Criminology | Section 7.5

Fundamentals of Criminology by Adam J. McKee

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Crime and Place

Crime feeds off the physical form of local life, whether it be a village, town, city, suburb, or university campus.  Everyday life sets the state for people to break laws and hurt each other.

Felson’s History of Everyday Life

The physical characteristics of the places in which we live are largely determined by our methods of transportation.  The various stages in this history help us understand the growth of crime and the forms it takes.

The Village:  During this period, most people traveled on foot and their daily range of activity was less than four miles.  Most villages had less than 250 people.  Strangers were instantly recognized for what they were Property was hand-made and easy to identify.  Local crime was rare; but villages suffered from bandits and highway robbers.

The Town:  When horses were domesticated, people could travel about 8 miles per day Local populations could exceed 10,000.  Most townspeople would know each other by name and have a friend in common Local crime was limited, but horses made speedy raids possible Horses and wagons became targets of crime Overall, town life was secure.

The Convergent City:  After ship technology advanced, trade centers began to grow very large.  Docks and warehouses spawned a crime wave This was a beginning—Rail travel soon fed more people, making even larger cities possible Steam power concentrated workforces The convergent city brought strangers into contact, with a greater risk of property and violent crime.

The Divergent Metropolis:  Automobiles allowed people to travel everywhere.  No longer limited by train tracks, they filled the areas in between. The ability to supervise space declined Cars themselves created new crime opportunities.

The convergent city provided crime opportunities, but also sources of control.  Crowds and pedestrians provided natural surveillance.  Street vendors became place managers.  Mass transit also provided natural surveillance to help protect travelers—even if the vast numbers of strangers made them feel uncomfortable.  Space could be designed to minimize crime—everything was centralized.

Crowds in the convergent city made certain crimes more common: Pickpocketing, grab and run attacks on merchants.  Crowds also helped offenders by giving them a quick way to escape—blending into the crowds.  While mass transit was relatively safe, areas around stations were not always so—there were places nearby where stragglers could be found. Such a city also afforded a setting for public drinking—the risk of fights was high—provided opportunity for the mismanagement of public places—parks and street corners could harbor crime.

The Urban Village

Jane Jacobs theory—old urban neighborhoods are actually good places to live Neighborhoods built for pedestrians—not vehicles—were conducive to low crime. These villages had relatively stable residency and middle-aged persons—not punk kids—controlled urban spaces. People knew each other and couldn’t get away with much. Residential Stability has been shown to dramatically lower crime victimization.

Three Inventions that Changed Everyday Life

Henry Ford.  The assembly line automobile; provided transport to the masses.  Mass produced suburban housing.  Dwight D. Eisenhower’s interstate highway system.

Dangers of the Metropolis

Things spread out, got closer to the ground, and there were fewer people watching any given space. Parking lots became the norm and crime became easy.  Those with money moved out to the suburbs, and the tax base of the inner city was decimated.

Population Density and Crime

Conventional wisdom tells us that the higher an area’s population, the more likely you are to find crime there: Crime rates will be higher in big cities than in rural areas.  This is not so.  Different density areas have different types of crime; this is because certain elements of places are conducive to certain types of crimes.

Correlation with population density

Crimes higher in rural areas:

  • Household larceny: -.77
  • Burglary: -.64
  • Larceny without contact: -.64
  • Rape: -.48
  • Aggravated assault: -.44
  • Simple Assault: -.41

Crimes higher in Urban areas:

  • Motor Vehicle Theft: +.19
  • Robbery with injury: +.43
  • Robbery without injury: + .52
  • Larceny with contact: +.57

High population densities tend to reduce residential burglaries.  Burglars have favorite ways to enter homes: back doors and windows are chosen 2/3 of the time.  Single unit dwellings are the easiest to break into—the most common type of housing in rural areas.  Apartments with no exterior entrances are the hardest to break into—the most common type of housing in urban areas.

Auto thefts are more common in urban area.  Since fewer people own cars per capita in large cities, it seems that vehicle theft would be less.  The problem is that urbanites park their vehicles in riskier places.  Parking in public lots for shopping puts you at 190 times more risk of having your car stolen than it would be at home in your garage.

