Environmental Criminology

Environmental criminology first emerged as a formally recognized sub-area of the general study of criminology in the early 1980s. Environmental criminology involves the study of crime, criminality and victimization as they relate to particular environments. Key to the study of environmental criminology is the understanding of how environments influence individual behavior within a geo-spatial context. Environmental criminologists study the relationships between space (geography), time, law, offender and targets or victims – viewing these components as integral parts in the formulation of a criminal event. By examining the time and place context of a criminal event, environmental criminologists are able to estimate how changes to the built environment, landscape, urban design and the daily activities and movements of people can reduce the likelihood of crimes from occurring. Increasingly, environmental criminologists use geographic information systems (GIS) technologies to visualize and map crime patterns, as well as aid in development of crime reduction strategies and programs.


Emerging from environmental criminology is the study of geography of crime. Geography of crime addresses the ways spatio-temporal patterns produced through the interactions of people, society, space, time and crime are analyzed. Some of the earliest examinations of crime patterns from a spatio-temporal perspective come from Lambert Quetelet and Andre-Michel Guerry during the mid-1800s. Quetelet and Guerry are noted for producing the first crime maps, which presented provincial crime rates in France. Over the decades, the study of the geography of crime has become a critical aspect in the advancement of crime analysis, whereby the behavioral and social implications of geography on crime can be better understood and examined. Today, geography of crime provides a foundational component in the formulation of crime reduction strategies, investigative approaches, and the emergence of predictive policing – whereby the risk of criminal events are predicted using spatio-temporal pattern analysis.

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Developed during the same period as environmental criminology and geography of crime, came James Q. Wilson and George Kelling’s Broken Windows theory. Introduced in the March 1982 edition of The Atlantic, broken windows theory suggests that if a broken window is not repaired in a timely manner, other windows will eventually be broken, causing and symbolizing a sense of public apathy and community disorder to develop – ultimately attracting criminals to the area. This theory holds that vandals will repeatedly target buildings in a state of physical disorder, and the only way to prevent further decline is to rapidly repair and improve properties in decay. Community disorder causes a breakdown in local social control, ultimately resulting in crime. Unless caught early and fully addressed, social control will continue to erode and incidence of crime will increase. Physical disorder can be typified as broken windows, neglected vacant lots, derelict buildings, abandoned vehicles, and properties that have graffiti. Social disorder includes events such as aggressive panhandling, street-level prostitution, low-level drug dealing, loitering and other activities that violate traditional social norms. At its core, the broken windows theory predicts that disorder is a fundamental precursor to serious crime.

Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED)

C. Ray Jeffery developed the notion of Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) in 1971. CPTED constitutes a multi-disciplinary approach for preventing crime through the engineering and design of environments. CPTED is based on the understanding that the behavior of potential offenders can be influenced through the altering of physical space, which characteristically is applied to the urban environment. If poorly applied, CPTED can result in obtrusive physical security features being used to control access to a property, ultimately resulting in over-fortification. CPTED generally focuses on deterring offenders from committing offences in specific spaces thus risks displacing, rather than preventing criminal activity. Despite criticism, CPTED has been shown as a valuable and informed means to prevent crime, and has helped many communities realize reduced incidence of crime.