Tuesday, October 06, 2020

Situational Crime Prevention and Security Awareness (Cybersecurity Awareness Month, Day 6)

Based on Cornish, D. B. and Clarke, R. V. (2003) ‘Opportunities, precipitators and criminal decisions: A reply to Wortley’s critique of situational crime prevention’, in Smith, M. and Cornish, D. B. (eds) Theory for Situational Crime Prevention, Crime Prevention Studies, Vol. 16, Criminal Justice Press, Monsey, New York.

On day six of Cybersecurity Awareness Month we're going to take a closer look at something that helps explain the origins and goals of security awareness programs: situational crime prevention (SCP). This is a perspective on crime that seeks to explain and reduce criminal activity by examining the circumstances in which it occurs, then curtail the opportunities for crime to recur (Clarke and Mayhew, 1994). 

Security awareness plays a significant role in the first of the five crime prevention strategies that evolve under SCP: increase the effort and the risks, reduce the rewards and provocations, and remove excuses (Cornish and Clarke, 2003).

For example, the SCP approach to crime reduction includes encouraging us not to park our cars on the street outside where we live, because that is an opportunity for car theft. Parking your car in a garage reduces that opportunity, although it's not option that is available to all car owners. Another example comes from studies that found placing gates across residential alleyways in English cities significantly reduced the opportunities for, and occurrence of, domestic burglary (Bowers, Johnson and Hirschfield, 2005). 

[Note: this article, which is posted in two parts—of which this is the first—draws heavily on an essay that I wrote as part of my master's in security and risk management. The second part of the article is here. You can see that left the academic references in the text and I have provided the source list at the bottom of the post. Also note the spelling is a mix of American English and English English, and both parts of the article are long, but hopefully you will find them worth reading.] 

The origins of Situational Crime Prevention

With its focus on reducing the opportunity for crime, situational crime prevention encourages “awareness” programs that urge the public to adopt crime-reducing tactics such “leaving outdoor lights on, putting indoor lights on timers, asking neighbors to watch your house, watching the neighborhood, reporting suspicious activity, and forming community groups to prevent crime” (Wikipedia).

The logic behind SCP can appear compelling; however, ever since it emerged from research on crime in the 1970s, objections have been raised on both practical and theoretical grounds. A notable and persistent charge levelled against SCP is that it fails to address the root causes of crime. This article examines this charge while considering the potential for SCP to reduce cybercrime. 

First, I will review the evolution of SCP, including objections raised by its detractors and defenses offered by its supporters. Then I will explore the implications for SCP of the current digital crime wave.

Rate of property crimes in the US, per 100,000 people, 1960 to 1980s
Rate of property crimes in the US,
per 100,000 people, 1960 to 1980s
As you can see from this chart based on FBI reports, a very different crime wave was occurring in the 1960s in America. A similar phenomenon was occurring in Britain: rising rates of burglary, robbery, vehicle theft, and all manner of violent crime (Home Office, 2010; Farrell, Tseloni, Mailley and Tilley, 2011). These trends caused many policymakers to question approaches to crime that had been shaped by efforts to understand criminals and the conditions in which they lived (Clarke, 1980, 1997a, 2012; Hayward, 2007). As Jeffrey (1977, 9) declaimed: ‘Deterrence and punishment are failures; treatment and rehabilitation are failures; the criminal justice system is a failure from police courts to corrections’.

In fact, the phrase “Nothing Works” began to appear in criminal justice debates after American sociologist Robert Martinson published a bleak assessment of programs intended to rehabilitate criminals in the 1950s and 1960s: ‘our present strategies … cannot overcome, or even appreciably reduce, the powerful tendencies of offenders to continue in criminal behavior’ (1974: 49 as cited in Sarre, 2001). The phrase embodied frustration with the perceived impotence of the dispositional approach to understanding why criminals offend. 

This frustration was compounded by failed attempts to reduce delinquency through welfare programs. Although Martinson recanted his “Nothing Works” assessment in 1979 (Sarre, 2001), some crime researchers were already shifting their focus from the character of criminals to the nature of the criminal act, inspired in part by an assumption that in any given situation the commission of a crime is essentially the result of a calculated decision about whether or not to offend. 

While not a new perspective – Beccaria (2008 originally 1765) had articulated a similar view of crime in the eighteenth century – the idea that offending is based on balancing ‘rational incentives and deterrence’ was given new weight by Wilson’s Thinking About Crime (1983). Analyzing the situations in which the rational decision to proceed with a crime occurs frequently was a logical next step. Manipulating those situations to reduce the frequency of crimes became the goal of SCP, which identified location, opportunity, and reasoned choices as the key elements of criminal activity. 