In a modern society, population density shifts very quickly from one spot to another.  An office area packed with people on weekdays is abandoned later in the evening and on weekends.  A shopping area largely empty during school hours is dominated by teens after school, and then changes again when adults get home from work.  As these populations shift, so do crimes.

With population density shifts come crime opportunities.  All crime is local.  The physical and social components of crime are fluid in the course of a day, week, and a month, posing quite a challenge to the crime analyst.

Within any given metropolitan area, denser city center areas tend to have more crime, especially violence, than the suburban rings around them.  Yet its youths are no more likely to report committing offenses.  Theory:  The central city helps some offenders to start at younger ages, stay more years in active offending, and get deeper into trouble.  A subset of youths do most of the damage.

How can society concentrate crime opportunities to maximize misbehavior?  Sociologists Shaw and McKay observed “delinquency areas.”  In these areas were abandoned buildings, declining industries, the out-migration of the upwardly mobile, and an influx of new groups.

On the “other side of the tracks” there are few homeowners or long-time residents to watch over people, places, or things.  Apartment buildings cannot afford doormen.  Public housing areas are often poorly managed.  Parks and recreational areas have no supervisions.

Mixing residence with industry generally makes it more difficult to keep young people away from delinquency.  Abandoned industrial sites are ideally suited for crime to occur.  Prostitutes use these sites, along with drug dealers.  Boys hang out, get drunk, and fight there.  These areas also provide escape routes for offenders.

Skidders are people who go downhill in life, perhaps due to drugs or alcohol, and mental illness.  They contribute to high crime rates by providing local offenders with excellent crime targets.

Poverty, Crime, and Markets

Poor people have poor credit.  This means that they carry more cash relative to their income than middle-class people do.  Poor people spend far less of their income on investments and heavy durable goods—things that are hard to steal.  Lightweight electronic goods are often the best luxuries.

Low-income people are not especially criminally inclined.  As previously discussed, the features of everyday life are critical—nowhere is this more evident than their interest in second-class goods.

Sutton’s (1998) work found that those in low-income areas were about as likely as anybody else to turn down offers of stolen goods.  However, they were offered stolen goods much more frequently.  Respondents were divided into six areas by socioeconomic status; those living in the upper-class area were offered stolen goods only 7% of the time.  Those in the lowest area were offered stolen goods 17% of the time.  In the upper-class area, only 9% thought that their neighbors had stolen goods in their homes.  38% of the poorest group believed that.

It is unfair to interpret these findings to mean that poor people are more inclined to crime.  It is more appropriate to interpret it as meaning that they favor secondary merchandise for economic reasons.

Poverty areas have more outlets for second-class goods.  Second class goods provide more chances to unload stolen goods.  Stores that sell used appliances, pawn shops, sidewalk merchants, and signs that say “discounts” “seconds” “reductions” “liquidations” are indicators.

As a result of these types of outlets, items that would have been passed over in the suburbs by thieves are stolen in poor areas.  These outlets for stolen goods provide a means of camouflaging these goods among other items.  As a practical matter, it doesn’t really matter who knows the goods are stolen.

Even if some middle-class people would like the savings of buying second-class goods with their low markup, secondary stores cannot easily afford to move into higher rent districts.

Low rent areas provide inexpensive storefronts for these types of businesses.

Explains how fencing opportunities can bring more than property crime to low-income urban areas:

The poverty areas provide customers and outlets for second-class goods

That encourages property offenders to be active in the area

Proceeds from these property offenses assist drug purchases and drug sales there

More serious offenses follow and proliferate in the poverty area, derived from the stolen goods market.

Felson’s conclusions:  Markets for stolen goods enhance the crime problem in low-income areas.  The middle class unknowingly contributes to lower crime rates by buying upscale products at upscale stores, eliminating the second-class goods market.

Juvenile Delinquency

For most of recorded history, children have been seen to become adults shortly after puberty.  In the US today, however, we view teenagers, even college students, as pre-adult.  Our society has created a fundamental mismatch between adult abilities and adult designations.  This undermines their position within the society, and inhibits society’s ability to keep them out of trouble.

