Applying criminological theory to security practices

by Mark Rowe

Daniel Pike, MSc, MSyl, having gained his masters in security and risk management, writes of the beneficial impact criminology has on security practices.

The private security industry has been impacted by criminological theories such as rational choice, routine activity and situational crime theory. The security industry has developed mitigative techniques which support these theories which in turn deter acts of criminality. Rational choice theory can come into effect during or prior to a crime, when a criminal decides to challenge a target depending on whether, they will have a low success rate or the chance of being caught is high. Private security officers acting as a high visibility presence, can help influence whether a criminal decides to take action or move on to an easier target which is known as displacement.

Routine activity theory defines that for a crime to occur it needs three factors; a motivated offender, a potential victim/object and the absence of a capable guardian A security officer or CCTV camera can act as the capable guardian thus removing a factor from the equation and mitigating the crime.

Situational crime seeks to reduce certain crime by increasing risk and reduce the reward available to the criminal. Security techniques such as intruder alarm systems, electronic tags and employee surveillance can be used to reduce crimes. The use of routine active theory and rational choice theory within situational crime prevention has helped identify different situational measures, which have been met by counter measures i.e. locking away valuable goods, to mitigate potential threats. This has led to situational crime being used by government crime prevention units in the UK as part of crime control.

Crime prevention through environmental design (CPTED) looks at changing the environment of a premises by the use of design features to help deter crime. Rational choice theory and routine activity theory share a view that situational factors can help decide whether a crime can occur, thus the use of design features, can help deter potential criminals. The use of informal control could be amplified by the use of defensible space, which focuses on the use of controls such as fences, street layout and entrance controls. The security strategy ‘territoriality’ involves the use of controls such as shrubbery, brickwork and signs to represent a private area, thus making a potential criminal aware that they are trespassing and help those legal on a premises, identify a potential intruder. In addition CPTED can provide natural surveillance which involves the use of placing windows to oversee communal areas, allowing legal persons such as a residents in a block of flats to observe potential offenders. The use of trimmed foliage and lighting walkways is also used in this technique, which helps by preventing an offender from hiding.

Criminological theory has helped towards shaping the security industry and continues to apply as threats evolve, thus its imperative partnership with security when assessing and mitigating risk.

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