Contingency Makes or Breaks the Thief: Introducing the Perception Contingency Process Hypothesis
Crime Opportunity Theory is wrong in arguing that 'opportunity makes the thief", and that opportunity is " …the single most important cause of crime." This article proposes a more promising hypothesis for policing and crime reduction that is intended for testing in the field.
Mike Sutton is the author Nullius in Verba: Darwin's greatest secret the book that famously used big data analysis to prove that Darwin and Wallace committed the world's greatest science fraud.
Three essays on crime and so called criminal ‘opportunity’ are published on my website Dysology.org (Sutton 2011, 2012a). See: Opportunity Does Not Make the Thief (Sutton 2012) for an overview. In those essays, I explain in detail why, with one exceptional reinterpretation ( Farrell et al 1995), the Routine Activities Theory (RAT) notion of opportunity is a truism that has been overcomplicated and dressed up as a theory of crime causality. In those earlier essays logic is used to reveal that RAT ‘opportunity’ is no more than a very precise description of the data of any successfully completed crime in commission, which is something that can only be known after the event of its successful completion.
No data can explain itself. To explain data, a theory that is separate from that data is required. And yet RAT uses Felson's classic crime 'opportunity' triangle (which is no more than an elegant description of the data of a successfully completed crime) to propose that this mere description of the data of crime is a theory for how it causes itself. Weirdly, Crime Opportunity theorists refer to this impossible premise as a Crime Opportunity Theory.
The fact that the RAT notion of 'opportunity' (ratortunity) is based upon the irrational premise that every successfully completed crime caused itself to happen makes it completely wrong as an explanation for crime causality. And yet US and UK government crime reduction policy making and policing is based in no small part on this illogical premise.
In this fourth essay on crime and opportunity, I propose a new way of understanding crime opportunity that puts motivation at the centre of a process that is larger than the traditional focus upon the crime act. This new way of understanding crime opportunities might provide a potential route to a unified theory of crime. Firstly, however, I make the argument that the next task for criminology, if it is to move forward from mistaking simple truisms about the data of crimes as hypotheses and theories to explain that data, is to collect and examine many examples from case studies that represent disconfirming evidence for the usefulness of the RAT crime triangle. By doing this we can see exactly why it is not only logically wrong, but also the extent to which it has been seriously misleading criminologists and policy makers by claiming that the RAT notion of ‘opportunity’ is a cause of crime. To provide an example of how useful this approach might be, one specific example of disconfirming evidence for RAT opportunity is discussed next.
An untypical burglary dramatically reveals how offenders’ perceptions are part of a process that is contingent and equally applicable to the mundane reality of everyday crimes
Let us consider some rather unusual and dramatic crime evidence from Nottingham in the UK, which enables us to see in stark detail exactly why the RAT Crime Triangle cannot be used to explain what happened in one particular case. The particular example of disconfirming evidence that I am about to reveal gets the point across very dramatically. However, the same logic, which is briefly set out here and in more detail in a number of other essays (Sutton 2011, 2012, 2012a), shows that Crime Opportunity Theory is wrong for all crime. And that means it is equally wrong in terms of explaining the causes of commonplace and oftentimes more mundane crimes that Crime Opportunity theorists believe the RAT Crime Triangle and its associated theory are most suited to explaining.
The following news report is from the front page of the Nottingham Post (Howell 2012):
‘A Father who killed a burglar by attacking him with a meat cleaver was “justified”, a Notts coroner has ruled.
Steven Shaw and his brother Craig broke into a house in Morrell Bank on the Bestwood Estate in March 31 last year.
In a “harrowing and brutal” attack, which lasted between 10 and 15 minutes, they assaulted taxi driver Xiaopeng Wang and his wife, and also left the couple’s baby injured.
The violence only stopped when Mr Wang found a meat cleaver and hit Mr Shaw with it, causing a “sharp force trauma” to his head.
At Mr Shaw’s inquest yesterday, Notts Coroner Mairin Casey recorded a verdict of lawful killing and said: “The defensive action taken by Mr Wang was proportionate and justified.
“This was a harrowing and brutal experience for all of them, and I understand they are still traumatised.”
She also said that the attack was “random” – the Shaw brothers had never before met the Wangs – and that the motive for the break-in was a financial one.
The court heard that Steven Shaw, 32, originally from Cedar Road Forest Fields, punched Mrs Wang in the face and she was forced to watch as her husband was assaulted.