Puberty causes dramatic changes in a person: increases in interest in sex, stamina, visual acuity, and a rapid acceleration in growth.  Adolescents are ideally suited to physical activity.  Young people spent most of human history well suited to traditional roles, most involving strenuous physical labor.

Past economic functions of youth:  In the 18th Century–

There was little or no schooling.

School ended by 12 for most so that children could get to work.

People married young most females by 16 and males by 18.

Families soon followed.

Bio-social changes in adolescence:  In the 20th century, puberty most commonly began around age 12—much younger than in times past.  This change in the onset of puberty has profound implications for both the productive and the reproductive roles of teenagers, because work roles shifted in exactly the opposite direction.

Modern times have seen tremendous occupational specialization.  Most jobs done by a single person in the past are now done by various specialists.  Specialized jobs for a complex workplace require more years of schooling and experience.

Lacking a suitable economic function, the young must live for the future, studying, working part-time, and responding to sexual urges on an ad hoc basis.  With physical adulthood at 12 or 13 and full adults roles at 22 or later, the young have to fill the many years in between.

The transition toward greater crime and delinquency was somewhat delayed in the 1950s.  Even though younger puberty and later adult roles were well on their way, most mothers with young children were not working full time.

When school was over, teenagers were subject to some supervision because mothers were still present in the neighborhood.  That left a short window of opportunity for getting into trouble.

From the 1960’s onward, the life of teenagers was transformed, and crime opportunities with it.  In particular, the shift of women into the labor force left residential areas largely unsupervised during afternoons.  Even of one teenager’s mother was around, mothers of friends would be away for the day.

That opened up a large opportunity for teenagers to do whatever they wanted.


The school is the heart of the adolescent weekday circulatory system.  Schools pump adolescents into society around 3:00 PM, then pulls them back the next morning.

Between 3:00 P.M. and 3:59 P.M., five times as much violent delinquency is reported as between 1:00 PM and 1:59 PM.  The data also show a noteworthy increase from 2:00 to 2:59, perhaps reflecting early releases, perhaps indicating that some youths left early on their own authority.

From 4:00 P.M. to 6:00 P.M. in the afternoon, there is still plenty of trouble but it declines as the evening proceeds and goes down to its lowest points after midnight. Teenage evening curfews are not likely to have much impact on crime and delinquency, most of which occurs before curfew hours anyway.

School Location also influences crime rates.  City blocks containing secondary schools have higher crime rates.  The routes kids take to and from school are also important:  If those routes pass by good crime opportunities, crime results.

Schools and businesses don’t mix.  Placing a high school and a shopping mall side by side proves a nightmare for both.  The merchants feel the students make a mess, steal from the stores, and spend too little money, and drive out paying customers.  The Educator knows it’s hard to learn algebra at the mall.

As much as we complain about schools and discuss the problems within, much more trouble occurs outside their span of control and after school is over.  Some have argued against keeping teenagers in school against their will to provide a better learning environment for those who want to learn.

Felson disagrees with this logic.

Felson believes that it is best to keep kids in school, even if they don’t want to be there, because it offers relatively fewer

  • Valuable crime targets
  • Chances for arguments to escalate
  • Partying opportunities
  • Conflicts with other citizens

When schooling is required, any youth away from school on a school day will draw suspicion.  Of course, localities with staggered school hours assist with local truancy and delinquency—students always have a good reason not to be in school: “I’m off today.”

Felson warns that we shouldn’t be taken by terrible incidents, such as school shootings.  The vast majority of school-related crime consists of small thefts and truancy.  The risk of violence per hour spent inside during school hours is quite small, and the aggression that does occur is usually quite minor and self-contained.

As you can see from the hours that schools let out, most of the risk that young people will commit crime occurs then—especially when young people are on the way home and not under adult supervision.  This evidence flies in the face of most of the publicity about violence inside the school during school hours.

