Canadian Security Magazine

The politics of crime prevention

By Canadian Security   

Features Opinion

The study of criminology and its responses can be divided into two categories. The earlier area of study focused on social crime prevention of which the underlying premise was that crime is an aberration and individual criminals suffered from their own specific issues. 

Criminals were victims of mental illness, poor upbringing, a lack of opportunities afforded to them, substance abuse, or a host of other issues outside of their control. Therefore it was the responsibility of society to deal with them, catch, punish, correct and guide. 

The state developed massive institutions and organizations in doing so. One could argue that part of the reason the entire ‘cradle to the grave’ process where the state is supposedly responsible for all aspects of an individual’s life was developed was to counter criminal tendencies. 

Welfare and unemployment insurance are provided, partly so people, in theory, do not turn to crime.  Before, during and after school care, caring for the homeless, investigating crimes and arresting suspects, along with the entire judicial process as well as sentencing, punishment, post-release half way houses, etc have all been developed to respond to the potential and actual offender. 

Of course there is nothing wrong with much of what is identified here. However, we will always have crime and criminals.As a society, we must respond to this serious issue. Despite that fact that while some criminologists refer our entire criminal justice system as the greatest failure of Western civilization ever, we still need it, or at least parts of it.


The second category, referred to as the ‘new criminologies of life’ is expressed through the various environmental crime control theories and their accompanying responses such as crime prevention through environmental design and situational crime prevention techniques. Crime is now seen in an entirely different light. Here, crime is viewed as a normal part of everyday life carried out by opportunists. The earlier area focused on criminals creating the opportunity, whereas now ‘opportunity creates the thief.’ 

This is not just a new way of looking at the same old problem, it is quite earth shaking in its implications.  Just as the earlier criminologists focused their attention on individual criminals so to did the entire criminal justice system with its attendant attributes including the judiciary, law enforcement and corrections, who were seen as the official and sole arbiters of crime response. Instead, the new criminologies of life focus attention beyond these state institutions to the rest of society where many of these crimes occur.  It places the power of crime control straight into the hands of ‘organizations, institutions, and individuals of civil society’. And while I readily admit that some elements of the social crime prevention are worth maintaining, prevention is much cheaper, safer, and better for society as a whole.
Notice that I didn’t say ‘easier’. Crime prevention can be difficult and challenging. There are often so many factors to consider that many are willing to throw their hands up in frustration and say that they will take the risk and deal with the problem if and when it happens. Unfortunately this is all an all too common response from business and property owners and unfortunately some security managers as well. It certainly takes work to create an effective security program. It also requires knowledge of the various crime prevention strategies as simply implementing various physical/electronic, procedural and human security measures are often not enough.
This is where the knowledgeable, trained and educated security professional comes in. This is the new face of the security industry, full of people not willing to accept the status quo.
We are not willing to take a back seat to the government and be told what we should or should not be doing. We want full recognition of the value we bring to society.             
However, by progressing from the earlier criminological theory to the newer, this is seen by many of the old guard as a challenge to the power of the state and their monopoly (whether this monopoly is real or not is irrelevant) on citizen control.
When placed in this context, it is much easier to understand why many governments around the world are furiously working to incorporate the private security industry as the newest plank in their crime control platform.
It may also help explain why various elements of these state institutions themselves ignore the contributions of the private sector on crime control.  Security is the ‘new kid on the block’ and some of the neighbors don’t like the noise we are making.∞

Glen Kitteringham, M.Sc., CPP, F.SyI. is President of Kitteringham Security Group.

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