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Chapter 5: Understanding crime patterns


This chapter provides an overview of crime theories relevant to a police command role. While it focuses on opportunity theories as a tool for developing effective criminal opportunity prevention, it starts by briefly describing some developmental and biosocial factors in criminality. An understanding of these situational causes of crime can help a police area commander understand the theory behind crime reduction. The chapter provides a brief introduction to routine activities theory, crime pattern theory and the rational choice perspective. These lead to a description of crime attractors and generators, and the crime triangle. It also describes the journey to crime, repeat and near repeat victimization, and the value of social network analysis.  Chapter graphics include the age-crime curve and the crime triangle. A bullet point summary of the key points completes the chapter. 

Headings and sub-headings

What causes crime?
Why do individuals become criminals?
Opportunity causes crime
Neighborhoods and crime attractors
Displacement and why drug markets are like fast food restaurants
Social networks are important
Most crime is local

Chapter summary

Additional links

This chapter stresses the importance of opportunity as a central cause of crime. This argument may upset some criminologists and sociologists who would prefer to stress other causes of criminality. These other causes are not denied, but the emphasis here is on crime, not criminality. According to the writings of a pioneer in this area, Ron Clarke's paper in Crime Science, " most criminological theories are theories of criminality not theories of crime". The aim is to focus on what can be done from a policing perspective. 

The age-crime curve is demonstrated from one country, but similar data can be found from other places. For example, the US National Institute of Justice shows a similar curve

If your interest is developmental and life course criminology, then the Peterborough Adolescent and Young Adult Development Study has been studying over 700 young people and their families for more than 15 years.

Recently, routine activities theory has more commonly referred to offenders as 'motivated', however the originator of routine activities, Marcus Felson, is clear that he prefers the term 'likely' offender and that is the approach adopted in Reducing Crime

Wikipedia has more details of the Bloor Street viaduct, formally known as the Prince Edward Viaduct

If you wish to learn a little more about social network analysis, the British government published a 2016 how-to guide to social network analysis. It may serve as a very brief introduction. 

As most crime is local, it is helpful to understand a little about both repeat victimization and near-repeat victimization. Spencer Chainey, from the UCL Jill Dando Institute of has written some short guides to repeat victimization

Vignette authors

Steve Bishopp 

Stephen A. Bishopp is the Associate Director for Research at The Caruth Police Institute (CPI) in the Dallas (Texas) Police Department.  He received his Ph.D. (2013) in Criminology from the University of Texas at Dallas. Steve is a 27-year veteran and sergeant with the Dallas Police Department. He has supervised  patrol, covert operations, and training. In his current role at CPI, Steve focuses his research on evidence-based policing, use-of-force, police mental health/well-being, and criminological theory. His work appears in such journals as Crime & Delinquency, Policing: An International Journal, Justice Research & Practice, American Journal of Public Health, Deviant Behavior, and Police Quarterly. You can follow Steve Bishopp on twitter at @StephenABishopp

Greg Stewart

Greg Stewart is a sergeant with the Portland Police Bureau (PPB).  His 23 years in policing have included patrol work as an officer and sergeant, working undercover, supervising the PPB’s Domestic Violence Reduction Unit, working in the Chief’s Office and creating and supervising the PPB’s Crime Analysis Unit. He has a master’s degree from Portland State University. Sgt. Stewart is a Police Foundation Policing Fellow, a member of George Mason University’s Evidence-Based Policing Hall of Fame, and an NIJ Law Enforcement Advancing and Data Science (LEADS) scholar.  He has trained and consulted for police agencies from the United States, Canada, Mexico, Guatemala, the Ukraine and Bangladesh.

