Over the past 50 years it’s probably fair to say that a great deal of the sociology of crime and deviance in both America and, to a lesser extent, the UK, has been orientated towards situational crime prevention techniques and strategies in terms of both practical strategies and theoretical explanations (such as Routine Activities Theory).

Part of the reason for this preoccupation with both building better – and trying to strengthen existing – mouse-traps is that there’s quite a bit of evidence to demonstrate the efficacy of various crime prevention strategies in reducing crime. Painter and Farringdon’s Stoke-on-Trent Street Lighting study, for example, is a case in point if you want to illustrate this idea.

However – and you probably knew there would be a but – when you’re looking at situational crime prevention in a-level sociology it’s always useful to have something up your sleeve for evaluation purposes and, in this instance, there are a couple of different types of “Yes, but…” evaluation you might want to consider.

T6: Types of Crime Displacement

The first focuses on six practical criticisms of SCP put-forward by Reppetto (1976) and Barr and Pease (1990) that describe various ways crime may be displaced by crime prevention techniques; that is, although a crime may be “prevented” it’s possible the offence is simply committed elsewhere, at a different time or by different people. In other words, while SCP strategies may give the appearance of “preventing crime” they may not be successful in every instance.

An obvious example here might be the presence of a burglar alarm on a property. This may deter an offender but if they simply move to burgle another, unprotected, property in the next street has a crime actually been prevented?

If you want to display the 6 types to your class I’ve put them into a simple Crime Displacement PowerPoint Presentation that should do the job adequately. If you’re not a PowerPoint Person the 6 types of crime displacement are:

1. Temporal: The crime is committed at a different time.

2. Tactical: The crime is committed using a different method.

3. Target: The crime is committed against a different target.

4. Territorial: The crime is committed in a different area.

5. Type (or Functional): A different type of crime is committed.

6. Transgressors (or Perpetrator Displacement): Prevented crimes are committed by different offenders.

While the types are, I trust, fairly self-explanatory you might want to think about examples you could use to illustrate each type (or maybe suggest one example if needed and ask your students to think of others). A relatively simple example of Territorial crime displacement, for example, might be something like prostitution or drug-dealing.

Designing-in Crime?

The second is a highly-theoretical (and probably not something you should ask most a-level students to approach lightly) argument advanced by Thomas Raymen (“Designing-in Crime by Designing-Out the Social? Situational crime Prevention and the Intensification of Harmful Subjectivities”: British Journal of Criminology, 56, 2016) based around Hall and Winlow’s “Ultra-Realist” criminology.

In a very simplified nutshell Raymen’s argument is that the various techniques and strategies advanced by situational crime prevention (SCP) proponents have increasingly and perhaps inexorably led to the creation of “post-social individualistic environments”.

SCP operates by creating spaces – both public and private – that are characterised by external rules and surveillance systems (such as CCTV) that reflect a “capsular civilisation” – “an atomized society of individuals who have retreated into a vast array of private capsules – both physically real and symbolic”.

Social order, in this situation, is created and maintained inorganically; rather than developing and growing organically through normalised forms of social interaction between motivated subjects (people) it is increasingly a system of imposed rules; people and places are “protected” not merely from the threat of crime but also from the threat of meaningful social interaction that, in the normal course of events, leads to people liking and trusting each other in ways that make crime unthinkable (in a similar way, for example, that most people don’t steal from their friends).

Urban spaces, for example, are reconstructed as asocial spaces that exist primarily for the benefit of corporate owners, who use them to sell different consumption practices (whether it be alcohol or high-street fashion) and who are willing and able to protect them only insofar as this conforms to their corporate needs (profits) and identities (creating spaces where people can peacefully consume).

The ultimate extension of SCP, in this respect, is the creation of “non-spaces” – environments that
“actively discourage pro-social public engagement” because they are designed to “move the individual on to the next individualistic consumer activity” in a safe, secure and non-threatening way that, somewhat ironically perhaps, removes all sense of human emotion from the equation.

I did say it was “difficult” (even though I haven’t touched on the half of it…) but if you want to get a sense of the argument it might be helpful to think about a social space such as DisneyLand and how it’s designed to be a perfectly safe corporate environment that exists to protect the individual in order to allow them to consume whatever it is Disney is selling (see Shearing and Stenning (1997) if you want a very readable explanation of this process).

Share your thoughts on this post: