Routine activities theory: A unique theory that attempts to explain both offending and victimization

Introduction

Routine activities theory seeks to explain the various causes of crime in any given society. The theory brings out crime as being a normal occurrence that is determined by the existing opportunities at a certain time. It describes the various driving factors that cause an individual to commit a crime within a given environment (Felson, 1994).

Elements of the theory

The three main elements of the routine activities theory include an available target, motivational offender and the absence of a guardian who may prevent the crime from taking place. The available target in this case refers to what may drive a person into committing a crime or what may be the attraction.

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A motivational offender on the other hand is the person willing to commit a crime while the absence of a guardian refers to the lack of effective guardianship such that the crime is not likely to be stopped or prevented from occurring. According to this theory, the occurrence of any given crime requires that these three elements be present and that they function. The availability of a target can further be explained in terms of four aspects which include value, inertia, visibility as well as accessibility (VIVA).

Value in this case depends on the particular individual willing to perform the crime and not on how worthy a particular item is. Inertia on the other hand refers to how big or small a particular object is while visibility refers to the potential criminal’s knowledge of whether or not a particular target exists. Accessibility is the ability of the willing criminal to get to the target object as well as be able to escape without being caught (Cohen and Felson, 1979).

Why offenders engage in crime

Routine activities theories can be used to explain why offenders engage in crime by identifying possible reasons why crime occurs. This is best done using the three elements that acts as the greatest contributors to the occurrence of crime. According to the theory, the occurrence of crime requires that time and space converges and that the three mentioned elements are present.

The absence of any of these elements prevents a crime from taking place (Felson, 1994).in a situation where security cameras have been out up within a particular building for example, they act as controllers through which guardianship of the building is formed thus acting as a protective measure against the occurrence of any kind of crime that may include trespass, theft or burglary among others. Concealment of valued objects or accessories takes away the ‘suitable target’ and in turn prevents it from being stolen or destroyed.

Victimization

The concept of victimization according to the routine activity theory is best explained using the available target element such that one can only be a victim of crime if he or she is identified as a target or as someone in possession of a valuable object and whose defense mechanism is ineffective.

This can further be explained in terms of inertia whereby the target size highly determines if the potential criminal will be able to attack and take away the target object. If in the case of a potential victim for example, a willing offender will first of all assess if the target person can be overcome and if the offender can be able to overpower the victim. This means that victimization occurs only to those individuals found to be most powerless and with no evident defense mechanisms.

An individual’s lifestyle and demographics have been identified as the key factors that influence the occurrence of crime. According to done research studies, the highest rates of victimization occur among single men or women, drug and alcohol users, black Americans, men, people living in the big cities, those living near bars as well as those with an active kind of lifestyle (Tewksbury & Mustaine 2005).

Rationale choice

Routine activities theory can be seen as that which involves the concept of rational choice where by potential offenders make decisions that are rational and with the intentions of benefiting from their decisions and actions as well as with the hope that the disadvantages of their decisions will be nil or minimal.

This regards to crime as being a professionally planned out and as being a previously calculated action. The models of rational choice bring out the assumption that the various choices individuals are exposed to are mainly inhibited by the institutions or environments within which their decisions are made (Miller, Schreck & Tewksbury, 2006).

This is to mean that criminals are always aware and have a clear understanding of their values as well as of their intended actions. it is through this knowledge that they set out their plans identify the targets, present options, the existence or non existence of guardians and the possible ways through which their actions will be successful.

Situational crime

Situational Crime Prevention (SCP) is a prevention strategy whereby crime is deterred from taking place by putting up protective measures. This therefore works towards the reduction of criminal acts. SCP has been found to be related to the Routine Activity Theory through the three elements that constitute the routine theory (Siegel, 2007).

The three elements, available victim, lack of guardianship and a motivated offender acts as the basis for putting up preventive measures against the occurrence of crime. The creation of guardianship like for example having police guards, putting up security lightings and survey cameras, one is likely to prevent the occurrence of crime.

Factors in routine activity

The three factors or elements that promote the occurrence of crime as mentioned above have been found to interact with one on another in such a way that the absence of one prevents a crime from taking place. The presence of the three elements is necessary to allow for an offence being committed. In a situation where the target is available, there is no guardianship and there is no person in site capable of committing a crime means that there is no motivated offender and hence no crime can take place.

A motivated offender like for example an adolescent drug user may notice a suitable target, some money that has been openly placed in an area or home whereby no one is on site (no guardian present. In this case an opportunity to steal the money which will be useful in buying drugs is created by the fact that the money is openly available and accessible and there is no controller or guardian to prevent the adolescent from taking the money.

Keeping the money in a safe place out of another person’s reach would be a suitable prevention measure as it takes away the target and therefore eliminating one of the three elements required for crime to take place.

References

Cohen, L. & M. Felson. (1979). “Social change and crime rate trends: A routine activities approach.” American Sociological Review 44: 588-608.

Felson, M.(1994). Crime and Everyday Life: Insight and Implications for Society. Thousand Oaks, CA: Pine Forge Press.

Miller, M., Schreck, C. & Tewksbury, R. (2006). Criminological theory. Boston: Allyn & Bacon.

Siegel, L. (2007) Criminology. “Theories, Patterns, and Typologies. Tenth Edition. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

Tewksbury, R. & Mustaine, E. (2005). “Routine activities theory.” in R. Wright & M. Miller (eds.) Encyclopedia of Criminology. NY: Routledge.

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