Criminology | Section 7.3


Fundamentals of Criminology

Adam J. McKee, Ph.D.

Scott D. Bransford, Ph.D.


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Felson’s Chemistry of Crime

The whole is more than the mere sum of its parts—the chemistry bit is an example of how two things can mix to create a third that is very different from the component parts—in this case, crime.

Criminal acts usually have three elements:

  1. A likely offender
  2. A suitable target
  3. The absence of a capable guardian against the offense

The Likely Offender

Anybody—remember our discussion of the continuum between non-criminal dispositions and criminal dispositions.  Statistically, the most likely offender is a young make who gets into many accidents, does poorly in school, and loses jobs—certain characteristics of people make them more disposed toward crime.

The Capable Guardian

It is the absence of the guardian that counts.  Don’t mistake a guardian for a police officer or security guard—the most important guardians are ordinary citizens going about their daily routines.  The best and most important guardian of your home and property is you!

Even strangers are guardians by merely being nearby.  All that is need is a reminder that someone is looking.

Other Important Elements of Crime

  1. Any props that help produce or prevent crime, including weapons or tools
  2. Any camouflage that helps the offender avoid unwanted notice
  3. Any audience the offender wants either to impress or to intimidate

The Ideal Target:  Personal property, with the absence of a guardian with camouflage.  Ex.  Big house on heavily wooded lot, long winding driveway, owner is on vacation.

Predatory Crime

The offender is usually oriented toward his or her self, and the victim is rarely a concern.

Most predatory crime—both personal and property related—requires close physical contact with the predator.  This physical contact requirement—despite new technologies—still makes setting an extremely important aspect of crime.

Felson’s Predatory Sequence

  1. A likely offender enters a setting.
  2. A suitable Target enters, too.
  3. A guardian leaves.
  4. An offender attacks the target.

Crime Attractors

Some settings draw offenders more than others.  In these cases, the first and second step is usually reversed:

Most fights emerge for quarrels in which neither party is fully innocent.  The escalation sequence:  One party receives an insult from another.  He responds to the insult and escalates the confrontation.  That answer evokes a similar escalation.  Someone throws the first punch.

Audiences enhance the embarrassment of being insulted and compel a response.  If someone in the audience acts as peacemaker, the fight can often be averted.  Someone in the audience acting as a provoker can make things worse.

Illegal Markets

Which markets are illegal varies from country to country—even from state to state!  But they have a common pattern: the buyer and seller are cooperating Both the buyer and the seller need each other, and neither wants to get caught.

Markets for goods:  These are for selling drugs, contraband and stolen goods.  Illegal markets also include legal items sold illegally—beer bought from a store by a minor.

Markets for services:  Illegal markets may link buyer and seller of prostitution, illegal sex shows, or even contract killing.  Less sinister examples exist: paying for services in cash often gets you a discount.

Markets for persons:  Most commonly persons—illegal immigrants—moved across borders.  Also includes more sinister things such as women sold into prostitution.

Settings for Illegal Markets

Drug dealers need a good location where people who want drugs can find them—the edge of parks and liquor stores are common.  Small houses and apartments are also common—they soon become known as the place to get drugs.

Place Managers

Homeowners and long-term renters

Building superintendents, doormen, receptionists

Bartenders, managers, owners

Small business owners and store managers

Street vendors

Security guards

All of these people have a stake in protecting a place.  Of course, they cannot watch everything everywhere.

Natural Surveillance:  Ordinary citizens going about their daily lives but providing, by their mere presence, some degree of security.

Modification History

File Created:  08/04/2018

Last Modified:  08/13/2018

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This work is licensed under an Open Educational Resource-Quality Master Source (OER-QMS) License.

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