Secondary schools exceeding 1000 students generate 60% to 70% higher crime rates than schools with 500 students or less (Remember that rates are per capita, not absolute numbers).  With larger numbers, students are less likely to know one another and administrators less able to tell who belongs there.

School size undermines adult control of the premises in another interesting way:

Suppose that 1% of students are the most difficult to control.

In a school of 600, there are only 6 problem students.

In a school of 3000, there are 30—these 30 together can bully the rest.

When it comes to crime, the critical issue is school size, not classroom size.

Small schools also engage a higher percentage of students in extra-curricular activities, even if large schools have more offerings.  Small schools obtain significantly higher levels of student participation.

The reason is that their limited teams, clubs, and classes are short of participants and need to recruit those of average talent to join.

Parents are easily impressed by spacious grounds.  But trees and greenery do not make adolescents good.  Research has demonstrated that they instead contribute to higher school crime rates.  Trees provide good cover for sneaking away or getting high.

Parents seem to like a campus design and dislike the old red brick schools of the past.  But the older, single building schools offered more security.  Students compacted into a single building of three stories, situated on a small cement lot, were under much greater adult control.  Bullies had a hard time taking over, and the relatively few halls and stairways were easy to watch.

Americans in the 20th century enhanced school crime inside and out by giving up small schools.  That served to reduce participation in school activities, make school social functions too large and risky, and undermined adult supervision, resulting in few educational gains for more students.

Place Design and Crime

The physical layout of a place can have a dramatic effect on crime.  In general, the more inviting a place is, the less crime it will have.  Conversely, the more “fortress-like” a place is, the more crime problems it is likely to have.

Some people think that the problems we face in public housing projects are due to the way they are managed by the government.  Felson argues that it’s not the way the government treats people, but whether the places are designed such that people can control their own environment informally.

Crime prevention through environmental design (CPTED) does not involve better locks or more security guards.  It works by redesigning public spaces to control how people used those public spaces.

Oscar Newman explained that local space can be divided into four categories:  Private, semiprivate, semipublic, and public.  Newman’s prescription was to move as much space as possible to the private end of the scale to increase security and prevent crime.

In pure public areas, surveillance of any type was difficult and crime risk would be greatest.

Favor low-rise to high-rise buildings. Symbolic Division of Space—not a physical barrier (such as low fences and hedges) but clearly defining what is private space.

Newman’s critics:  Newman’s ideas were sometimes too general—

Some critics have pointed out that that high-rise buildings for elderly populations and others having no children tend to be more safe and secure than low-rise buildings.  Research has shown that natural surveillance by strangers is not as effective as Newman had hoped.  This area has grown much since Newman’s book was published.

Environmental Criminology

The study of how crimes occur in everyday life and how to prevent it.  This concept combines CPTED and other practical ideas into a single perspective Of importance are the ideas of nodes, paths, edges as well as insiders and outsiders.

“the Geography of Crime” deals with how crime is distributed over space

Many police departments are deeply involved in mapping crimes throughout their jurisdictions.

By learning how crime maps into the world, criminologists have done a better job of suggesting how to design more secure environments.

How do participants in crime move through space and time in the course of a single day?  Answering these questions can help us explain how crime occurs and what to do about it.

By studying exact times and locations of serial offenses, police can apply environmental criminology to figure out where an offender probably works, lives, and has his recreation.  This info aids in figuring out the identity of the offender and making an arrest.

Increasingly, problem-oriented policing is finding common ground with environmental criminology.

Example: fast food restaurants that cater to youths have a big impact on local crime rates.

Crowe and Zahm state three design approaches to reducing crime:

  • Control natural access
  • Provide natural surveillance
  • Foster territorial behavior

Controlling natural access does not require huge locks or walls.  It includes hedges, shrubs, gates, doors, and plans for walkways—things that encourage people to go where they will do no harm and receive no harm.

The three design approaches can use three basic strategies:

  1. Natural Strategies: security results from the design and layout of space. Both human and capital costs are low.
  2. Organized Strategies: Security guards or police play the central role.  These strategies are labor intensive and expensive.
  3. Mechanical Strategies: Alarms, cameras, and other hardware are employed to control access and provide surveillance.  This may require additional employees to watch monitors or respond to alarms.