However, with the benefit of hindsight, I will argue that the manner in which SCP blended these elements to focus on preventing physical crimes— committed in physical spaces—obscured important implications of its theoretical underpinnings. 

The rise of Situational Crime Prevention

The importance of studying the locations in which crimes occur, carried out with a view to preventing crime through manipulation of the physical environment, was articulated by American criminologist C. Ray Jeffrey in the 1971 and 1977 editions of his book Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (1977). Reflecting the shift in emphasis away from understanding why people offend, Jeffrey (1977) argued that studying the area in which an offense occurred was at least as important as analysing the area in which the offender lived. The significance of the physical locations in which crimes occur was also highlighted by the work of architect and city planner Oscar Newman who introduced ‘defensible space theory’ (Newman, 1972 as cited in Reynald and Elffers, 2009). The concepts of crime “hot spots” and the ‘criminality of place’ added weight to the argument that factors other than the disposition of the offender were giving rise to criminal activity (Brantingham and Brantingham, 1995: 1). 

The connection between the physical location of crime and the choice to offend had been made in one of the founding documents of SCP: Crime as Opportunity (Mayhew, P.M., Clarke, R. V. G., Sturman A. and Hough, J.M., 1976 as cited in Clarke, 2012). Later publications would refine this view of crime (Felson and Clarke, 1998) by incorporating further developments in criminological thinking such as the drive to ‘evaluate the structure of direct-contact predatory violations’ (Felson and Cohen, 1980: 392). A critical observation made by Felson and Cohen was that social, economic, and technological factors drive increases in the opportunities for crime; they listed as examples: ‘married women in the labor force, persons living alone, and lightweight durable goods’ (1980, 1). From their analysis Felson and Cohen derived routine activity theory; this states that crimes occur when there is ‘convergence in space and time of offenders, of suitable targets, and the absence of effective guardians’ (1980, 1). For Clarke (1997b) and others this triangle of elements neatly defined criminal opportunity; adjustments to one or more elements had the potential to prevent crimes from occurring. A table of SCP strategies to make those adjustments was put forth to offer practical guidance, eventually evolving from the 12 original strategies to 16 and then 25 (Department of Criminology, 2014).

The eagerness to put SCP into practice and achieve documented reductions in crime may account for the lack of the attention paid to the warning sounded by Felson and Cohen in the conclusion to their 1980 promulgation of routine activity theory. After stating that ‘opportunity for predatory crime appears to be enmeshed in the opportunity structure for legitimate activities,’ they went on to warn that this could be true to such a degree that: ‘it might be very difficult to root out substantial amounts of crime without modifying much of our way of life’ (1980: 404). The notion that major and potentially unachievable modifications to a society’s way of life would be required to substantially reduce crime is a criticism that proponents of SCP have levelled against “root cause” approaches to crime prevention (Clarke, 1983). I will address issue in the context of cybercrime in the second part of this article.

When SCP was first proposed as a new way to reduce crime, many criminologists were skeptical. The last line of the first review of Crime as Opportunity reads: ‘It is a touching, if unworldly idea – like playing with one's toes. But it won’t catch on.’ (Beeson, 1976: 20 as cited in Clarke, 2012). Despite this reaction, SCP began to exercise considerable influence over official crime policy, notably in the U.K. In 1984 the Home Office declared that the best way forward for crime prevention, at least for the short-term, was ‘to reduce through management, design or changes in the environment the opportunities that exist for crime to occur’ (Home Office, 1984 as cited in Gilling and Barton, 1997: 67). 

Even with this endorsement, proponents of SCP continued to feel both defensive and combative, but over time they were able to point to a growing number of programs in different communities that had achieved reductions in specific crimes through targeted opportunity reduction strategies (Clarke, 1983, 1997a; Guerette and Bowers, 2009). Nevertheless, many criminologists continued to voice scepticism, notably on the problem summed up in the title of one research paper: 'Does crime just move around the corner?’ (Weisburd, D., Wyckoff, L.A. and Ready, J., 2006). If criminals do make rational choices, then a possible response to an opportunity reduction programme in one place is to commit other crimes elsewhere. This is the phenomenon of crime displacement, known as spatial displacement if crime just moves around the corner; however, four additional displacement possibilities were identified early on by Reppetto: changing timing, choosing alternative targets, applying different tactics, and trying a different type of crime (Reppetto, 1976 as cited in Gabor, 1990). 