Toxicology reports found traces of cocaine and alcohol in Mr Shaw’s bloodstream.’
We can examine whether or not the Classic Rat Crime Triangle can help us to understand the ‘cause’ of this particular crime.
The triangle in Figure 1 depicts the RAT explanation for Opportunity Theory’s notion of opportunity as a cause of crime. According to RAT, crime is thought to be ‘caused’ by the coming together of (1) motivated ‘likely’ capable offenders, (2) a target that they deem suitable and (3) the absence of a capable guardian against them.
It seems reasonable that Nottinghamshire’s Steven Shaw and his Brother Craig Shaw, and their getaway driver Daniel Miller (See: Howell 2012, p.3) perceived the Wang family to be relatively incapable guardians of themselves and their home. Had the Shaw brothers and their accomplice managed to complete their crime successfully then the RAT crime triangle would have provided a post-event record of the essential data of the successful crime act in commission. However, since they were thwarted from completing the burglary to their planned script, their initial perception of the guardianship capabilities of Mr Wang proved wrong. And yet Mr Wang and his family were both criminally assaulted and burgled. So does the fact that they were incapable guardians, until the point at which meat cleaver was used in self-defence, explain why the Wang home was burgled and the family assaulted? Up until the point when Mr Wang used the meat cleaver to fight back, the Shaw brothers were the capable offenders and the Wangs were incapable guardians.
What if Mr Wang had chopped off the hand of the first of the Shaw brothers coming in through his window or door? Or what of the fact that Mr Wang was not standing outside his own home swinging a meat cleaver? Does his armed absence from the front of his house prove that the reason the house was burgled in the first place was because the Wangs were incapable guardians of the outside of their home?
What if Mr Wang had gone further and also killed Craig Shaw with a cleaver blow to the back of the head as he tried to leave the house? If that had occurred, it is quite likely that Mr Wang would have been found guilty of using inappropriate force. Could such a crime of manslaughter then be explained by the fact that the Shaw brothers were incapable guardians against the motivated and capable householder Mr Wang?
From this news story of a real, if somewhat unusually dramatic, burglary we can see that both the guardianship and offender capability elements of the crime triangle can be known only after the crime has been successfully completed. Therefore, the RAT Crime Triangle depicted in Figure 1 cannot logically be used to make the claim that this notion of ‘opportunity’ is a cause of crime. And yet that is exactly how Crime Opportunity theorists currently use it.
So what might be a better way of thinking about crime opportunities?
I propose that the best way forward for Crime Opportunity Theory is to consider criminal events as something much larger and detailed than the act with which the law concerns itself. Nottinghamshire's Shaw brothers and their getaway driver, like all offenders, were following a crime script that necessarily contains impromptu characteristics. The crime script for the burglary of the Wang’s home could be read from the moment they awoke to the death of Steven Shaw. Such crime scripts are a process involving a sequential chain of discrete actions informed by offender perceptions of target value and relative vulnerability. Each discrete action has an intended outcome but is always shadowed by possible unintended outcomes. We might call this the Perception Contingency Process (PCP). The following diagram provides a visual account of the PCP, which is a more veracious representation of the essential components of a real crime opportunity:
All Rights Reserved. Dr Mike Sutton. Dysology.org 2012Used only with express written permission
The Real Crime Opportunity
Figures 2 and 3 below are simple informatics that describe the proposed Perception Contingency Process from the point of view of a typical problem drug using burglar. Based on less dramatic events than those involved in the Shaw brothers burglary of the Wang's home, these more typical crime scripts are exemplars that depict the necessary objectives that thieves need to complete as part of a wider process surrounding typical domestic burglaries. The two figures reveal this wider process by showing that the thief’s concerns, and his need to 'safely' complete a series of objectives linked to those concerns, is something that begins before and extends beyond the precise act of burglary, or attempted burglary.
All Rights Reserved: Dr Mike SuttonUsed only with express written permission
All Rights Researved Dr Mike SuttonUsed only with express written permission
One of the reasons why the RAT crime triangle is so unsuitable as an explanation for crime is that it is essentially concerned with the same essential legal focus upon of the scene of the criminal act itself.
