Recognizing High Risk Settings & Removing the Opportunity for Crime

Places are a major factor in the threat analysis efforts of police, community planners, and security companies. Indeed, every crime has to happen somewhere. So why do certain crimes tend to happen in certain places? What features about a place increase the opportunity for crime, and what features decrease crime opportunities? Most importantly, how can we use this information to improve our personal safety?

As Sun Tzu famously said,

"Be where your enemy is not".

This simple line sums up the idea that for an enemy to harm you, they essentially must have access to you. Without the physical opportunity to harm you, all the motive in the world amounts to nothing.

If we apply this thinking to modern day security we consider where certain types of attackers are most likely to lurk in our daily lives, and therefore what settings and places attacks are most likely to happen. It asks us to put ourselves in the minds of the attacker who carefully considers which location presents the best opportunity for their specific crime; defined by one with the highest benefits and the lowest risks.

In answering this question we find that attacks and abductions happen most often along every day routes that are quite mandatory in modern life: walks to school, work, the grocery store, etc. These aren't paths we can simply avoid- and perhaps that's why they attract predators (who might reverse the strategy to say "Be where your victim is"). Becoming observant about the places you go and learning the risks inherent to them is the first step to reducing crime opportunities, but for the places we cannot avoid we must find solutions other than our absence that will rob the attacker of their opportunity.

So if I may add on to the great war strategist, I would say "Be where your enemy is not; and when you must leave your house, be as aware as the cat, as confident as the lion, and as prepared at the bear hibernating in winter." It might need some polishing, but you get the point.

What is A Crime Opportunity?

Felson and Clarke created the concept of The Crime Triangle which is used to think about crime problems and identify potential solutions. The crime triangle asserts that for any crime to happen, a 1) motivated offender and a 2) suitable target must come together in 3) time and space, in the absence of capable guardians.

An opportunity for crime is simply the time and place where an offender has access to the target. Usually this requires a time and place with an absence of guardians (parents/teachers/other adults), but this isn't always the case. Every type of crime has it's own conditions for what constitutes a good opportunity. For example, the mass shooter often doesn't care about getting caught (sometimes wants to), where as the average child abuser dreads getting caught. This difference alone completely changes the crime calculation. To a mass shooter, the bigger the crowd the better. To the child abductor, the opposite is often true.

Felson and Clarke argue that crime can be prevented by reducing physical opportunities, primarily by increasing the risks to offenders. This is something that individuals like you and I can actually put into action for our own safety. At Girls Who Fight we look at violent attacks through this lens to answer the following questions:

  • how can we recognize crime opportunity zones?

  • what features increase or decrease the risk of a certain setting?

  • how can we boost our safety when we are in an opportunity zone?

How To Recognize Dangerous Settings & Crime Opportunity Zones

Any setting or situation could be the scene of some sort of crime- so it's not about labeling different places completely 'safe' or 'unsafe'. This could lead to a false sense of security, or to impractical avoidances. What we can do is understand what factors of a setting influence risk. For a more personalized approach, it's wise to consider what threats are present at the types of places you regularly go along with the paths you take to get there.

1. Be Aware

This might seem obvious, but the first step to recognizing dangerous settings is awareness of your surroundings. Your gut and your senses simply can't pick up on important signals if you're not aware. This means allowing all of your senses to do their job: eyes, ears, smell, and intuition. The biggest culprit of robbing us of working senses are cell phones. Keeping off your phone is a pretty easy thing to do to unlock the power of your super senses; allowing you to detect danger signals ahead of time. Secondly, be very aware of when your senses AREN'T working. This includes anytime you're drinking, taking drugs, or even when you're in a highly emotional state. These states have the double effect of making you appear to be an easier target to criminals while also reducing your ability to defend yourself. If you are in a state like this, always take extra safety precautions to help protect you when your senses can't.

To learn about how to be aware of your surroundings click here.

2. Know the Features That Impact Risk

The RL Score

The Risk Level Score is a scale from 1-10, 1 being least risky for your safety and 10 being the most. The risk level score should include a consideration of the opportunity level to potential attackers, whether or not there are capable guardians around, and take into account other relevant information. Do your own RL calculations on your daily routes, identifying which locations are likely to be a higher risk to your safety. Eventually, identifying opportunity zones becomes second nature.

1. The Crowd (Present Capable Guardians)