Table of Contents

LEGALDATE

Volume 32, Issue 1, 2020

LEGALDATE

Volume 32, Issue 1, 2020

CAN WE ELIMINATE CRIME?

Joe Alvaro, De La Salle College, Revesby Heights, NSW

Introduction

Can we eliminate crime? That is, can we completely remove crime and live in a crime free world where everyone complies with the law. Probably not because there will always be opportunities (and the opportunities are growing) to commit crime. There will also always be some people who choose not to comply with the law.

What we can do is get better at preventing crime. It is easier to prevent crime rather than deal with it after it occurs – ‘prevention is better than cure’.

Factors affecting criminal behavior

Think of the following factors which cause criminal behavior and how difficult it would be to eliminate these factors.

Social factors

People, and in particular, their attitude to the law and the authority of the state, are shaped in part by the society they live in. Social factors can include:

  • an upbringing where children are not taught to obey the law. Parents may be criminals themselves (‘monkey see, monkey do’)

  • children who are influenced negatively by their peers and may not respect the law (‘the wrong crowd’) or who associate with known offenders. This can cause children to grow up behaving in a criminal manner.

  • children who are regularly truant from school (not attending school without a satisfactory explanation) and/or drop out of school. (At school children follow a routine, keep busy learning what is right and wrong and learn how to read and write which helps with employment. Children who skip school or drop out of school at an early age miss these experiences and can instead get involved in criminal activity – ‘idle hands are the Devil’s playground’. Kye Gaffey who is a superintendent of juvenile prison schools in Chicago in the USA says that ‘when they are not coming to school, they are potentially getting themselves in trouble.We have youth who’ve reported to us that they haven’t been to school since the fourth grade” (Jackson et al., 2013))

Economic factors

People who are poor and/or unemployed may commit economic offences (offences against property, white collar crimes, computer crimes) to obtain money (to buy food, for example). Some people who are addicted to drugs commit economic offences to obtain money to buy drugs. Helping people to stop using drugs (e.g.through the Drug Court) would reduce the rate of economic offences.

Political factors

Sometimes people break the law because they feel the law they are breaking is wrong or they break the law to express their disagreement with the government (e.g. anti – government graffiti)

Case – R v. Passas (2004)

In 2004, Ashfield councillor Julie Passas deliberately parked illegally on a footpath in Ashfield to make the points, about a lack of parking space, and that Frederick Street in Ashfield had so many cars parked on each side of the street that there was barely enough room for a truck to get through. Ms Passas called the police and informed them she had parked illegally. She received a parking fine which she challenged in Burwood Local Court. Ms Passas said ‘the whole reason for getting fined was to highlight the problem’.

She used her court appearance to ask the Roads and Traffic Authority (RTA) to address the problems she had raised. Ms Passas failed to have the fine cancelled by Burwood Local Court.

Source: The Daily Telegraph, 20 February 2004, “Officer, look I’ve parked illegally” by Steve Gee

Case – R v. Burgess/Saunders (2003)

In 2003 anti-war protesters, Briton Will Saunders (42 years of age) and David Burgess (33 years of age) climbed up the sails of the Sydney Opera House to paint a large red ‘No War’ slogan in protest about Australia’s involvement in the Iraq war. They were found guilty of malicious damage and received nine months weekend detention.

Figure 1: Sydney Opera House staff attempt to remove the graffiti after it was painted by the anti-war activists.

Source: Newcastle Herald, 18 March 2013, ‘Opera House anti-war protester’

Self-interest/greed

Rather than work hard and earn money honestly, some people break the law to ‘get rich’ quickly and easily. For example, the crime of fraud is a way some people acquire greater wealth and assets.

Crime prevention strategies

There are a number of crime prevention strategies

Situational crime prevention (also known as opportunity
reduction)

Situational crime prevention refers to creating situations where it is difficult for people to break the law. The aim here is to eradicate situations which provoke crime or reduce the opportunities for crime. The table below looks at the role of ‘opportunity’ in terms of motivating burglars to commit a crime.