Alternatively, the informatics in Figures 2 and 3 provide just one generalized example from what is likely to be a more useful account of the larger number of alternative and ever-evolving scripts held by active prolific offenders. These two informatics are based upon over 100 in-depth qualitative interviews that I have conducted with prolific burglars and other thieves over the past 20 years. Consequently, in this essay they are merely a pastiche created to demonstrate what a typical burglary crime script tends to involve. Each of the 24 hexagons contained in Figures 2 and 3 represents an individual objective. Each objective, until it is successfully completed, is shadowed by unforeseen events (for example: such as householders unexpectedly wielding meat cleavers). If the problem drug using burglar depicted in Figures 2 and 3 is unable to complete any one of these 24 objectives then his main aim of taking drugs and avoiding detection that day is thwarted. For example, he may have to go out and steal before he can take his first drugs of the day because he was unable to keep enough stashed for the morning. Such a start to the day is very risky. To begin with, doing a burglary while 'clucking' - to use the street vernacular - is known to be extremely unpleasant for the offender. It is also high risk because less care is taken at such times of desperation. And selling stolen goods in such a state brings further risks to stolen goods dealers who should not be seen trading with obvious twitchy ‘smack-heads’. Other things can go wrong. For example, in the event of a householder returning home the burglar's lookout might flee the scene without raising the alarm. Or he might sneakily return to steal the stash of stolen goods for himself. The burglar may be arrested in possession of the stolen goods while transporting them to the point of sale. Or he may be stopped in his tracks by people to whom he owes money and lose his drugs money. Given that any number of things can go wrong in the course of the crime script, the PCP Crime Opportunity hypothesis, is that: contingency makes or breaks the thief. The crime reduction hypotheses that follows is that intervening in any one of a multitude of typical key offending objectives in order to load the dice against offenders might work to reduce crime rates.
It is proposed that crime scripts have key common features that enable us to generalize about individual offenders. However the number and type of objectives in crime scripts will vary between different types of offence as well as between different offenders committing the same type of offence. Different motives will have different objectives. And what happens in the course of a crime script will most certainly shape it. For example, if a burglary haul is not particularly lucrative then the problem drug using burglar will try to commit another burglary, or perhaps go shoplifting, in order to get enough money to the buy the drugs he wants to consume. Unlike Felson's RAT crime triangle, crime scripts are necessarily dynamic. And it is this dynamic property that provides potential for crime reduction through disruption of the PCP.
Crime scripts will usually overlap with those of other offenders. This is obvious in the following examples: the burglar and his lookout, the burglar and his fence, the fence and the final consumer, and the burglar and his drug dealer and the drug dealer and all his customers and co-offenders.
The PCP focus upon the offender's main aim seems compellingly sensible in the case of the problem drug using burglar. In other cases it may be less apt. For example, what of the wealthy gangster? What is his main aim for dealing in drugs? Is it to stay alive in his own neighbourhood? Is it to wield power and influence? Is it to bully others? Is it to attain further wealth? Are any of these inseparable from staying alive in his own neighbourhood given his history?
Motive is important, and there may be multiple motives, and seeking to better understand how motives match aims and objectives is where further research is needed. Meanwhile, each typical objective and possible contingency in the particular crime process we are interested in allows us greater potential to see that there are many possible areas where crime reduction and police work might aim to intervene to prevent an offender from achieving the main aim that motivates their offending.
Nothing is certain, nothing ‘known’ until the contingency is over
Crime as opportunity theory and Routine Activity Theory are wrong, because these theories are based on the premise that the characteristics of a criminal opportunity are certain. Yet only once a crime has been unsuccessfully attempted, or successfully completed, are its offender and guardianship characteristics certain. Only then does the opportunity relinquish all its uncertainty. Up until that point, offenders are rolling the dice. They might think those dice are loaded in their favour, sometimes they might think the opposite and still attempt the crime. But they never ‘know’ how the dice might bounce and land.
My Neighbour’s Garage: a specific and real-life example of disconfirming evidence for ratortunity as a cause of crime
In January 2012 my neighbour’s garage was broken into and two top-of-the-range bicycles were stolen with a total value of £6,000. The thieves gained entry through an up-and-over steel door that had a lock at the top and two deadlocks at the bottom. They drove a motor vehicle through the door so that it buckled the door sufficiently to gain entry. The break-in followed an episode where a team of convicted offenders had been on ‘community pay-back’ sweeping up leaves on our road, which is in a desirable leafy Nottingham suburb, and conservation area that is characterized by large Victorian and Edwardian houses. My neighbour said that at least two of the young men sweeping up leaves had made cat calls to her and shouted comments about her having a nice bike, while she was putting it into her garage. The break-in happened a week later. It may have been a coincidence, of course. But for the purposes of the forthcoming thought experiment, below, let us assume that it was one or more of these convicted offenders who stole the bikes.