You can follow Greg Stewart on twitter at @gstewart32025

Chapter-related review questions

Chapter 5: What plays a central role in explaining the patterns of crime we see in our society?
A.    Disposition
B.    Truancy
C.    Opportunity
D.    Background
Chapter 5: The science of understanding genetic factors that can influence criminal behavior is called what?
A.    Dispositional criminology
B.    Biosocial criminology
C.    Traumatic criminology
D.    Phrenology
Chapter 5: Biosocial criminologists have used genetic studies of twins to suggest that “antisocial behavior is around X percent heritable". What number is represented by X?
A.    10
B.    30
C.    50
D.    95
Chapter 5: The theory that argues that some people are drawn to crime because they do not have access to economic goals and suffer relative deprivation is called what?
A.    Opportunity
B.    Economic
C.    Biosocial
D.    Strain
Chapter 5: The age-crime curve shows that crime peaks around what age?
A.    12
B.    17
C.    27
D.    37
Chapter 5: The onset, persistence and desistence of offending behavior is dealt with by what criminological perspective?
A.    Routine activity
B.    Developmental and life course
C.    Rational choice
D.    Opportunity
Chapter 5: "A person’s motivation to commit a crime is driven by temptation and/or provocation but tempered by the person’s moral filter" is a description of what theory?
A.    Situational action theory
B.    Routine activity
C.    Opportunity theory
D.    Biosocial
Chapter 5: The routine activities theory requires three components for a crime to occur. Which of the following is NOT one of them?
A.    A suitable target
B.    An economic necessity
C.    Absence of a capable guardian
D.    A likely offender
Chapter 5: An offender's awareness space is a concept associated with what theory?
A.    Crime pattern theory
B.    Biosocial criminology
C.    Developmental and life course
D.    Strain
Chapter 5: When people are basically too incompetent to know they aren’t good at something, it is known as what?
A.    Developmental and life course syndrome
B.    Developmental theory
C.    Situational action theory
D.    The Dunning-Kruger effect
Chapter 5: When offenders make a choice to commit crime, but that choice is affected by exposure to drugs on alcohol, they demonstrate what?
A.    Effective rationality
B.    Contemporaneous rationality
C.    Bounded rationality
D.    Routine activity
Chapter 5: Places that inadvertently create crime opportunities are called what?
A.    Crime generators
B.    Crime attractors
C.    Bounded attractors
D.    Situational attractors
Chapter 5: Places that offenders are deliberately drawn to because of the criminal opportunities are called what?
A.    Crime generators
B.    Crime attractors
C.    Bounded attractors
D.    Situational attractors
Chapter 5: What is the term for people who live or work at a place and can extend some protection to surrounding areas where crime might occur?
A.    Guardian
B.    Handler
C.    Place manager
D.    Dunning-Kruger
Chapter 5: If police are able to reduce crime in one place, is crime displacement to nearby locations an inevitable outcome?
A.    Yes
B.    No
Chapter 5: What is the opposite of crime displacement, when the benefits of a crime operation spillover to nearby locations that were not part of the initiative?
A.    Non-initiated crime reduction
B.    Unanticipated gains
C.    Kruger benefits
D.    A diffusion of benefits
Chapter 5: What is the colloquial term for people who steal from stores but do not keep the merchandize themselves?
A.    Shoplifters
B.    Shopgrabbers
C.    Boosters
D.    Stoplifters
Chapter 5: Within a social network, a person who has an important structural position within the network is said to have what?
A.    Social capital
B.    Human capital
C.    Network capital
D.    Broker status
Chapter 5: Within a social network, a person who has access to resources within the network is said to have what?
A.    Social capital
B.    Human capital
C.    Network capital
D.    Broker status
Chapter 5: Within a social network, a person who occupies a position of leverage (a cut point) is known as what?
A.    Socializer
B.    Humanizer
C.    Networker
D.    Broker
Chapter 5: A form of crime contagion where homes near a burgled house are at increased risk after the burglary, is known as what?
A.    Repeat victimization
B.    Near repeat victimization
C.    The Philadelphia effect
D.    Contact crime

Select another chapter: Chp 1  |  Chp 2  |  Chp 3  |  Chp 4  |  Chp 5  |  Chp 6  |  Chp 7  |  Chp 8  |  Chp 9  |  Chp 10  |  Chp 11

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