three main elements:

  • an articulated theoretical framework;
  • a standard methodology for tackling specific crime problems; and
  • a set of opportunity-reducing techniques.

The theoretical framework is derived from approaches that emphasise that crime and criminal involvement is often a function of the existence of a practical or attractive opportunity to commit a crime (for example, an unlocked car or open window). Common theoretical perspectives include the routine activity model, crime pattern analysis and rational choice. The standard methodology is a version of the action research paradigm in which researchers work with practitioners to analyse and define the problem, to identify and try out possible solutions, and evaluate and disseminate the results. The opportunity-reducing techniques range from simple target hardening to more sophisticated methods of deterring or discouraging offenders and reducing the attractiveness of specific crime targets.

Research into patterns of crime has established that crime events are not simply a function of where criminals live. These patterns also reflect the concentration of opportunities for crime:

  • crime is much more likely to occur in certain places or "hot spots";
  • theft is highly concentrated on particular "hot products"; and
  • some repeat victims are more likely to experience crime than other people.

Building on these understandings, Professor Ron Clarke from Rutgers University has proposed a classification of 25 situational prevention techniques arranged into five principal categories of action within an over-arching rational choice theory. The proposal assumes that offenders choose to commit specific crimes for the benefits they bring. These techniques are outlined in the table on the following page.

Further reading

  • Clarke, R. 1995, 'Situational crime prevention', in M. Tonry & D. Farrington D (eds), Building a Safer Society: Strategic Approaches to Crime Prevention, The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, pp. 91-150.