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Criminal Victimization

bulletIn 1993 the violent crime rate was estimated at 50 victimizations per 1,000 persons. In 2000 the estimated rate was 28 victimizations per 1,000 persons. This represents a 44% decline in violent victimizations over the seven year period (Rennison, 2001).
bulletAn estimated 25.9 million victimizations occurred in the United States in 2000. The lowest level recorded since 1973 (Ibid).
bulletThe violent crime rate fell 15 percent (15%) and the property crime rate fell 10 percent (10%) within the past year. The 15 percent decline in violent crime represents the largest single year decline ever measured by the National Crime Victimization Survey (Ibid).

Fear and Perception of Crime
bulletOne out of every two Americans surveyed nation-wide felt that there is more crime in the United States this year than in the previous year (Pastore, 2000).
bulletForty-one percent (41 %) of inhabitants report feeling afraid of walking home alone at night within a mile radius of their own neighborhood (Ibid).


Although crime and victimization rates have steadily declined since the early 1990's, societyís perception and fear of crime is still very high. Greater participation between community members and local law enforcement is needed to help ensure that crime and victimization rates continue to decline. Crime prevention is a concept that can help reduce crime and public fear and perception of crime.

Many individuals have taken steps to protect themselves and their property by attending self-defense courses, acquiring dogs, or engraving their property with some form of identification. Businesses have initiated crime prevention measures in the workplace, ranging from hiring security officers to installing security alarms, as well as training staff to recognize potential problem situations.

Many large businesses have instituted employee assistance programs to not only educate employees about crime prevention measures, but also to provide assistance to victimized employees.

Perhaps the most significant area of growth has been the involvement of communities in crime prevention programs. Twenty years ago, numerous communities established block home programs for children. Children were taught that if they were afraid for any reason, they should go to the house with the block home sign in the window for assistance. This type of community response has expanded into programs that include neighborhoods, schools, businesses and local police departments.

Primary Crime Prevention

Crime prevention is usually described by using the medical model. Primary, secondary, and tertiary crime prevention models all involve some level of community involvement. However, each type of prevention focuses on a specific developmental stage of crime. Primary prevention addresses the conditions in the natural environment that may lead to the development and prevalence of crime. Lack of street maintenance, broken windows, abandoned buildings, and broken down cars are a few examples of a disorganized community. Primary prevention seeks to directly alleviate these factors that may lead to crime. One type of primary prevention is that of neighborhood crime prevention.

Neighborhood Crime Prevention

By addressing the factors that may lead to crime, neighborhood crime prevention affects the fear and perception of crime as well as the actual prevalence of crime. If members of the community are participating in crime prevention, their perception and fear of crime may reduce.

There are many different approaches to neighborhood crime prevention. The attempt is to establish a cohesive and socially aware community where crime cannot flourish. Some examples of neighborhood crime prevention are neighborhood watch programs, citizen patrols, organized community clean up days, social events with local law enforcement (picnics, festivals, etc..), and physical design.

Neighborhood crime prevention programs are most successful if there is active participation from both citizens and local resources. The more actively involved members are in the overall well-being of the community, the more successful the program will be at reducing crime.

How to Organize Neighborhood Crime Prevention:
bulletTalk to your neighbors. Communication of the issues and each otherís concerns allows for further concrete steps to be taken. Assess what the community wants accomplished through neighborhood crime prevention.
bulletLocate and Identify local resources. The more resources that are available to a community the more programs that can be implemented.
bulletTalk to local police about organizing community activities.
bulletSee if local businesses are willingly to donate time, money, and or resources.
bulletSeek out State and Federal resources. Are there any funds/grants available to your community. Apply for them.
bulletGet together. Hold regular meetings where all citizens can suggest ideas and improvements. Communicate citizen ideas or concerns to local agencies(law enforcement, businesses, etc..)
bulletStart small. Identify one or two programs that is suitable and adequate for your neighborhood. It may be unrealistic and ultimately unsuccessful to implement a program that does not address the issues in your community.

Secondary Crime Prevention

Secondary crime prevention attempts to prevent crime by focusing on at-risk offenders or potential opportunities that may foster criminal activity. The main tool used in secondary crime prevention is identification and prediction. There are many theoretical basis for the implementation of secondary crime prevention programs. Once we are able to identify potential places, people, situations, or opportunities that are at-risk for criminal activity it may be possible to predict and prevent any future criminal occurrence. By reducing the potential opportunities to commit crime, increasing the risk(s) of the crime, and by minimizing the potential gain of the criminal act, it is more likely that the criminal will not engage in such behavior.

Citizens can take individual steps to protect themselves from victimization. Organizing large groups for crime prevention may be very difficult at times. Certain programs like situational crime prevention allows citizens to individually participate in crime prevention.

There are many techniques that are used in situational crime prevention. Situational crime prevention focuses on preventing a specific type of crime and criminal behavior. However, no one technique is guaranteed to prevent all crime. A few techniques of situational crime prevention are categorized under the following goals.

Reducing the opportunity to commit crime.

Target hardening. This technique makes it physically more difficult for the potential offender to engage in criminal activity. Installing dead-bolt locks in doors, using steering wheel locks for cars, and putting iron bars on windows are a few examples of target hardening. The recent surge of computer crimes has made it increasing necessary to address issues of privacy. Computer users can protect themselves from victimization by installing software that defends against potential intrusion by hackers and other criminals. Software that protects against computer viruses are a form of target hardening that is widely implemented.