Perceptions of opportunities for burglary as reported in interviews with burglars

  1. Usually when I get in my car and drive around I’m thinking, I don’t have any money, so what is my means for gettin’ money? All of a sudden I’ll just take a glance and say, ‘There it is! There’s the house’.
  2. When I was reconnecting the cable line, I overheard a lady talking on the phone, saying they will be out of town for a few days. I knew what time they were leaving and the time they were coming back.
  3. I was with this dude. He went to these people’s house and took me with him.Just visiting, you know … So we went in, and we were just sitting around, and I unlocked the window … There wasn’t anybody in the room when I did it …The next morning I woke up, after I had thought about it all night, and I decided that I was gonna get ’em. So I went to their house, raised the window and had to break nothing. I just went in.
  4. Well lately I haven’t done any [robberies]. But when I was doin’ it, I robbed every Friday …I ain’t got no pistol, that’s the only reason [I haven’t been doing them], …I swear.

Source: Wright, R.T. and Decker, S.H. (1994) Burglars on the Job. Boston, MA: Northeastern University Press.

There are a number of ways to achieve situational crime prevention (Cornish and Clarke, 2003)

i) Increasing the risk of crime detection

  • increased lighting

  • making buildings more difficult to hide near

  • house alarms

  • closed circuit television (CCTV)

  • neighbours looking out for each other and their property.

ii) Making crime more difficult to commit

  • not making guns easily available

  • making buildings more difficult to enter or damage (e.g.only allowing residents to enter

  • visitors to apartment buildings needing to get permission to enter

  • bars on windows

  • electronic tags on clothes sold in clothing stores

  • using secure passwords to prevent criminals hacking your online accounts (see table below, ‘ The 10 most common passwords’).

The ten most common passwords

A survey, by the UK’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), analyzed passwords belonging to accounts worldwide that had been breached. The ten most common passwords in order of preference were:

  1. 123456

  2. 123456789

  3. qwerty

  4. password

  5. 111111

  6. 12345678

  7. abc123

  8. 1234567

  9. password1

  10. 12345

‘Iloveyou’ just missed out on the top 10.

The most popular musical artist was blink182

The most popular fictional character was Superman

The most common names used were Ashley and Michael, Daniel, Jessica and Charlie.

The most used days of the week was Sunday

Source: CNN Business, 23 April 2019, “How hackable is your password?” by Rob Picheta

Viewed: 16 March 2020, https://edition.cnn.com/2019/04/22/uk/most-common-passwords-scli-gbr-intl/index.html

Alcohol free zones It is known that drinking alcohol can lead to crime, especially in crowded spaces. Alcohol free zones can occur during large scale events like New Year’s Eve where a local council might ban the drinking of alcohol in parks and reserves. These type of laws can cause an increase in the use of police resources as the laws have to be enforced (enforceability is a characteristic of an effective law) and for some people complying with these type of laws during events like New Year’s Eve can be challenging.

Bullet resistant barriers in banks

Figure 2: Bullet resistant barriers in banks

Elderly shoppers can be at increased risk of having their handbags and purses stolen from their shopping trolleys in supermarkets. There have been shopping trolleys invented where there is a compartment/box for bags and purses that can be locked up while the elderly are doing their shopping.

The use of plastic cups at nightclubs and sporting venues, rather than using glass cups, which would prevent glassing (that is using glass to physically attack someone). In addition, courtrooms commonly only use plastic jugs of water and cups to prevent glass jugs and cups being thrown around the courtroom by someone who may want to express their anger in this way.

Figure 3: Victims of glassing

Source: Left: abc.net.au, right: dailymail.co.uk

Court case – R. v. McGrath (2011)

In 2011, 26 year old Dillon Lesley McGrath was driving his car when he got out of his car and assaulted another man by punching him several times and glassing him with a beer bottle. McGrath hit the man in the face with the beer bottle.McGrath was sentenced to 12 months in jail with a non-parole period of six months.

Source: ABC News, 17 November 2011, ‘Man jailed over beer bottle glassing’ , Viewed: 16 March 2020

Law reform issue – tempered glass as a policy response to glassing

* Note: This is an opportunity to refer to the theme and challenge – ‘the role of law reform in the criminal justice system’. Is law reform needed?