As government funding for SCP schemes became available, targeted crime prevention studies began to demonstrate the effectiveness of opportunity reduction. While studying the data for signs of displacement, researchers were able to document another phenomenon: diffusion of benefits, the ‘unexpected reduction of crimes not directly targeted by the preventive action’ (Clarke and Weisburd, 1994: 1). Two reviews of SCP programs argued that displacement was minimal and diffusion of benefits considerable, at times outweighing the negative effects of displacement (Weisburd et al., 2006; Guerette and Bowers, 2009). This view of SCP came to be widely accepted in some circles; however, a more recent secondary analysis of the literature has found that ‘the orthodox view of crime displacement and diffusion of benefits is overall, based on a questionable weighting of the evidence’ (Philips, 2011: 26). 

Unfortunately, all of these studies were hampered by the focus of SCP on physical situations and thus proximal crimes. The possibility that a robber who was thwarted by increased police patrols in his neighbourhood might turn his hand to credit card fraud or selling bootlegged movies does not seem to have been considered. As robberies and motor vehicle thefts began to decline on a national scale, arguably as a result of opportunity reduction schemes, scant thought seems to have been accorded to that fifth form of displacement: trying a different type of crime, possibly something less physical. For example, by the late 1990s the Internet was providing many opportunities to sell counterfeit goods without leaving the house, a form of cybercrime that has plagued online shoppers, and the makers of the genuine articles, since the opening of eBay in 1995 (Computer Reseller News UK, 1997).

I will return to cybercrime after addressing another important criticism of SCP: potentially negative aesthetic and social impacts. For example, if you put bars on the windows of homes in a neighbourhood to discourage burglary you could affect the way residents perceive that neighbourhood. Does the area now look more “risky”? Will that increase fear of crime (FOC)? It will, according to Whattam who concluded that: ‘the presence of SCP/security measures … is shown to contribute to heightening levels of fear amongst members of the public’ (2011: 36).

Space does not permit a review of the deleterious effects of fear of crime on quality of life; however, the term “fortress society” seems an appropriate phrase to characterize this and related problems that SCP might cause if opportunity reduction is not balanced with awareness of its unintended effects (Wortley, 1996). Decisions about excluding from certain areas or activities persons who fit a certain profile of perceived security risk can lead to unwarranted discrimination and a sense of inequality, as can the erection of walls and gates around entire neighbourhoods, so-called gated communities (Garland, 2004).

Clarke (2005) has argued that gated communities are not an issue for SCP. He has also defended SCP against other objections, such as the claim that SCP does not address the root causes of crime (2005). Unfortunately, proponents of SCP have mounted two different and inherently opposing defences against this charge. First, it was claimed that ignoring root causes was a virtue because it enabled practical attempts to prevent crime through opportunity reduction to move forward unencumbered by larger issues. According to Clarke (1992: 3 as cited in Wortley, 1996) SCP ‘relies... not upon improving society or its institutions, but simply upon reducing opportunities for crime’. Newman and Clarke (2003, 10) characterize the relationship between SCP and the causes of crime like this: ‘the big sociological why, the why of “the causes of crime”, is not addressed’. 

Nevertheless, Felson and Clarke (1998) did claim that opportunity was a major cause of crime, although they stopped short of saying it was a root cause. Striking a middle ground, Pease and Farrell (2014: 67) assert that SCP is not a root cause of crime, but a ‘compost cause’, noting ‘composts are quicker and easier to manipulate’ just as ‘situations are easier to shape than people’. 

My opinion is that while SCP does not address the root causes of crime, that fact alone does not undermine the practical value and versatility of SCP, which has been variously described as: ‘the science of reducing opportunities for crime’ (Clarke and Eck, 2003: 93); ‘a form of risk management’ (O’Malley, 1992: 262 as cited in Hughes: 1998); ‘a highly effective means of crime control’ (Clarke, 2012: p.7); and ‘a viable strategy for reducing the occurrence of crimes’ (Tonry and Farrington, 1995: 8). 

So, I think SCP still has a serious role to play in crime reduction as well as security and risk management, but I question whether it can fully address the phenomenon of changes in society that produce new opportunities for crime, potentially at a faster rate than those opportunities can be reduced. That's what I will be talking about in the second part of this article.  

