16. Environmental Criminology

16.8 Applications of Environmental Criminology

Antonio Robert Verbora

In the last decade, much research has been conducted regarding where offenders tend to commit crimes (Ruiter, 2017). Researchers have found that offenders often commit crimes near their current and/or former residential homes (Baudains et al., 2013; Bernasco & Kooistra, 2010; Johnson & Summers, 2015), near family members (Menting, 2018; Rossmo et al., 2014), and near friends (Wiles & Costello, 2000). Lastly, some researchers also found that offenders return to previously targeted areas (Bernasco et al., 2015; Van Sleeuwen et al., 2018), and commit offences close to other routine activity nodes, such as their schools, workplaces, and leisure activity locations (Menting et al., 2020). Central to this discussion is the concept of the “least effort principle” (Cornish & Clarke, 1987) and the “distance decay phenomenon” (Rengert et al., 1999). Simply stated, the least effort principle purports that individuals commit crimes in places where it is easiest and in places they are familiar with and the distance decay phenomenon argues that motivated offenders select their targets within their awareness space. Distance decay essentially states that a relationship exists between the distance from an offender’s home base and a potential target location, as offender is likely to choose to offend in that location (Rengert et al., 1999).
A brief discussion on situational crime prevention is important here as it is considered an impactful late 20th century-“theory” that helped shape the applied aspects of environmental criminology. Ronald Clarke developed the situational crime prevention strategy in the late 1970s and early 1980s with the primary focus being on practical strategies to reduce the likelihood of a criminal event. Situational crime prevention encompasses opportunity-reducing measures that “(1) are directed at highly specific forms of crime, (2) involve the management, design or manipulation of the immediate environment in as systematic and permanent way as possible, and (3) make crime more difficult and risky, or less rewarding and excusable as judged by a wide range of offenders” (Clarke, 1995, p. 94). Although it is critiqued as being an overly simplistic, atheoretical approach to crime prevention, situational crime prevention has a sound basis in the theories of environmental criminology.
Rational choice theory is most often used in situational crime prevention strategies as this approach seeks to modify the environment within which crime occurs. It seeks to make crime more difficult, riskier, and less rewarding (Clarke, 1992). This theory sets to use principles to guide situational crime prevention activities. There are five operating principles: (1) increase the perceived effort, (2) increase the perceived risks, (3) reduce the anticipated rewards, (4) reduce provocations, and, (5) remove the excuses for crime (Clarke, 1995). As such, situational crime prevention is synonymous with opportunity reduction, is closely aligned with environmental criminology, and adopts the problem-solving methodology of problem-oriented policing: diagnosing and solving problems that increase crime risks (Goldstein, 1990). There are many other practical applications of environmental criminology that are beyond the scope of this chapter. For example, intelligence-led policing (Ratcliffe, 2003), crime prevention through environment design (Crowe & Fennelly, 2013), and geographic profiling (Rossmo, 1999).


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Introduction to Criminology Copyright © 2023 by Antonio Robert Verbora is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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