Equipment may be expensive (good at least).

Clearly, natural strategies are superior in economic terms.  They also avoid confrontation because they prevent crime from happening in the first place.  It is a mistake to think of CPTED in purely spatial terms: Time plays an important role.  Scheduling and coordinating activities can play an important role in reducing crime.

Some places and activities are conducive to crime.  If we put unsafe activities in high-risk places, bad things are likely to happen.  The Crowe-Zahm Mixing Principle: Place safe activities in unsafe locations and unsafe activities in safe locations.

Physical Aspects

Crime can be prevented by at least four physical methods: target hardening, construction, strength in numbers, and noise.

Target Hardening:  Making things tougher to commit crimes against.  Example: Bolting down computers.

Construction:  Walls, fences, other physical barriers, Paths that channel people into common areas that are easier to watch.

Strength in numbers:  Important for helping people to protect themselves and their property.  Example: rec room next to lobby doors so there was constant surveillance.

Noise:  Noise draws attention.  A good lock on your door is important not so much for preventing illegal entry, as for making sure the offender makes enough noise to draw the attention of others.  Alarm systems operate on the same principle.

Design against Crime

Sight Lines:  Those who work with designing out crime pay a good deal of attention to sight lines—visual lines from a potential crime target or entry point to potential guardians.  Good sight lines generally thwart criminal activity if someone is around to discourage it.  But sight is not the only issue.

Paths:  Paths for entry and exists can also influence how potential offenders and victims calculate their chances.  Routes and their enclosures influence the offender’s ability to get to a victim, or the victim’s ability to evade an offender.  The challenge is to design clear sight without much danger of illicit entry and exit.  Nowhere is this more relevant than in housing.

One of the best applications for designing out crime is housing—middle class as well as poor.  Designs favorable to burglary in middle- and upper-class areas are the same as in low-income areas.

Vulnerabilities in housing are different for different kinds of crimes and offenders.  For example, offenders on foot behave differently than those in automobiles.  Very different measures are needed to fight theft, criminal damage, and violence.  Measures are different inside of houses and out as well as inside cars and out.

Locality Design

Poyner and Webb offer suggestions for the entire locality:

  • Minimize through traffic on residential streets
  • Put dead ends in distinct pedestrian paths
  • Orient fronts of houses toward points of entry
  • Keep any park areas outside the housing area

Pedestrian paths are common in public housing projects.  These paths are often used by offenders to find their targets and then to exit with the loot.  When pedestrian paths are constructed without a through rout—meeting a dead end within the residential area—they no longer encourage crime.

The best designs keep pedestrians walking on sidewalks in the front of houses and beside streets, with each household opening onto the street.  Public housing complexes that have followed these rules have had relatively few crime problems.  Public housing with internal through paths and apartments opening onto a central area have far more difficulty with crime.

Parks inside housing areas look very good in architects’ models before a place is built.  The challenge to those who love parks is clear: Find a way to design and locate park areas so they do not become easy routes for illegal entry or ideal for illicit takeover.

People have never found a better urban orientation than square or rectangular houses lined up on a street and opening to the front.

In general, through streets with lots of traffic generate a good deal of crime risk, but many existing environments already have through streets.  Sometimes they can be closed off to reduce crime.

Experience has shown that closing off vehicular traffic without interfering with foot traffic can reduce crime dramatically.

Significant Management:  Despite a very bad image, public housing varies greatly in crime risk.  An active place manager, such as an apartment manager, is essential.  Even a door attendant or janitor can significantly improve the crime risk in an area.

Convenience Stores:  Don’t let display advertising cover the windows and protect robbers from being seen from the street.  Move cash registers to the front of the store, where they are visible from the street.  Put cash registers and clerks on raised platforms, taking the cash drawer out of the offender’s line of vision and making clerks more imposing. Install timed-access drop safes beneath each register, dropping no more than $10 in change every 2 minutes.  Redesign store properties to eliminate all alley exits, channeling everyone through the front. Encourage taxis to use the premises as a nighttime station, giving drivers free coffee and restroom privileges.  Train employees to make eye contact with each customer as they enter.  Most of these tactics produce some sort of natural social control.