The January break-in was the first time that any of our garages had been broken into in the 11 years that I have lived in my current home. That said, I did have a petrol hedge cutter stolen from my own garage one night when I forget to lock the door because I had returned home late from visiting my son's home many miles away and was rather tired.
Folowing the break-in, my neighbours had their garage door replaced within a brand new, stronger one set in a steel (rather than wooden frame). Last night it was broken into again using the same method as before, whereby a car was driven into the door to buckle it off the runners set in to the steel frame to gain entry. Only this time the garage had been completely empty.
A thought experiment
It intrigues me to imagine the two most prominent proponents of the ratortunity notion of crime causality, Professor Marcus Felson and Professor Ronald Clarke, walking past our garages every day for the past decade and remaking each day on passing that the reason they have not been broken into in an entire decade is because the level of guardianship (locks and steel doors) protecting the suitable targets inside has provided a level of guardianship that is greater than the abilities of offenders. Professor Clarke remarks to Felson: "Of course the fact that on the one occasion Sutton forgot to lock his own garage door resulted in him being victimized proves that opportunity makes the thief."
I imagine them then on the morning after that night in January. The two professors stop by the buckled steel door and remark now that the reason for the break-in is that the capabilities of offenders was greater than the level of guardianship, and that that was the most important cause of the theft. Felson and Clarke have no need to inquire about why offenders were so motivated that they resorted to using a car to ram-raid a domestic garage, because their infinitely variable explanation for crime is, being post-hoc and a truism, always right.
Then, between February and May the two eminent professors walk past my neighbour's new steel framed garage door each day and both are satisfied that the level of capable guardianship, increased as it is, proves their Crime Opportunity Theory, because the garage has not been broken into since the last time.
Continuing the thought experiment, I imagine now Clarke and Felson standing and looking at the newly buckled new garage door in this morning in June armed with the knowledge that this time nothing was stolen. This time there was not even a suitable target inside the garage to complete their RAT crime triangle. But in my thought experiment this presents no problem for our eminent professors: “You see,” says Professor Felson, “the door itself is the suitable target for the crimes of attempted theft and criminal damage. Our theory is irrefutable. Because the weaker door provides incapable guardianship when in the presence of the more capable offender who is armed with a motor vehicle. On this occasion our own RAT notion of opportunity is once again, as always, the cause of the crime. It matters not that nothing was actually stolen. because our explanation still works perfectly for the crime of a successfully completed attempted theft.
But the sensible, rational and useful lesson to be had from the saga of my neighbour’s garage is that Felson and Clarke's explanation for crime is next to useless because the offenders – even in the first break in - could not absolutely know in advance (a) that the door was incapable of resisting their ram-raiding or (b) that the garage actually contained the valuable bicycles they had spotted the week before, or anything else of value. In the second break-in (assuming they are indeed the same offenders as before) the offenders would have “hoped” that new bicycles (perhaps bought following a successful insurance claim) were in the garage - or else some other thing worth stealing would be found inside – but they could not have known that for sure – as is perfectly demonstrated by the fact that their hopes of finding new loot were as dashed-in as the door they ruined for no return. So ratortunity theory is not only a useless causal explanation for successfully completed thefts, it cannot even explain the causes of the consequential ludicrous notion of successfully completed failed attempts.
Repeat victimization: Proposing The PEC-TAP-PEC Hypothesis
The story, to date, of the repeat victimization of my neighbour’s garage proves that ratortunities do not exist in advance of the successful completion of a crime.
In terms of understanding something useful for repeat victimisation, now that we can demonstrate that ratortunity cannot be a cause of crime we can think clearly enough to hypothesise that the same offenders would not break into the garage a third time unless they once again actually saw that it contained something expensive. And we can hypothesise that those who broke into the garage on the second occasion perceived a reasonable likelihood that the garage would contain expensive bikes once again.
