No. XX (1994)

Situational Crime Prevention

Anna Kossowska
Institute of Law Studies of the Polish Academy of Sciences, Department of Criminology

Published 1994-08-01


  • crime prevention,
  • delinquency,
  • criminology,
  • offender

How to Cite

Kossowska, A. (1994). Situational Crime Prevention. Archives of Criminology, (XX), 7–20.


Disappointment in crime prevention based on the etiological approach led to a closer analysis of the circumstances of the offence, its physical conditions, and the resulting motivations of the offender. Whatever his inborn or socially acquired criminal predispositions, object and opportunity are necessary for an offence to take place.

Advocates of the situational approach in criminology argue that a potential offender generally does not act on an impulse: instead, he more or less consciously analyses the situation and decides to commit the offence at a given time and place and against a given target. This is the basic assumption of situational crime prevention.

            Situational crime prevention resolves itself into reduction or liquidation of the physical opportunity to commit an offence, and extension of the probability of apprehension of the offender. This can be done in three different ways.

            First, the guard over the target can be extended or intensified, or the potential offender can be made to believe that, while dwelling in a given place, he is under incessant surveillance by the police or other competent persons, or by the inhabitants or users of a given object or area.

            Second, the target can be made less open to crime: special circumstances make it less easily accessible (or completely inaccessible), and theft can no longer yield the expected profit to the offender. This procedure is called target hardening.

            Third, various organizational steps can be taken that change the environment of crime: new ciercumstances arise and situation in which an offence might take place is changed.

            The above three methods of situational crime prevention have different efficiency. Their actual efficiency depends on a variety of factors related to the methodology of the crime prevention program and to cultural conditions. As regards programs basied on increased surveillance, the most efficient are those which involve the local population who are allowed both passively to watch over their area of residence, and actively to participate in its protection.

            What is considered a particulary effective method of situational crime prevention is target hardening where access to the target is made difficult through a variety of physical obstacles. Not as obvious is the efficiency of another target hardening measure where valuable objects are marked so as to make it difficult for the offender to gain by his theft and to increase the probability of his apprehension. Such measures, called operation identification, prove highly efficient in some countries but are next to ineffective in others. Thee ffects here depend largely on the efficiency of the police. Whith a low detection rate of thefts, the marking of objects cannot possibly yield the expected results.

            It has been  found in studies of offenders’ processes of deciding that their decision to commit an offencis based on the factors that condition, first, the physical opportunity (access to the object) nad second, the offender’s safety.

The idea of situational crime prevention has many followers who stress the relative easiness of the application of the suggested methods and their efficiency. The opponents argue that,while it many perhaps contribute to preventing definite offences at a definite time and place, situational crime prevention does not actually prevent crime. What it leads to is displacement of crime. The offence is committed anyway but perhaps in another time or place, by other means, or against another target.

Despite all the reservations concerning displacement of crime, it msot be stated that situational crime prevention often proves effective; what is more, it requires neither prolonged programs nor entangled methods of manipulating society. Admittedly the offender is not reformed; yet a definite offence is not committed in a definite place, and the target remains safe. This makes situational prevention as important an element of crime prevention programs as the generally recognized social methods.


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