In the last two decades, crime has become one of the most pervasive features of quality of life. ‘Law and order’ vies with health and the economy as the most salient concern of British citizens, and the picture is not radically different in most Western societies. The influence of this concern is such that many British police forces now see delivery of quality of life as or more important than catching criminals or preserving public order. At the same time, there have been significant shifts in public policy on law and order, from detection to prevention, from offender to victim, from imprisonment to community sentences, which both reflect and mediate public opinion. In this chapter, I will explore the meaning of these transformations from a geographical perspective and illustrate the increasing role for geographical skills in analysis of the problem and in the search for solutions.
The point of departure for this review is some observations about contemporary patterns of crime with resonances in classical conceptions of spatial concentration. The causes of crime are complex, and no single theory is sufficient to explain the wide variety of offences that are proscribed by law. In addition, there may be competing definitions of events by victims, police and prosecutors that confound simple prescriptions. Two current theories within criminology provide a focus for understanding. One is rational choice theory, which suggests that offender behaviour can be best understood in terms of choices made about costs and benefits on the information available at the time of the event. Offenders are thus seen as decision makers, and this may also be applied to victims and others involved in the event, whether directly or indirectly. Routine activities theory provides the framework for analysis. It suggests three essential elements for a crime to take place: a suitable target; a motivated offender; and the absence of capable guardians (protecting the victim) or an intimate handler (inhibiting the offender).
This ‘criminal triangle’ —victim, offender and situation—has implications for crime prevention, which will be reviewed below. It also has powerful links with observations of the uneven geographical distribution of the three elements. These are illustrated in Figure 32.1. Recent work on the incidence of crime has shown the extent to which victimisation is not a random event. Data from the British Crime Survey show that just 4 per cent of victims suffer 44 per cent of crime. Repeated victims are concentrated in high-crime
Figure 32.1 The concentration of crime and the links with place.