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The Most Effective Crime Prevention Strategies in the Past Two Decades Essay

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Updated: Dec 2nd, 2019


Crime prevention strategies are diverse and depend on the institution implementing them, the area of their implementation and the social factors they address in their implementation. Crime is a social problem and therefore is influenced by social factors affecting individuals and community. In order to know the effectiveness of the strategy or strategies employed in preventing crime, a number of social factors and conditions are scientifically measured before the implantation and after or during the implementation.

Over the last two decade, since the year 1990 a number of crime prevention strategies have stood out as effective. The effectiveness of such strategies is only been measurable by the results got after comparison with the situation before the implementation of the strategy. Most crime prevention strategy results reported in the last decade were initiated prior to the start of the decade and therefore the impact recorded spans for more than a decade.

This essay describes crime prevention strategies then demonstrates why the Safe City strategy as the most effective in crime prevention strategy followed by the Crime Prevention through Environmental Design (CPTED). It explains how the two strategies have been successful and further mentions other strategies that have had a notable impact.

The best strategies are created in consideration of the crime causing factors and have a specific geographical area focus (Fisher & Lab, 2010). The nature of crime is not homogenous and cannot therefore be dealt with using only a particular strategy. There are universal conditions that have to be fulfilled for crime to occur.

The conditions are; the desire of the criminal to carry out an offence, the opportunity to carry out the crime and finally the possession of skills and tools necessary for commitment of the crime. Crime prevention strategies have been formulated while taking in mind the various natures of crime and their geographical frequency of occurrence.

Crime prevention strategies are divided into primary prevention strategies and secondary prevention strategies. Primary prevention strategies are concerned with the individual and family level.

They seek to address the family level factors that lead to criminal acts. These factors may be domestic violence, poor parenting skills and adoption of risky behaviours like drug and substance abuse. Secondary prevention strategies have a wider scope than the family level and aim at the control or elimination social factors that induce individuals and groups to commit crime.

Secondary prevention strategies target law enforcement, social programs. On a national level, or international level, tertiary prevention strategies are used. These strategies are formulated and implemented to prevent reoccurrence of national crimes such as terrorism acts and illegal narcotic trade and corruption.

In the last two decades the notion of preventing crime has been expanded from narrow functioning of policy to a transversal approach with community actors and multiple states involvement. Crime prevention strategies are now formulated by national governments, city governments or community based groups and private companies (Shaw, 2007).

The most widely used approach is the city government formulated strategies. Cities offer the closest geographical focus on crime areas while still offering making the strategy used replicable in other cities around the world. Most world cities share the same demographic distribution patterns and tend to have the same crime rates patterns.

Substantial national crime reduction has been possible when the crime prevention strategies have been focused at the epicentres of crime in urban areas. These epicentres are mainly poverty stricken neighbourhoods that account for more than half of reported criminal offences (Sherman n.d.).

The seven main institutions that formulate and implement crime prevention strategies are; families, communities, schools, labour markets, specific premises, the police and the criminal justice system. Sherman (n.d.) has reported that “events in one of these institutions can affect events in others that in turn can affect the local crime rate”.

Safe City Strategy

The safe city strategy has been successful although some cities implementing the strategy have had difficulties because of resource constraints. On the other hand reporting of the results of this strategy has been limited the fact that its implantation started in the last decade for major cities. The Safe City approach is carried out by city authorities lead by the city or municipal governments, business representatives, labour unions and resident associations as well as the police and justice system as an on-going multifaceted approach.

Each institution contributes in the implantation of the strategy, so that resource shortfalls and duplicity of efforts are minimized. Joint implementation has also made monitoring much easier due to the increased resource disposal. Secondly, it has allowed for faster adoption by individual institutions because of the promise of collaboration.

The main purpose of this strategy has been to maintain a high personal safety standard in the public domain of major cities and reduce reported incidents of all types of crime. Among the initiatives of the strategy are proper street lighting and upgrade of footpaths, installation of cameras and rolling out of community safety education programs.

Survey results on the effectiveness of this strategy have revealed that awareness of the initiatives has been varied across different initiatives. This is because different cities implemented individual initiatives at different stages and therefore survey respondents might have not had an opportunity of experiencing an initiative. The perception of the strategy by different city residents has been positive and has demonstrated their approval of the initiatives employed to make their cities safer.

Of all the initiatives implemented under the Safe City strategies, the lighting initiative proves to be the most effective and one that has immediate impact to city residents on their perception of improved safety and reduced crime. City lighting has allowed law enforcement by police together with community crime reporting to flourish.

The lighting initiative has effectively addressed the availability of opportunity as a condition for crime commitment. City youths wishing to practice delinquency have been most hindered by the lighting initiative and since they make up the large majority of crime epicentre population, the crime rates in these areas have reduced. This includes civilian attacks, rapes and robberies carried out at night in the open places (Coumarelos, 2001).

The collaborative nature of the safer city strategy has made it possible for community interest groups to influence the setting up of lighting facilities at neighbourhood sporting facilities.

The lighting up of such facilities like basketball courts has provided the youth with an opportunity to be positively engaged in sports thus reducing idle time that would be spent in criminal activities. Community participation is also assisting the youth of these cities to have a forum for expressing their grievances especially towards social problems affecting them like poverty (Coumarelos, 2001).

The safer city strategy has been boosted by its community safety education initiative. This initiative has been able to raise the awareness of the effects of crime among city residents and moved them into taking personal initiatives of reporting crimes in their areas. It has also led to increased incidences of self-reported crimes. Among its positive impacts has been the reduction in average time that police take to conduct investigations on suspected criminals.