Should more toughed or tempered glass be used in places like pubs and clubs? Toughened or tempered glass is a type of safety glass processed by controlled thermal or chemical treatments to increase its strength compared to normal glass. When this type of glass breaks, the glass crumbles into smaller granular chunks instead of splintering into jagged shards which can cause more injury. Some pubs and clubs are now using tempered beer glasses.

Figure 4: A vandalised telephone booth with toughened glass

iii) Reducing the rewards of crime

  • Graffiti should be removed quickly.

  • Property identification such as people engraving their property in such a way that others will not want to buy it from the thief.

  • Using card phones rather than phones which require coins.

iv) Target removal

  • Not leaving items in view through your windows – e.g.laptops, phones, keys, bags.

  • Putting your vehicle in the garage (a motor vehicle is more likely to be stolen from the street or a public carpark compared to a garage) if you have one and not leaving valuables on display.

  • Being cautious about what you post online as it may be used to identify or locate you offline.

v) Reducing the means (removing items that may help commit an offence)

  • Not leaving tools and ladders in the garden and clearing up any bricks and rubble.

  • Keeping wheelie bins out of reach, as they may be a climbing aid or help transport items.

vi) Remove excuses (set clear rules, put up signs)

  • No parking

  • Private property

  • Extinguish camp fires

  • Shoplifting is stealing

  • Tell hotel guests that items in hotel rooms (e.g.hairdryers, irons, white dressing gowns) are not to be taken – you can buy one at the reception – prevents guests from saying I didn’t know.

  • Assist compliance – e.g.litter bins, public toilets.

vii) Reduce provocations

  • Reduce frustrations and stress.For example, police presence, efficient queues and expanded seating at major events.

  • Avoid disputes.For example, separate enclosures for rival soccer fans, reducing crowding in pubs and efficiently managing the taxi queues outside pubs when patrons come out.

Is your number plate tamper resistant?

Many number plates are stolen from motor vehicles each year. Tamper resistant number plates (which use tamper resistant screws) can reduce the number of plate theft and can help reduce other crimes. Stolen number plates are often reattached to vehicles used in petrol theft, robberies and toll evasion, so if criminals are unable to access stolen number plates it can prevent them from committing these other crimes.

Crimes and the opportunities for crime are changing rapidly

Although technology can help prevent crime, it is also causing more opportunities for more crime (e.g.the internet, bitcoin, drones and artificial intelligence, credit card’tap and go’ technology). The potential for new crimes arising from these new technologies is enormous.

Let’s evaluate situational crime prevention: Clarke, R (2013) makes judgements about the effectiveness of situational crime prevention by looking at various viewpoints. See the table below.

Arguments for and against situational crime prevention

ForAgainst
Many studies have shown that situational crime prevention, first described in the 1970s, can reduce crime, usually with little crime displacement (the shifting of crime from one situation to another).For example, usually, shoppers prevented from shoplifting at their local supermarket by new security measures are unlikely to shop at a supermarket further away in order to engage in shoplifting or start stealing using other means.The benefits far outweigh any small amount of displacement that might occur.It does not work: It displaces crime to situations that have less or no crime prevention measures.In other words, criminals just go somewhere else.For example, some people claim that improved vehicle security, which has made it more difficult to steal unattended cars, has resulted in increased numbers of ‘carjackings (to carjack is to steal an occupied car from its driver forcefully).
It does not work: It displaces crime to situations that have less or no crime prevention measures.In other words, criminals just go somewhere else.For example, some people claim that improved vehicle security, which has made it more difficult to steal unattended cars, has resulted in increased numbers of ‘carjackings (to carjack is to steal an occupied car from its driver forcefully).Crime displacement occurs: For example, ‘red light’ cameras are installed at some traffic lights in an area.People quickly discover where the exact camera locations are and begin ‘running the red lights’ at other locations where there are no cameras.
Situational crime prevention benefits society by achieving immediate reductions in crime.On the other hand, the benefits of dealing with the root causes of crime (social crime prevention) are achieved over a longer period of time.It diverts attention and funds (money) from the root causes of crime (e.g.how children are raised by their parents, economic inequality).
Although it is important to look at the root causes of crime, situations that create temptations and opportunities to commit crime can also cause crime to occur.In addition, sometimes people who normally comply with the law can be tempted to commit certain crimes if they are regularly faced with opportunities to commit these crimes.People who are going to commit crimes are going to do so whether the opportunity is there or not.
Although people lose their personal freedom to a small extent and situational crime techniques can be inconvenient, people are willing to endure inconvenience and small infringements of liberty when these protect them from crime.It causes the government to have too much control over people’s lives and restricts personal freedom.For example, CCTV cameras trampling on the individual right to privacy.
It empowers victims by providing them with information about crime risks and how to avoid them.It encourages victim blaming (e.g.‘why didn’t you have bars on your windows?’, ‘why wasn’t your motor vehicle locked up in a garage?).