If, when my neighbour’s garage door is replaced for a second time, the garage remains empty (as I suspect it will because their bikes were in fact not insured when stolen and my neighbour's drive a company car, which they park on the road) and is then ram-raided a third time, that would provide disconfirming evidence for what we might here name the Perception, Expectation, Contingency, Target Actually Present, Perception, Expectation Chain Hypothesis (PEC-TAP-PEC) for repeat victimisation that: If potential thieves see (perceive) P that a premises contains a suitable target, they will break into it immediately, or else later when the target may not be actually visible from outside the premises but they have a reasonable expectation E that it is still there - whether actually it is or not is contingent C on the behavior of the property owners and their agents (and in some cases other thieves who may have got there first) - and that if the target T is actually A present P then a repeat break-in is then likely to follow due to the offender’s perceiving P another reasonable expectation E that the stolen items have been replaced. Only when the suitable target items are not replaced and offenders break-in for no other reward, are caught while trying, are imprisoned, go straight, are incapacitated, or unable to gain entry, will the particular repeat victimisation chain C cease – or be less likely to continue.
Considering this hypothesis, even if it is indeed supported by evidence, it may appear futile because one might conclude that the only policy recommendation that could possibly flow from it being confirmed would be that people should be advised to not replace stolen items - or else to secure their premises with exceptionally expensive, tough and cumbersome target hardening measures and other forms of guardianship that would thwart the most motivated and otherwise capable offenders. However, from the property owner's perspective, it shows that the chances of them being re-victimized - in terms of suffering both theft and property damage - would be less if they waited longer to replace items stolen earlier; and, moreover, if they were, anyway, by-chance re- burgled before previously stolen items, which they intended to replace promptly, were replaced. The telling question is this: So long as active offenders never again saw my neighbours storing any more expensive bicycles in their garage, would those bicycles be safer in the future than they would have been (had they been in the garage) the day before yesterday? And if the answer is yes, then that provides a clear research-informed policy recommendation to crack down on active offenders who are surfing areas for crime ‘opportunities’. And here by ‘opportunity’ I mean typical dictionary definitions of the word – not the irrational ratortunity notion. Moreover, there may be further findings from future research into how offenders perceive opportunities that would question the current practice of assigning convicted offenders on 'community pay-back' orders to residential areas, where they can legally loiter in order to better spy suitable targets.
Discussion, Conclusion and the Way Forward
Figure 4 below shows the key differences between the proposed PCP and current RAT based Crime Opportunity Theory. The essentially difference is that PCP reflects the reality of the uncertainty of crime, whereas Crime Opportunity Theory is currently based on the illogical and weird premise that successful criminal outcomes cause themselves to happen because they exist before the crime is completed and that offenders can perceive such certainties and so act upon them.
In the interests of absolute clarity, Figure 5 shows the essential similarities of agreed definitions between PCP and current Crime Opportunity Theory.
Because Crime Opportunity Theorists have typically sought to support rather than disprove their hypotheses, they have relied heavily upon unapt examples, such as gas suicides and motor cycle helmet legislation (Sutton 2012) to support their beliefs, whilst paying scant regard to the needs of sound scholarship with regard to purposely seeking out disconfirming evidence. For this reason it is important to seek to redress the balance. From that cause, and by way of example of what is needed, I provide two more real-life examples in this essay that show why opportunity is uncertain until after the crime is successfully committed. Both are taken from the same edition of the newspaper that reported on the Shaw brother’s aggravated burglary of the Home of the Wang family. Both show how, to varying extents, the offenders crime scripts did not go quite to plan when their perceptions of relatively incapable guardianship were controverted. Firstly, page 4 of the Nottingham Post, March 27th 2012 reports on another burglary involving a meat cleaver:
‘Police are appealing for information to help trace a knife-wielding burglar.The offender was with Jason Fisher, who was caught at a house in Ednaston Road, Dunkirk, just after midnight on Friday, February 24, carrying a meat cleaver.Students living in the house disarmed the 27 year old, sat him down in a corner and hemmed him in with chairs until police arrived.…A second offender, who was carrying a knife as the pair entered the house fled the scene and has not been traced.’
Secondly, page 7 reports on yet another burglary:
‘Two rings were stolen after a thief climbed through a into a house in Wollaton.The incident happened at around 8.20pm on Wednesday March 14. The suspect escaped with two rings when he was disturbed by residents.'
