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  • Writer's pictureCarlos Munoz Burgos

Reducing crime and violence through a situational approach

So far, I have mostly focused on how to reduce crime and violence at the individual, family, and relational levels of the socioecological model of human development. These three levels are very important, as evidence shows that the best violence reduction results are obtained when working at these three levels. However, it is also important to understand what can be done at the societal level to complement interventions at the other three levels. From a systems approach, it is important to comprehend the interaction of risk and protective factors between and across the levels of the socioecological model of human development.

Interventions at the societal level focus on institutions, structures, policies, and economic opportunities that may contribute to individuals engaging in violent behaviors. These interventions do not focus on people, but on the institutional, structural, political, and economic resources available to reduce crime and violence. All of these interventions try to change conditions that may increase the likelihood of crime and violence.

Among the societal, structural, or institutional approaches to violence prevention, situational crime prevention is one worth exploring. Situational crime prevention aims to reduce opportunities for crime in a particular setting. Also known as Designing Out Crime or Crime Prevention through Environmental Design (CPTED), situational crime prevention is based on the premise that characteristics of the physical environment influence the amount of violent crime that occurs, and thus, these crimes can be reduced by changing the physical environment to make it more difficult and risky for potential criminals to commit a crime. This strategy depends on the ability to influence offender decisions that precede criminal acts by affecting the built, social, and administrative environment.

Public spaces that are well lighted and open to community surveillance prevent crime. On the other hand, dark alleys and streets and buildings with the presence of trash, vandalism, graffiti, and disorderly civil behavior encourage violence. Improving the environment goes beyond the immediate deterrence of violent crime. Living in poor quality housing can affect the physical and mental health of youth and children. In fact, this is a well-established risk factor for behavioral and educational problems, which, in turn, are linked to a higher likelihood of criminality.

Situational crime prevention interventions for urban development projects are multidisciplinary and involve architects, urban planners, landscape architects, engineers, crime prevention police officers, security officials, and building and facility managers in their planning, design, and management. This approach is usually used in the context of community-based, urban renewal programs that address violent crime through targeted social and economic measures in hotspot communities. These types of projects also help bring back the government to areas that do not have basic services, and thus, rebuild its legitimacy in crime-affected areas.

Although situational crime prevention focuses on changing the environment to reduce the opportunities of potential criminals to commit crimes, this approach also has an impact beyond its practical deterrence function. The environment can increase sense of belonging in youth, and can also reduce feelings of marginalization and exclusion, which, in turn, can contribute to adopting violent behaviors. Many community beatification projects have been carried out to increase the sense of belonging in youth and increase social capital and cohesion by allowing community members to work together towards a common objective. Although the approach sounds simple, every situation should be assessed before an intervention is conducted to avoid doing more harm than good in a community by using this approach.

Washington, DC

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