b) Social crime prevention

Social crime prevention involves changing the social factors which can cause people to display criminal behavior (dealing with the root causes of crime). For example:

  • education (e.g.teaching young people about criminal law)

  • employment

  • providing welfare to people through a social security system (Centrelink)

  • dealing with poor parenting ( e.g.parenting workshops for disadvantaged groups)

  • counselling for families at risk

  • dealing with truancy rates

  • dealing with drug problems.

Legal Quote

‘Poverty is the mother of crime.’

Marcus Aurelius

Let’s evaluate social crime prevention

Arguments for and against social crime prevention

ForAgainst
Social crime prevention is the most effective form of crime prevention as it deals with the root causes of crime.This requires a lot of money.Situational crime prevention takes money away from social crime prevention and offers shallow and quick fix solutions to the problem of criminal behavior in our society.Social crime prevention is useful but takes a long time to produce outcomes. The immediate benefits of situational crime prevention strategies are also needed
Social crime prevention gets politicians thinking strategically about criminal behavior over a longer period of time.It can be difficult to get politicians to devote resources to social crime prevention strategies as the strategies focus on long term issues with no quick fix solutions (some politicians may focus on the next election in three or four years time) and being tough on crime can be a soft option.Some politicians can be focused on quick fix solutions that they can promote during their next election campaign when they are trying to win votes.‘I worked in government and I can tell you that democracy does not lend itself to strategic thinking.’ (Laycock, 2018).

c) Broken windows theory

In the article, ‘What is the Broken Windows Theory?’ Longley (2019) writes that the theory was first suggested in 1982 by social scientist, George L.Kelling in his article, ‘Broken Windows: The police and neighbourhood safety’ published in The Atlantic. Kelling explained the theory as follows:

‘Consider a building with a few broken windows.If the windows are not repaired, the tendency is for vandals to break a few more windows. Eventually, they may even break into the building, and if it’s unoccupied, perhaps become squatters or light fires inside.’

‘Or consider a pavement.Some litter accumulates. Soon, more litter accumulates. Eventually, people even start leaving bags of refuse from take-out restaurants there or even break into cars.’

d) Predictive policing through crime science

Crime science (the study of crime in order to find ways to prevent it) is about involving science and scientists in helping to control crime – it is about getting police to think in the same way scientists think. Crime science is about making crime rates go down – that is, fewer victims. This means preventing crime from happening in the first place or catching people quicker so they do not commit further crimes – improving detection.

Crime science does a lot of mapping – data is collected (e.g.times, locations and nature of past crimes) and mapped. This helps police forecast when the next offence is going to happen. For example, ProMap is a predictive mapping tool which tries to predict when a burglary will happen (Laycock, 2010). By using some of the techniques of epidemiologists (scientists who try and reduce disease and injury in human beings) crime science tells us that crime is like a little infection – it kind of goes in little spates around the place. Similarly, we get a spate (a large number of similar things coming in quick succession) of burglaries here and then another spate of burglaries in another place. Crime science is showing that police can predict the next burglary 80 per cent of the time but within a very tiny window – say two or three days. The people who are being burgled are either the same people who were just burgled or their immediate neighbours. So the burglars are focusing on a particular area, committing as much crime as they can and then moving on before the police arrest them. Laycock (2010) explains an analogy (comparison) with foraging – ‘the way animals forage (obtain food by searching) in Africa. For example, where they find a nice bit of grass, they gobble it all up and then move before someone gobbles them up”.