We need now to move forward by collecting and examining the properties of many more such case studies of disconfirming evidence for the RAT notion of crime opportunity that currently underpins all Crime Opportunity Theories. This exercise is important because the simple and compellingly attractive, yet completely illogical, notion of RAT ‘opportunity’ is currently central to much crime reduction policy making and policing.
Merely concerning ourselves with the properties of action that fulfils the legal criteria for different offences (as RAT ‘opportunity theory’ has done to date) hinders our understanding of all offences and how we might better seek to reduce them.
The current focus of Crime Opportunity Theory has been deliberately trained upon the crime scene. Consequently, there has been, to date, no adequate unification of the properties of the crime scene with the much wider ‘scene’ of necessary situationaly linked objectives that must be overcome by offenders seeking to achieve their crime motivating aims. This insufficiency is likely to be in no small part a consequence of opportunity theorists accepting the ‘lens of common concept’ (Elkins 1995) that is the law. Looking beyond the law of the immediate crime scene of current Opportunity Theory preoccupation, we can see that key offender objectives are proximal to it. And these objectives are likely to be close to one another and that crime scene in both time and geography. In terms of high volume crimes such as domestic burglary they are likely to be attempted within any 12 hour period of one another and that particular crime scene. Each key PCP objective is situated in a physical place and dependent upon ‘opportunities’ that are created, sought out or otherwise acted upon by strength of potential offender motivation, and they are all perceived and contingent upon the relative vulnerably of potential victims and actual relative capability or absence of policing and other ‘guardians’ of the law and potential offender controllers (for controllers see Felson and Boba's 2010 development of the notion of 'handlers').
In sum, offenders operate by means of crime scripts (Cornish 1994; Sutton 2010) that involve a process with an aim and a linked series of objectives involving actions, some intrinsically legal, some not. These scripts all begin before and continue after a particular crime act.
Opportunities for crime might be understood more accurately, therefore, if we focus our attention upon how offenders’ main daily aims are dependent upon their personal perceptions of a number of linked situations that are each, in turn, shadowed by contingencies. Here, there is likely to be new potential for crime reduction and policing to be informed by new empirical research to develop and experiment with new ways of reducing crime across the board by seeking to thwart individual criminal objectives in order to deny offenders their main aims – such as consuming illegal drugs – which motivate them to offend.
The ‘Opportunity’ Myth has had a significant impact on policing and crime reduction policy making. Because the RAT notion of crime 'opportunity' as a cause of crime is widely supported by both the British Home Office and the US Department of Justice (e.g. Parliament UK 2010; US Department of Justice 2012) . Such dominant support has undoubtedly focused policing and crime reduction attention upon crime scenes that are immediately related to the crime statistics that these governments are aiming to reduce. This has, inevitably and systematically, diverted policing attention from the wider and more complex offender objectives that are intrinsically involved in offending as a wider process (see: e.g Metropolitan Police 2012), leading them to completely limit their crime prevention advice to such unrealistic and neurotic extremes as telling people not to even leave a window open for a minute whenever they intend to leave their house. What kind of life is that to settle for? Surely we can do better? Surely we should all hope to be able to leave our windows open one day. Apparently not. Because such idealism is considered naive. Perhaps that is so because we have become like those apocryphal boiled frogs in that we have had our lives and ambitions and ideals incrementally poached by official neurosis without realizing what has been happening.
If we take domestic burglary as just one particular example of what this tight focus on the crime scene has led to, we can see that the current focus has inevitably resulted in an official preoccupation with household security improvements at burglary scenes. Hence, there has been a policing and government good practice preoccupation with crime hot spot analysis, locks and bolts, alarms, property marking, forensic investigation, repeat victimisation and the establishment of neighbourhood watch programmes in areas with high rates of burglary. The problem with this is that the recommended solutions are, necessarily, limited. For example, security improvements are often dependent upon (1) the ability of potential victims to pay for them, and (2) security as an idea about what to do about crime does not really offer the public very much that is new that they are not already aware of. After all, locks and bolts and alarms of various types have been around for thousands of years. These devices were not invented by academic criminologists, governments or police services. So nothing intrinsically new and necessarily more effective in the long term is on offer here.
