In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Situational Crime Prevention

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Journals and Reference Resources
  • Theoretical Underpinnings and Compatible Perspectives
  • Initial Areas of Application
  • Expanded Application of the Approach
  • Analyzing Crime Patterns
  • Classifications of Situational Responses
  • Targeting and Implementing Responses
  • Evaluation and Assessment
  • Consequences
  • Expecting and Detecting Displacement and Diffusion of Benefits
  • Criticisms and Responses

Criminology Situational Crime Prevention
Martha J. Smith
  • LAST REVIEWED: 30 November 2016
  • LAST MODIFIED: 14 April 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396607-0040


Situational crime prevention (SCP) seeks to reduce the number of crime events by focusing on limiting the opportunities for crime to occur. The approach typically uses an action-research model and assumes that offenders make decisions that are broadly rational. It is generally designed so that individual offenders do not have to be identified for the measures to be successful. It draws theoretical support from a number of frameworks that developed independently in the 1970s and 1980s, but which share a focus on the importance of analyzing either crime events themselves or the environments in which these events take place. Measures for blocking crime opportunities are classified according to how they tend to affect potential offenders. Currently, twenty-five categories of techniques have been identified, encompassing five main means by which they operate—increasing effort, increasing risk, reducing reward, reducing provocation, and removing excuses. While SCP can be carried out by anyone, the focus has been on developing measures that can be implemented widely by policing and other governmental and nongovernmental agencies, businesses and manufacturers, and others who control activities in particular environments such as public transport systems. Evaluations of measures have often been designed to look for both crime displacement and diffusion of benefits. Because the approach does not seek to change the long-term motivation of particular offenders, the possibility exists that crime will be displaced to other potential victims or targets, places, times, or types of crime, or that other methods will be used. Likewise, the measures may extend their benefits to nontargeted victims, places, times, methods, or crimes. SCP has been criticized on ethical and political grounds, in terms of its efficacy and the quality of its methodology, and as a move away from policies that have the achievement of social justice as a core goal.

General Overviews

There are several general overviews of situational crime prevention (SCP) by Ron Clarke that have been published over three decades. To understand the development in this area, Clarke 1980 and Clarke 1995 are essential works. Clarke 2009 provides an updated, concise, and easy-to-understand perspective on the SCP approach, with examples of the key concepts, including a discussion of adaptation, which is not considered another form of displacement. Lab 2010 and Tilley 2009 have easily accessible summaries of SCP that appear as part of general overviews or presentations of crime prevention, the former focusing on the United States and the latter focusing on the United Kingdom. Pease 1994 and Brantingham and Brantingham 1990 summarize the SCP perspective while also presenting examples of its relevance, allowing the modern reader to gain historical insights into its development and the state of crime prevention in the United Kingdom and Canada at the times they were written. Brantingham and Faust 1976, a seminal work applying the disease-prevention approach of public health to crime prevention, and Laycock 2005, an explanation of crime science, provide differing frameworks for viewing SCP within the broader context of crime prevention.

  • Brantingham, Patricia L., and Paul J. Brantingham. 1990. Situational crime prevention in practice. Canadian Journal of Criminology 32:17–40.

    This work presents the SCP approach and applies it to the Canadian context of crime prevention by providing examples of its use in ongoing business enterprises and in the planning stages of new public and private building projects.

  • Brantingham, Paul J., and Frederic L. Faust. 1976. A conceptual model of crime prevention. Crime and Delinquency 22:284–296.

    DOI: 10.1177/001112877602200302

    This groundbreaking work uses the public-health model of disease prevention to explain three different approaches to the prevention of crime, primary, secondary, and tertiary crime prevention.

  • Clarke, R. V. G. 1980. “Situational” crime prevention: Theory and practice. British Journal of Criminology 20:136–147.

    This widely disseminated article presents discussions of the term “situational crime prevention” and sets out the arguments in support of that approach that are still relevant to SCP today.

  • Clarke, Ronald V. 1995. Situational crime prevention. In Building a safer society: Strategic approaches to crime prevention. Edited by Michael Tonry and David P. Farrington, 91–150. Crime and Justice 19. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press.

    This essay presents a comprehensive description of the situational approach to crime prevention, including a number of theories that focus on the importance of crime opportunities in producing crime events; a method for analyzing problems, identifying solutions, and evaluating results; and a set of techniques shown to be successful in reducing crime.

  • Clarke, Ronald V. 2009. Situational crime prevention: Theoretical background and current practice. In Handbook of crime and deviance. Edited by Marvin D. Krohn, Alan J. Lizotte, and Gina Penly Hall, 259–276. New York: Springer.

    DOI: 10.1007/978-1-4419-0245-0

    This work summarizes the approach of SCP in general, including a discussion of adaptation, and sets out some of the factors recognized as inadvertently creating crime opportunities, such as criminogenic products, poor management, badly designed buildings and places, “leaky” systems, and criminogenic laws.

  • Lab, Steven P. 2010. Crime prevention: Approaches, practices and evaluations. 7th ed. Albany, NY: LexisNexis Anderson.

    Primarily an undergraduate text on crime prevention, this publication provides a chapter explaining situational crime prevention, its theoretical underpinnings, history, and examples of its use.

  • Laycock, Gloria. 2005. Defining crime science. In Crime science: New approaches to preventing and detecting crime. Edited by Melissa J. Smith and Nick Tilley, 3–24. Cullompton, UK: Willan.

    This article sets out the definition of a new paradigm called “crime science,” which includes SCP and crime detection, has a wide multidisciplinary methodological and knowledge base, and incorporates the standards and values of the natural sciences as a key component.

  • Pease, Ken. 1994. Crime prevention. In The Oxford handbook of criminology. Edited by Mike Maguire, Rod Morgan, and Robert Reiner, 659–703. Oxford: Clarendon.

    Looking at SCP and other forms of crime prevention as primary, secondary, or tertiary prevention, this work examines the theoretical underpinnings and the background and development of the situational approach, contrasts it with contemporaneous perspectives, and examines its future in the context of Britain in the 1990s.

  • Tilley, Nick. 2009. Crime prevention. Cullompton, UK: Willan.

    This accessible text on crime prevention has detailed, up-to-date chapters on situational measures and mechanisms, implementation, and evaluation that could provide an overview for university students, particularly in the United Kingdom, as well as those new to the field.

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