Our police need to be educated about crime science and how complex statistics can be used by them in their everyday work to help them reduce crime. For example, predictive policing could be used to reduce burglaries by patrolling a particular area over a period of time (e.g.paying attention to near neighbours who may also be at risk).

Conclusion

As we live in an imperfect world where it is difficult to eliminate opportunities to commit crime and social problems such as poor parenting and unemployment, we cannot eliminate crime, but through a range of crime prevention strategies we can reduce crime and create safer communities. It is important that we not only think about catching offenders but think about preventing crime as well, especially as technology creates more and more opportunities to commit crime. It is easier to prevent crime than deal with it after it has occurred – ‘prevention is better than cure’.

Student activities

Multiple Choice Questions

1. A law is created that restricts freedom of speech on social media. Charlene decides to post a video that encourages people to violently protest against the policies of the government. Which of the following factors affecting criminal behaviour best relates to this situation?

  1. Political factors
  2. Self interest/greed
  3. Economics factors
  4. Social factors.
 
 

2. John is a young person who has committed a range of crimes. He has difficulties reading and writing and both his parents have criminal records. Which of the following factors affecting criminal behaviour best relates to this situation? 

  1. Political factors
  2. Self interest/greed
  3. Economics factors
  4. Social factors?

3. What is the use of closed circuit television (CCTV) cameras in public places an example of?

  1. Rehabilitation
  2. Broken window theory
  3. Social crime prevention
  4. Situational crime prevention.
 
 

4. Which of the following is an example of social crime prevention?

  1. Reducing crowding in pubs
  2. Improving street lighting
  3. Speed humps on roads
  4. Educating young people about applying for jobs and job interview skills.
 
 

5. A law has been introduced which makes it compulsory for plastic cups to be used at nightclubs and sporting venues in order to prevent glassing. What type of crime prevention is this an example of?

  1. Situational
  2. Political
  3. Economical
  4. Social.
 

6. The NSW Police Force will not be allowing the drinking of alcohol in alcohol free zones in certain locations across the city during this year’s New Year’s Eve. Which of the following methods are being used by the police to prevent crime?

  1. Social crime prevention
  2. Situational crime prevention
  3. Increasing the risk of crime detection
  4. Reducing the rewards of crime.

7. The government is providing free parenting workshops for parents living in disadvantaged communities. How could this government program best be described?

  1. Social crime prevention
  2. Economic factors
  3. Welfare
  4. Situational crime prevention
 

8. Which of the following could be considered a limitation of situational crime prevention?

  1. State sovereign
  2. It is only effective with economic offences
  3. It can shift crime from one area to another
  4. It can increase the risk of crime detection.
 

9. Which of the following could be considered a limitation of social crime prevention?

  1. It addresses the root causes of crime.
  2. It gets politicians thinking strategically about criminal behavior over a longer period of time.
  3. It can take a long time to produce outcomes.
  4. It emphasizes the importance of education for young people.
 

10. Which one of the following arguments refers to displacement theory?

  1. People commit crimes because they are poor.
  2. Situational crime prevention can often bring about reductions in crime beyond the immediate focus of the measures introduced.
  3. Removing the opportunity for crime by changing the situation in which it occurs does not actually prevent crime but just shifts crime from one area to another.
  4. Crime can be prevented if the government deals with the root causes of crime.

Short answer questions

1. Describe the factors that may lead to criminal behavior.

2. Describe the reasons people commit economic offences.

3. Explain why a poor education may lead to criminal behaviour.

4. ‘Only financially disadvantaged people commit crimes.’ Discuss this statement.(Discuss means to identify issues and provide points for and/or against).

5. Refer to the case R v. Passas (2004) to answer the following questions:

  1. Describe what this case was about.
  2. Do you agree with the verdict and punishment in this case? Explain the reasons for your answer.

     

6. Refer to the case R v. Burgess/Saunders (2003) to answer the following questions:

  1. Describe what this case was about.
  2. Do you agree with the verdict and decision in this case? Explain the reasons for your answer.

