Situational crime prevention is radically different from other forms of crime prevention as it seeks only to reduce opportunities for crime, not bring about lasting change in criminal or delinquent dispositions. Proceeding from an analysis of the circumstances giving rise to very specific kinds of crime and disorder, it introduces discrete managerial and environmental modifications to change the opportunity structure for those crimes to occur—not just the immediate physical and social settings in which the crimes occur, but also the wider societal arrangements that make the crimes possible. It is therefore focused on the settings for crime, not on delinquents or criminals. Rather than punishing them or seeking to eliminate criminal dispositions through improvement of society or its institutions, it tries to make criminal action less attractive. It does this in five main ways: (1) by increasing the difficulties of crime, (2) by increasing the immediate risks of getting caught, (3) by reducing the rewards of offending, (4) by removing excuses for offending, and (5) by reducing temptations and provocations. It accomplishes these ends by employing an action research methodology to identify design and management changes that can be introduced with minimum social and economic costs. Central to this enterprise is not the criminal justice system but a host of public and private organizations and agencies—schools, hospitals, transit systems, shops and malls, manufacturing businesses and phone companies, local parks and entertainment facilities, pubs and parking lots—whose products, services, and operations spawn opportunities for a vast range of different crimes. Some criminologists believe that the efforts that these organizations and agencies have made in the past 20 or 30 years to protect themselves from crime are responsible for the recorded crime drops in many countries.
Situational crime prevention rests on a sound foundation of criminological theories—routine activity theory, crime pattern theory, and the rational choice perspective—all of which hold that opportunity plays a part in every form of crime or disorder. There is therefore no form of crime that cannot be addressed by situational crime prevention. To date, more than 250 evaluated successes of situational crime prevention have been reported, covering an increasingly wide array of crimes including terrorism and organized crimes. Many of the studies have found little evidence that situational interventions have resulted in the “displacement” of crime to other places, times, targets, methods, or forms of crime. Indeed, it is commonly found that the benefits of situational crime prevention diffuse beyond the immediately targeted crimes. Despite these successes, situational crime prevention continues to attract much criticism for its supposed social and ethical costs.