We know that after decades-long evolutionary arms races between technology and offending techniques that involve target hardening things like parked cars and banks and bank vaults and security vans that superior technology does eventually significantly reduce robbery and theft of certain targets. The problem with domestic burglary, however, is that ordinary people are not dwelling in banks, cars or security vans. If people are to enjoy some semblance of a normal existence they will often need to leave their homes unoccupied, their windows open, alarms off, doors and windows unlocked and valuable goods within plain sight of windows. To live without fearful obsession, people need to limit the amount of time they spend each day securing and capably guarding their possessions against the possibility of theft. Moreover, neighbourhood watch has never been even remotely proven to be effective at reducing crime; although administrative criminologist sometimes tie themselves up in knots trying their very hardest to explain how it might work if only it did (e.g. Laycock 2001) and neither has any kind of property marking ever been proven to reduce theft (Sutton 2010). And yet it is a favorite police tactic oftentimes sold by ex police officers to senior police officers who then retire and go on to work for the same property marking firm from whom they previously ordered vast amounts of ineffective property marking equipment, so that they are well placed to sell more of it.
Ultimately, what I am proposing in this essay is that we need to think outside the crime scene box, as well as within it, in the same way that offenders think and organise their wider offending. Counterintuitively, therefore, we should pay much greater attention to the interconnected objectives and main aims of offenders that reside outside of the actual criminal acts we are trying to reduce. Modus operandi should be considered as a mode of operating as a criminal - not simply as the specific method used to commit a particular crime act.
The lens of common concept that has focused the attention of administrative criminologists and others working in the area of Crime Opportunity Theory so closely upon the crime scene is one possible explanation for why a widely believed braced myth took hold from a UK Home Office publication regarding foot patrol beat policing. However, foot patrol beat policing that is focused upon offenders' main aims and linked objectives, as well as just crime scenes, might prove to be effective at reducing crime.
One of the major criticisms of Crime Opportunity Theory, particularly its RAT and Situational Crime Prevention elements (e.g. Haywood 2007), is that it takes offender motivation and wider cultural issues for granted. PCP, however, takes motive into account and sees it as central to opportunity as a contingent process.
The reasoning that underpins the proposed PEC-TAP-PEC hypothesis for repeat victimization, if confirmed by research with victims and offenders, could be used to make a strong case that beat policing should not merely be judged on the likelihood of officers arresting burglars in the act. Rather, beat policing would be more reasonably judged upon the likelihood of officers deterring offenders who are intent on spying crime opportunities. Moreover, it would support the need for officers to more actively monitor the daily behavior of suspected prolific offenders, and make the case for relatively less resources to be channeled into stand-alone target hardening policies. In the final analysis, the PCP provides a potential means to examine, explain and better understand crime opportunities in a way that might allow critical criminologists, 'administrative criminologists' and 'crime scientists' to work toward a unified opportunity theory of crime causation and reduction.
Elkins, D. (1995) Beyond Sovereignty. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.
Farrell, G. Phillips. C. and Pease, K. (1995) Like Taking Candy: Why Does Repeat Victimization Occur? British Journal of Criminology. Vol. 35. Summer. pp. 384-399
Felson, M. and Boba, R. (2010). Crime and Everyday Life. London. Sage.Hayward, K. ( 2007 ) Situational Crime Prevention and its Discontents: Rational Choice Theory versus the ‘Culture of Now’ Social Policy and Administration. Vol 4. No. 3. 232-250
Howell, D. (2012) Killing Thief With Cleaver Was Lawful: Coroner’s verdict after dad fought raiders in his home. Nottingham Post. p.1 (and p.3). Tuesday March 27. See: http://www.thisisnottingham.co.uk/Bestwood-father-killed-burglar-justified-coroner/story-15634898-detail/story.html
Laycock, G (2001) Research for Police: Who Needs It? US Department of Justice. http://www.leoprd.org/reading/police%20research.pdf
Metropolitan Police (2012): Home Security: Burglary prevention. Mayor’s office for Policing and Crime: http://www.met.police.uk/crimeprevention/burglary.htm
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Sutton, M. (2010) Stolen Goods Markets. Problem Oriented Policing Guide No. 57. U.S.A. Department of Justice COPS Programme. (Peer reviewed international policing guide. http://www.popcenter.org/problems/stolen_goods/
US Department of Justice (2012) Crime Analysis for Problem Solvers in 60 Small Steps: Know that Opportunity Makes the Thief (2012):: Office of Community Oriented Policing Services. Cops Programme, Centre for Problem Oriented Policing. http://www.popcenter.org/learning/60steps/index.cfm?stepNum=
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