Increasing the risk associated with the crime.

Formal Surveillance. This technique is used by many companies and corporations. It can also be used in a residential environment. There are many ways to conduct formal surveillance. Some examples of formal surveillance include night desk attendants, security guards, security cameras, speeding cameras, and alarm systems. Potential criminals may be less likely to engage in illegal activity if they perceive a greater risk at being apprehended.

Natural Surveillance. In Defensible Space (1972) Oscar Newman proposed natural surveillance as a technique of crime prevention through physical design. The physical space is designed in a manner in which legitimate users can monitor the activities that occur in that area. For example, by increasing street lighting legitimate users can better see any unusual activity. This increases the exposure of any potential criminal behavior and increases the chance someone will be able to identify the criminal. Residential motion lights are an example of increased lighting. Physical surroundings may be conducive to the formation of crime. Criminals are more liking to offend in an area that they feel more confident in not getting caught in. There may be easy access and exits to the location of the crime. Once the crime has been committed the criminal knows he/she can escape with relative ease. One way to address this is to create speed bumps that would slow down a potential fleeing felon or to limit road access to the neighborhood.

Reducing the potential reward(s) of the crime.

Denial of benefits. Reducing benefits of a criminal activity may deter the offender from committing the crime. Retail store owners who fear theft of merchandise have used the ink-marking technique of situational crime prevention. If the offender knows that the merchandise will be stained once he tries to illegally remove the tag the monetary benefits of the crime have been removed. Car manufacturers have long ago designed face-less car stereo players. The idea is to reduce the potential reward of the criminal activity by removing the target of the crime. Another example of reducing potential reward is property identification. By marking and tagging oneís property the monetary gains the criminal anticipates to receive is reduced. If they are unable to dispose of the stolen property it is useless to them.

Tertiary Crime Prevention

Tertiary prevention, unlike primary and secondary prevention focuses on prevention after a crime has occurred. The focus is to reduce the recidivism rate of criminals and insure that steps are taken so that a victim will not be re-victimized. The primary form of tertiary prevention in the United States today is that of incapacitation. Although it does not prevent criminals from committing crimes once they leave prison, it does protect the larger population from present victimization at the hands of the criminal.


Evaluations of these crime prevention programs are mixed. There is no one great approach to preventing crime. The Maryland Commissionís report to Congress, "Preventing Crime: What Works, What Doesnít, Whatís Promising," is the most comprehensive analysis of crime prevention programs and strategies. Over 500 studies world-wide were evaluated and critiqued.

The success of neighborhood crime prevention programs in reducing crime is dependant on several factors. Citizen involvement over the course of the program, funding, and local commitment are essential ingredients to any neighborhood crime prevention program. Evaluations show a reduction in crimes of drug use and vandalism. No major reductions were shown for serious violent crimes. However, most studies on neighborhood crime prevention suffer from many research limitations. Therefore, it is not possible to say that neighborhood prevention does not reduce serious violent crime. Serious violent crimes often occur in what is normally called "hot spots." By targeting these areas and using a combination of programs reduction of crime is possible.

Situational Crime Prevention has shown to dramatically reduce burglary crimes. In the Maryland Report, over 90% of the studies evaluated on situational crime prevention show reductions in crime (Sherman, 1996). Approaches like target hardening had a significant effect on crime rates. In some studies crime rates rose in surrounding areas where target hardening was used. However, the displacement was not significant enough to overshadow the effect of target hardening.

Crime prevention is not limited to any one program or any one group of programs. There are several other approaches in crime prevention that have reduced crime and victimization. Mentoring of youth, home visits by nurses, and nuisance abatement are all forms of crime prevention that can be done at the local level. Citizens can take an active role in preventing crime, preventing victimization, and reducing the fear of crime in their neighborhoods.


Pastore, Ann L.; Maguire, Kathleen. (2000). Sourcebook of Criminal Justice Statistics. Bureau of Justice Statistics. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Justice.

Reninison,Callie. (2001). National Crime Victimization Survey. Bureau of Justice Statistics. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Justice.

Sherman, L. (1996). Preventing Crime: What Works, What Doesnít, Whatís Promising. A Report to United States Congress. Washington, D.C.


Lab, S. P. (1997). Crime Prevention: Approaches, Practices and Evaluations. Third Edition. Cincinnati, OH. Anderson Publishing Company.

For additional information, please contact:

National Association of Town Watch
1 Wynnewood Road
Suite 102
Wynnewood, PA 19096
Tel: (610) 649-7055
(800) NITE-OUT
Fax: (610) 649-5456

National Crime Prevention Council
1000 Connecticut Avenue, NW
13th Floor
Washington, DC 20036
Tel: (202) 466-6272
Fax: (202) 296-1356

National Crime Prevention Institute
University of Louisville
Louisville, KY 40292
Tel: (502) 852-6987
(800) 334-8635 ext. 6987
Fax: (502) 852-6990

Executive Office of Weed and Seed
U.S. Department of Justice
810 7th Street, NW
6Th Floor
Washington, DC 20531
Tel: (202) 616-1152
Fax: (202) 616-1159

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Copyright © 2001 by the National Center for Victims of Crime.  This information may be freely distributed, provided that it is distributed free of charge, in its entirety and includes this copyright notice.


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