A Call For “Situational Crime Prevention” To Improve U.S. Policing


Too many U.S. policing agencies seem trapped in a cycle of reactionary tactics: stop, frisk, repeat; respond, report, repeat; arrest, book, repeat, writes Nancy La Vigne of the Urban Institute on the Urban Wire blog. Even “hot spots” policing, deployed to prevent crime, uses similar tactics rather than focusing on the underlying reasons why hot spots exist. “Inertia may be to blame for the persistence of this style of policing: this is how we've done it for decades, and innovation can be hard, time consuming, and expensive,” La Vigne says. Ronald Clarke and Patricia Mayhew, winners of the prestigious Stockholm Prize in Criminology, have demonstrated that the harder way, called situational crime prevention (SCP), is often the better one, she says. They point to the critical importance of the physical environment, management practices, and other situational contexts in preventing crime. “This is a key departure from decades of crime prevention efforts focused solely on the individual and his or her choices and actions,” La Vigne writes.

Done well, this type of crime prevention can minimize or eliminate “crime displacement”—the movement of crime to other places, times, or types of crime. As the U.S. grapples with the challenges of policing high crime, marginalized communities, we could do well to adopt a SCP approach, she says. While many experts have lamented the fact that community policing has been a failed enterprise, the effectiveness of problem-oriented policing, a close cousin of SCP, has earned it enduring support. Instead of targeting people who reside in high-crime areas and therefore are perceived (assumed?) to be would-be offenders, police could work in partnership with community members to identify what feeds the crimes that are most problematic. Burglaries, street robberies, auto theft, and drug trafficking have been found to respond to the situational approach.

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