References from my essay on situational crime prevention

Ablon, L., Liibicki, M. C. and Golay, A. A. (2014) Markets for Cybercrime Tools and Stolen Data: Hackers’ Bazaar, Santa Monica, CA, RAND Corporation.

Anderson, A., Barton, C., Bohme, R., Clayton, R., van Eeten, M. J. G., Levi, M., Moore, M. and Savage, S. (2010) ‘Measuring the cost of cybercrime’ in 11th Workshop on the Economics of Information Security (WEIS), Article 10, Berlin, Germany, June. Retreived on 23/10/14 from http://weis2012.econinfosec.org/papers/Anderson_WEIS2012.pdf.

Audit Commission (1994) Opportunity makes a thief: an analysis of computer abuse. London: HMSO.

Beccaria, C., marchese di, Thomas, A.A., Voltaire and Parzen, J. (2008) On crimes and punishments and other writings. Buffalo; Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Bowers, Kate J; Johnson, Shane D (2005) ‘Domestic Burglary Repeats and Space-Time Clusters The Dimensions of Risk’, European Journal of Criminology’ 2,1,67-92.

Bradbury, D. (2013) 'The problem with Bitcoin', Computer Fraud & Security, 2013 (11): 5.

Brantingham, P. J. and Brantingham, P. L. ‘Criminality of place’, European Journal on Criminal Policy and Research 3.3 (1995): 5-26.

Brenner, S. W. (2007) ‘Cybercrime: rethinking crime control strategies’ in Jewkes, Y. Crime Online, Portland, Oregon, Willan Publishing.12-28.

Clarke, R.V. (1983) 'Situational Crime Prevention: Its Theoretical Basis and Practical Scope', Crime and Justice, 4: 225-256.

Clarke, R. (1997a) Situational Crime Prevention: Successful Case Studies, New York: Harrow and Heston.

Clarke, R. V. (1997b). The theory of crime prevention through environmental design: School of Criminal Justice, Rutgers University.

Clarke, R. V. (2005) ‘Seven Misconceptions of Situational Crime Prevention’, in Tilley, N. Handbook of Crime Prevention and Community Safety, Willan: Collumpton: 39-70.

Clarke, R.V. (2012) ‘Opportunity makes the thief. Really? And so what?’ Crime Science 1:3. 

Clarke, R. V. G. (1980) '"Situational" Crime Prevention: Theory and Practice', British Journal of Criminology, Delinquency and Deviant Social Behaviour, 20 (2): 136.

Clarke, R. V., and Eck, J. (2003) Becoming a Problem Solving Crime Analyst, London: Jill Dando Institute of Crime Science, University College London.

Clarke, R.V. and P. Mayhew (1994) Parking patterns and car theft risks; policy relevant findings from the British crime survey’ in R.V. Clarke Ced.], Crime Prevention Studies, Vol. 3, 91-107. 

Clarke, R.V. and D. Weisburd (1994) "Diffusion of Crime Control Benefits: Observations on the Reverse of Displacement." In R.V. Clarke (ed.), Crime Prevention Studies, Vol. 2, 165-182.

Cobb, S. (1995) NCSA Guide to PC and LAN Security, New York, McGraw-Hill.

Computer Reseller News UK (1997) ‘VARs can make pirates walk the plank’, 29th January.

Cornish, D. B. and Clarke, R. V. (2003) ‘Opportunities, precipitators and criminal decisions: A reply to Wortley’s critique of situational crime prevention’, in Smith, M. and Cornish, D. B. (eds) Theory for Situational Crime Prevention, Crime Prevention Studies, Vol. 16, Criminal Justice Press, Monsey, New York.

Department of Criminology (2014) Theories of Crime Module, Leicester: Department of Criminology, University of Leicester.

Farrell, G., Tseloni, A., Mailley, J. and Tilley, N. (2011) ‘The Crime Drop and the Security Hypothesis’, Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency 48(2): 147-175).

Felson, M., & Clarke, R.V. (1995) Routine precautions, criminology, and crime prevention. in Hugh Barlow (ed.), Crime and Public Policy: Putting Theory to Work. Boulder: Westview. pp 179-190

Felson M, and Clarke R. V. (1998) Opportunity Makes the Thief: Practical Theory for Crime
Prevention. Police Research Series, Paper 98. Home Office, London.

Felson, M. and Cohen, L.E. (1980) ‘Human Ecology and Crime: A Routine Activity Approach‘ Human Ecology, Vol. 8, No. 4, 389-406.