Situational Crime Prevention

This classic text formed the basis of what is known as situational crime prevention—inexpensive ways to reduce crime by removing the opportunity to carry it out.  1.  Design safe settings—Includes the many methods presented in the previous chapter on CPTED and Environmental Criminology.  2.  Organize effective procedures—includes planning and carrying out the best management principles.  3.  Develop secure products—making cars, radios, and other products harder to steal or abuse.

Situational Crime Prevention and Criminology

Professor Felson relates Situational Crime Prevention to science by stating the following six points:

  1. Do not worry about academic theories—just go out and gather facts about crime from nature (science has to gather facts and learn from them)
  2. Focus on very specific slices of crime—generic categories of crime—like vandalism—are far too broad.
  3. Do not try to improve human character. You are certain to fail.
  4. Try to block crime in practical, natural, and simple ways, at a low social and economic cost.
  5. Do small scale experiments, looking for natural environments to study each slice of the crime puzzle.
  6. Use very simple statistics and charts that let you see each comparison quite directly.

Violent Crime

It is easy to think that situational prevention applies only to property crime.  We have to recognize that violence is goal oriented and responds to cues from physical settings.  Remember that all this is based on the offender’s viewpoint.  It doesn’t matter what a person ought to have thought, or whether his actions are immoral or illegal.

British soccer fans had a pattern of getting drunk and fighting at games.  They would arrive hours before the game, get drunk, and beat up fans of the visiting team.  Most did not own cars—they took busses to the games.  Police saw to it that the busses got to the games just in time to buy tickets before it got started—with a positive reduction in violence.

Most American sports venues sell only soft drinks and beer—the hard stuff is only available in corporate boxes.  They try to keep people from bringing in bottles—this, besides selling more beer, prevents people from getting too drunk.

By collecting samples of different glass types and smashing them, researchers found how nasty of a weapon each could produce.  Tankards are more difficult to smash and that tempered beer glasses break into a pile of relatively harmless chunks.  Using safer bar glasses is an example of what Clarke calls “controlling crime facilitators.”  By paying close attention to what tools or weapons facilitate crime, we acquire more tools for preventing crime.

Routine Activities Theory

All this time, we’ve been working toward a single theory of crime based on 3 principles:

  1. The offender seeks to gain quick pleasure and avoid immediate pain
  2. The routine activities of everyday life set the state for these illegal choices
  3. Inventions, by altering daily routines, force crime to change.

The previous material has presented these ideas—or isolated portions of them—from many perspectives.  In the end, they all lead to the same conclusion: crime is a tangible activity depending on other activities in everyday life.

The most relevant actors are often found in roles seldom associated with crime at all: designers of money machines, bank architects, bartenders, city planners, public housing managers, receptionists, automotive engineers, real estate developers, and hot dog vendors.

Inventions are the major force driving human history.  The idea of technology should not be confused with high technology, because human life has been changed greatly by simple innovations—consider barbed wire.

Lightweight plastics for everyday products helped triple crime rates in the 1960s and 70s.  Crime rates during the 90s reversed direction, largely responding to more widespread money machines and quicker point of sale transactions using plastic cards, removing much of the cash available to steal.

Very recent accelerations of telecommuting could well place more guardians in residential areas and reduce their daytime crime.  Monetary inventions provide a chance to steal, counterfeit, embezzle, abuse a credit card, or jump someone at a money machine.  Newer innovations have impaired counterfeiting—law enforcement responds to the evolution of crime.

Do not think of innovation as mere gadgets.  Inventions include innovations in business types, job responsibilities, software, ways to train people, credit card rules, methods of managing bars, and environmental design—to name a few.

Findings that Shake up Classical Criminology

Offenders are low income— the youth of all SES brackets commit crimes

Random police patrol prevents crime—very hard to sustain

Early childhood education, DARE, boot camps, community watches, and rehabilitation—DO NOT WORK

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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