     

7. Define crime prevention.

8. Distinguish between situational crime prevention and social crime prevention.

9.

  1. Describe two ways you could engage in situational crime prevention.
  2. Describe two ways a parent could engage in situational crime prevention.
  3. Describe two ways a member of the police force could engage in situational crime prevention.

10. Apply a situational crime prevention strategy to a problem in the local area you live in or an area you know about.

11. Explain how cleaning up graffiti soon after it has occurred can help prevent more graffiti in the future.

12. Refer to the case R v. McGrath (2011) to answer the following questions:

  1. Describe what this case was about.
  2. Do you agree with the verdict and decision in this case? Explain the reasons for your answer.
  3. Propose ways of preventing the crime of glassing.

     

13. Explain what is meant by crime displacement with regards to situational crime prevention.

14. Explain what is meant by diffusion of benefits with regards to situational crime prevention.

15. ‘Poverty is the mother of crime’ – Marcus Aurellus.Explain what you think this statement means.

16. The broken windows theory.

  1. Explain the broken windows theory.
  2. Assess the usefulness of this theory with regards to preventing crime.

17. Crime science.

  1. Define crime science.
  2. Explain how predictive policing can assist police to prevent crime.

18. Legal mechanisms like the police are generally seen to be responsible for crime prevention. Explain how non-legal mechanisms can contribute to crime prevention as well (hint: education, families, non-government organisations, businesses, well known people like celebrities, individuals).

Research activities

1. Write an information report (at least half an A4 page in length) about the Neighbourhood Watch organisation.In your information report answer the following questions:

  1. What is it?
  2. When did it begin?
  3. Where does it operate?
  4. Why does it exist?
  5. How does it work?

Use the following sources of information, as well as other relevant information you may find:

Neighbourhood Watch Australasia (https://www.nhwa.com.au/)

Neighbourhood Watch NSW – NSW Police (https://www.police.nsw.gov.au/safety_and_prevention/policing_in_the_community/neighbourhood_watch_nsw)

2. Crime prevention

  1. Investigate at least four crime prevention strategies for domestic violence and write down a description for each strategy.
  2. Classify the strategies according to whether they are situational crime prevention strategies or social crime prevention strategies.
 

3. Imagine there has been a significant increase in the number of burglaries in your local area in the last four months. This is causing concern in the community and residents are calling for something to be done to address this problem

Prepare a crime prevention plan to prevent more burglaries from occurring, which will be presented at the next Neighbourhood Watch meeting.

(Note: This activity could be completed individually or as a group work activity)

Extended response questions

1. Evaluate the effectiveness of a range of crime prevention strategies in protecting people and keeping them safe.

2. ‘Prevention is better than cure’. Discuss this statement in relation to a range of crime prevention strategies.

3. Assess to what extent crime can be eliminated.

References

Clarke, R (2013) , ’Seven misconceptions of situational crime prevention’ , Handbook of Crime Prevention and Community Safety , Chapter 3

Viewed: 16 March 2020, https://www.routledgehandbooks.com/doi/10.4324/9781843926146.ch3

Cornish, D.B.and Clarke, R.V.(2003) ‘Opportunities, precipitators and criminal decisions’, in M.Smith and D.Cornish (eds) Crime Prevention Studies. Vol. 16.Monsey, NY: Criminal Justice Press.

Jackson, D et al., 19 February 2013, ,’Prison data, court files show link between school truancy and crime’, Chicago Tribune

Viewed : 16 March 2020, https://www.chicagotribune.com/ct-met-prison-truancy-20130219-story.html

Laycock, G (2018) YouTube, ‘The future of crime detection and prevention’, The Royal Institution

Viewed: 16 March 2020, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VrIMLt__CJc

Laycock, G (2010) YouTube, ‘Mini – lecture: Predicting and fighting crime’, UCL Jill Dando Institute of Security and Crime Science

Viewed: 16 March 2020, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0g9gL9hMW_Q

Longley, R, 3 July 2019, ‘What is the broken windows theory?’ ThoughtCo

Viewed: 16 March 2020, https://www.thoughtco.com/broken-windows-theory-4685946