Assessing Sociological Views on Crime Reduction Strategies: Situational Crime Prevention and Rational Choice Theory

Category: Crime, Criminology, Morality
Last Updated: 31 Mar 2023
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Using material from item A and elsewhere, assess sociological views of crime reduction strategies. (21 marks). There are numerous different types of strategies for crime reduction. These include crime prevention tactics which are suitable for whole societies, and also forms of punishment which are suitable for individuals. Crime prevention strategies include situational crime prevention, environmental crime prevention, and social and community crime prevention. Ron Clark describes situational crime prevention as ‘a pre-emptive approach that relies, not on improving society or its institutions, but simple on reducing opportunities for crime’.

He identifies three features of measures aimed at situational crime prevention, firstly that they are directed at specific crimes, that they involve managing or altering the immediate environment of the crime and lastly that they aim at increasing the effort and risks of committing crime and reducing the rewards. For example, ‘target hardening’ measures such as increased surveillance in shops via CCTV or security guards increases the effort a shoplifter needs to make. Underlying situation crime prevention approaches is an rational choice theory.

This is the view that criminals act rationally, weighing up the costs and benefits of a crime opportunity before deciding whether to commit it. This contrasts with theories that stress ‘root causes’ such as capitalist exploitation. Clarke argues that most theories offer no realistic solutions to crime. The most obvious things to do, he argues, is to focus on the immediate crime situation, since this is where possibility for prevention is greatest. Most crime is opportunistic, so we need to reduce the opportunities.

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One criticism of situation crime prevention measures is that they do not reduce crime, they simply displace it. For example, Chaiken et al found that a crackdown on subway robberies in New York merely displaced them to the streets above. Although displacement can be in several forms, spatial, temporal, target, tactical and functional. However other than the criticism of displacement, situation crime prevention methods are also criticised as it tends to focus on opportunistic petty street crimes. It ignores white collar, corporate and state crime, which are costly and harmful.

Environmental crime prevention is based on the phase of ‘broken windows’, Wilson and Kelling use this point to stand for all the various signs of disorder and lack of concern for others that are found in some neighbourhoods. They argue that leaving broken windows unrepaired sends out a signal that no one cares. In these neighbourhoods, there is an absence of both formal social control and informal control. The police are only concerned with serious crime and turn a blind eye to petty nuisance behaviour, while respectable members of the community feel intimidated and powerless. Without curative action, the problem deteriorates.

As item A shows this causes families and respectable people to move out and the area becomes a magnet for deviants. Wilson and Kelling’s key idea is that disorder and the absence of controls leads to crime. Their solution is to crack down on any disorder using a twofold strategy. First an environmental improvement strategy that any broken window must be repaired immediately, otherwise more will follow and the neighbourhood will be on the slide. Secondly the police must adopt a zero tolerance policing strategy. Instead of merely reacting to crime, the must proactively tackle even the slightest sign of disorder, even if it is not criminal.

This would halt neighbourhood decline and prevent serious crime taking root. Great success has been claimed for zero tolerance policing, especially in New York. Programs that were set up to tackle subway graffiti, fare dodging, drug dealing and begging proved successful, from this in New York there was a significant fall in crime. However, it is not clear how far zero tolerance was the cause of the improvements, as the NYPD previously benefited from 7000 extra officers as well as there was also a general decline in the crime rate in major US cities at the time, including ones where police did not adopt a zero tolerance policy.

Nonetheless, zero tolerance has been very influential globally, including the UK, where it has influenced New Labour’s anti-social behaviour policies. In contrast to Wilson and Kelling’s approach, social and community prevention strategies place the emphasis firmly on the potential offender and their social context. The aim of these strategies is to remove the conditions that predispose individuals to crime in the first place. These are longer-term strategies, since they attempt to tackle the root causes of offending, rather than simply removing opportunities for crime.

Because the causes of crime are often rotted in social conditions such as poverty, more general social reform programmes addressing these issues may have a crime prevention role, even if this is not their main focus. All three approaches discussed above take for granted the nature and definition of crime. They generally focus on fairly low-level and/or interpersonal crimes of violence. This disregards the crimes of the powerful and environmental crimes. The definition of the ‘crime problem’ reflects the priorities of politicians and agencies tasked with crime prevention.

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Assessing Sociological Views on Crime Reduction Strategies: Situational Crime Prevention and Rational Choice Theory. (2017, Jan 18). Retrieved from

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