Garland, D. (2004) 'Beyond the culture of control', Critical Review of International Social and Political Philosophy, 7 (2): 160-189.

Gill, M.L. (2014) The handbook of security, New York, NY; Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan.

Gilling, D. and Barton, A. (1997) ‘Crime prevention and community safety’ Critical Social Policy 52 Vol 17 63-83.

Guerette, R.T. and Bowers, K.J. (2009) 'Assessing the extent of crime displacement and diffusion of benefits: a review of situational crime prevention evaluations', Criminology, 47 (4): 1331.

Hayward, K. (2007) 'Situational Crime Prevention and its Discontents: Rational Choice Theory versus the “Culture of Now”’, Social Policy & Administration, 41 (3): 232-250. 

Hobbes' Internet Timeline 11

Home Office (2010) Recorded Crime Statistics 1898 - 2001/02, spreadsheet retrieved 25/11/14.

Holt, T.J. and Smirnova, O. (2010) Examining the Structure , Organization, and Processes of the International Market for Stolen Data https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/grants/245375.pdf

Hughes, G. (1998) Understanding Crime Prevention, Open University Press.

Jeffrey, C. R. (1977) Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design, London, Sage.

Institute of Charted Accountants (2014)

Kigerl, A. (2012) Routine Activity Theory and the Determinance of High Cybercrime Countries, Social Science Computer Review, 30 (4) 470-486  

Koops, B. (2011) The Internet and its Opportunities for Cybercrime, Tilburg Law School Legal Studies Research Paper Series, No. 9/2011.

Krebs, B. (2014a) ‘The Target Breach, By the Numbers’, Krebs On Security, at  http://krebsonsecurity.com/2014/05/the-target-breach-by-the-numbers

Krebs, B. (2014b) Spam Nation: the inside story of organized cybercrime, Naperville, IL, Sourcebooks.

Kumar, K. (2014) ‘Target Data Breach: One Year Later’, Star Tribune, November 23, 2014: 1a.

Newman, G.R. and Clarke, R.V.G. (2003) Superhighway robbery: preventing e-commerce crime, Cullompton: Willan.

Pease, K. and Farrell, G. (2014) 'What Have Criminologists Done for US Lately', in M.L. Gill (ed) The Handbook of Security, (Second) New York, Palgrave Macmillan.

Phillips, C. (2011) ‘Situational crime prevention and crime displacement:
myths and miracles?’ Internet Journal of Criminology, www.internetjournalofcriminology.com.

Reynald, D.M. and Elffers, H. (2009) 'The Future of Newman's Defensible Space Theory: Linking Defensible Space and the Routine Activities of Place', European Journal of Criminology, 6 (1): 25-46.

Sarre, R. (2001) 'Beyond 'What Works?' A 25-year Jubilee Retrospective of Robert Martin sonss Famous Article', Australian & New Zealand Journal of Criminology, 34 (1): 38-46.

Tonry, M. and Farrington, D.P. (1995) ‘Strategic Approaches to Crime Prevention’ Crime and Justice, Vol. 19, Building a Safer Society: Strategic Approaches to Crime Prevention, pp. 1-20: The University of Chicago Press.

Wall, D. S. (2008) ‘Cybercrime and the Culture of Fear: Social Science Fiction(s) and the Production of Knowledge about Cybercrime (Revised Feb. 2011)’ Information, Communication & Society, Vol. 11, No. 6, pp. 861-884.

Weisburd, D., Wyckoff, L.A. and Ready, J. (2006) 'Does crime just move around the corner? A controlled study of spatial displacement and diffusion of crime control benefits', Criminology, 44 (3): 549-591.

Whattam, S. (2011) ‘Situational crime prevention: modern society’s “Trojan horse”?’ Internet Journal of Criminology, www.internetjournalofcriminology.com.

Wilson, J. Q. (1983) Thinking About Crime. Rev. ed. New York: Basic Books.

Wortley, R. (1996). Guilt, shame and situational crime prevention in R. Homel (ed) The Politics and Practice of Situational Crime Prevention. Crime Prevention Studies, 5 (115-132).

Note: feel free to use the illustration at the top of article which I drew based on Cornish, D. B. and Clarke, R. V. (2003) ‘Opportunities, precipitators and criminal decisions: A reply to Wortley’s critique of situational crime prevention’, in Smith, M. and Cornish, D. B. (eds) Theory for Situational Crime Prevention, Crime Prevention Studies, Vol. 16, Criminal Justice Press, Monsey, New York.

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