Environmental Criminology


Friends of the Forensic Science Club, this week we present the paper “Where should pólice forces target their residential burglary reduction efforts? Using official victimisation data to predict burglary incidences at the neighbourhood level”, by Hunter, J.; Ward, B.; Tseloni, A. and Pease, K. (2021), in which authors expose some interesting data about risk and protection factors when it comes about suffering residential burglary.

Residential burglary is one of the crimes against which we feel most powerless and helpless. At home we are comfortable and protected, and if someone enters to rob us, we feel a huge violation of our privacy, our space and our rights.

Criminology has provided analysis tools to police forces that have been implementing for some years and are related to this matter.

Specifically, we refer to the analysis of the spatial concentration of crime. This type of analysis is usually done with the called “hot spots maps”. These hot spots are places where the rate of any type of crime is higher than in other ones, and thus, they require special attention.

The idea is that these crime concentration maps offer the police forces the opportunity to focus their interventions in these critical areas, consequently reducing crime incidence.

Although this method has sometimes been useful, it is true that the simple designation of an area as a hot spot, based on the number of crimes recorded by police, neglects much data on the burglaries’ dynamics.

This data includes repeat victimization, near-repeat victimization, an anticipatory diffusion of benefits.

Authors of this paper lean on this point, precisely. They consider that reactive or proactive police resource allocation models predicated simply upon hot spot analysis miss crucial aspects. They would be forgetting the importance of the characteristics of people, homes and neighborhoods.

Considering that this type of crime has a strong component of victimization for the people who suffer it, authors of the study wonder whether it is possible to apply victimology to shed light on it and improve its prevention.

Some of the concepts could probably be the behavior of the residents, the environment of the area, the exact place where the house is or the motivation of the thieves.

In this paper, authors try to create and describe burglary prediction maps, to correct the absence of consideration of factors that they consider important and forgotten by police forces.

The places represented on the maps and, therefore, the studied ones, are England and Wales.

The used data is compiled from a nationwide survey on crime and experiences related to it. It was carried out by the ONS (Office for National Statistics in UK. Information came from more than 130,000 family units.

Obtained results are very interesting and could be used effectively to prevent this type of crime. The opportunity structures that shape the risk of burglary victimization are influenced, as we have already discussed, by many factors.

Some of them are the time and day of the week, property type, the nature of the built environment and visual clues afforded to offenders, street networks and spatial interactions, offenders’ journey to crime, the behavioral decisions of offenders, as well as police responses to reducing burglary, such as hot spot policing.

Based on the crime surveys, the authors try to identify the types of homes that are most vulnerable to burglary and the sociodemographic profile of the areas in which they are.

Factors that seem to promote the commission of burglaries include, on one hand, individual characteristics. For example, it appears that Asian people are most at risk in the studied area.

It should also be considered how is the people that live in the household and their circumstances. Those most at risk are people over 65 who live alone, single-parent families or those who live in social rents.

Having more than three cars or not having any would also attract the attention of thieves, as well as having some disease, especially the limiting ones. The same would happen with having moved in the last year or living in areas with difficult access to the service sector.

On the contrary, households whose head is either female or black, who live in semi-detached houses or flats, who own a single car, in inner-city areas, and neighborhoods with less income deprivation enjoy less expected burglaries compared to others.

In addition, important factors that criminology points out about opportunity play a role. For instance, the victim’s physical health status, perceived vulnerabilities (such as the victim’s difficulties communicating with others), and even perceived potential immunity for thieves.

With all these data, authors generate a map that they consider very useful for the police forces to use when allocating resources to prevent this type of crime.

There are limitations in this study, such as not having all the desired information from the surveys, like if there is any security device in these houses and, if there is, which is its type.

Future research should focus on correcting these limitations and, furthermore, authors suggest that the same could be done for other types of crimes, since very useful information could be obtained.

If you want to know more about criminology, the criminal mind, criminal profiling, and forensic science, don’t miss our Certificate in Criminal Profiling, a 100% online program certified by Heritage University (USA), with special grants for the Forensic Science Club readers.