Community participation has helped in identifying special need areas for police patrols which reduces the opportunity for committing crime. In terms of suspending or reducing the desire to commit crime, the safety education initiative has been complemented by city wide projects that create alternative engagements other than criminal activities. These include sporting, community service and micro-entrepreneurial projects for the jobless to provide them with steady income streams and address their poverty situation.

The camera installation initiation has had a major impact on crime case investigation as recorded film provides conclusive evidence during prosecution of suspects. Most cities adopting this initiative have installed closed circuit television cameras (CCTV) that are monitored from a single location and are remotely operated. Placement of CCTV has been on high traffic areas and in areas that had previously reported a lot crime of incidents.

These areas include car parks, public housing grounds and inside public transport facilities. According to research findings by Welsh and Farrington on crime prevention effects of CCTV installation around the world’s major cities, out of 22 evaluations, only five gave an undesirable effect while five gave a null effect on crime.

One found an uncertain effect while the remaining eleven found a desirable effect (2002). CCTV on car parks has been reported to reduce incidences of car break-in and carjacking at the entry point. Installations at public housing grounds have complemented lighting initiatives and increased the residents’ perception of safety and deterred opportunist delinquents from attacking residents or engaging in petty theft crimes like pickpocketing.

Police and other interest groups have been able to collect valuable data on crime and related incidents because of CCTV. The data collected has assisted the implementing institutions of the safer city strategy to further improve their effort on high need areas. Emerging crime epicentres in neighbourhoods has also been spotted early before they turn into full blown problem cases.

All the quick response has been facilitated by the rapid and easy capture of data on the ground without requirement of personnel either from the police or community. CCTV in public transport facilities have mainly served to aid in investigations by police. Public transportation is a very high traffic area and at any time there are passengers hindering the effectiveness of the CCTV by blocking its view unintentionally.

However, other than spotting criminal activities in these places and scaring off potential criminals, the CCTV serve as a tracking device, used by investigators following fleeing suspects after a reported crime incident in a neighbourhood. The recorded video evidence has been very helpful in convicting suspects by producing evidence that link them with the crime scenes.

Successful convictions of suspects have led to reduced crime incidents in the same locations by scaring off criminals without the proper technology to make them invisible and untraceable. Other crime prone areas are now being fitted with CCTV to complement those already covered and this will further assist investigators to gather speedy conclusive evidence that incriminates suspects.

Implementation of the camera initiative has been slowed by their high costs of installation and their requirement of regular maintenance. Cities in developed states have been in the forefront of adopting camera initiatives in their Safe City strategy; developing country’s cities rely much on donor support, and have therefore lagged behind with their adoption.

Besides its desirable outcome of reduced crime and a faster conviction time for suspects, these cities still show very little initiative of deploying CCTV on a metropolis scale (Welsh & Farmington, 2002).

The Safe City approach as an initiative of the UN-Habitat and was adopted by the city of Dar es Salam in 1998. Before launching the strategy, a rigorous study had revealed that 25 per cent of all crimes reported in Tanzanian urban centres occurred in the city.

Implementation of the strategy was undertaken collectively by the Dar es Salam City Commission that was made up of different institutions with a stake in the city. The initiatives adopted by the DCC were formulated using a bottom up approach so as to capture the needs of the communities living in the city.

The DCC came up with the following initiatives after extensive consultations: sensitization workshops to come up with concrete recommendations on crime prevention ways to be adopted, secondly enhancement of law and by-law enforcement by city auxiliary, police and ward tribunals.

The third initiative was the involvement of the women and vulnerable groups in community crime audits. The fourth initiative was the establishment of income generation projects. These initiatives were an answer to several needs established during stakeholder meetings.

The strategy has been successful in bringing justice closer to the residents using ward tribunals, law enforcement has been greatly boosted by the involvement of the city auxiliary who comprise mainly of youths from poor neighbourhoods without incomes. Involvement of women and vulnerable groups in policy formulation has led to identification of the most needy areas of the city such as alleys and slum areas and as a results these areas have been opened up to allow both police and emergency services to access them.

Residents previously engaged in illegal economic activity has establish legal businesses after understanding their role in ensuring their community is safe for women and everybody else. As a result of the positive results of reducing the desire to do crime and the opportunities of engaging in criminal activities, the Tanzanian government is replicating the Dar es Salam safer city strategy to other cities in the country (Mtani 2005).

In Cincinnati, Safe City strategy achieved a positive outcome of reduction in total crime by 5 cases monthly and a disappearance of geographical displacement. The city was able to save a total of US $752,197 that prior to the implementation of Safe City was being lost to crime related activities.

In comparison, the implementation of Safe City cost the city only US $221,093 over a twenty month period. The result show a three US dollar savings for every US dollar spent on Safe City. At the time of evaluation the program was still underway and, given the reported trend, will have a much greater positive impact on crime reduction (Vigne, Owens & Hetrick, 2009).

Crime Prevention through Community Design Strategy

The second crime prevention strategy that has shown very positive results is that of environmental design. The city of Virginia Beach (2000) describes crime prevention through environmental design as taking “crime prevention one step further by studying the site design and working with the development community and public development agencies in an attempt to create safer designs in new and existing developments”. CPTED has been effective in reducing crime because it arrests the last two conditions necessary for a crime commitment.

The condition requiring that the criminal must have the adequate skills of committing the crime as well as reducing the opportunities for crime. CPTED is most important in the planning and development of new neighbourhoods and therefore residents, developers and other stakeholders like the city’s officials and staff are first educated on the importance of using its principles. The sensitization mainly uses the alternative of developing without CPTED to show the possible effects that crime can bring to the new neighbourhood.

Since all stakeholders are involved in the planning and design, future disagreements and spinoffs from the CPTED principles are prevented from the start. The main elements of the CPTED strategy are Natural Surveillance, Natural Access Control, Territorial Reinforcement and Maintenance. CPTED has considered the importance of all segments of a neighbourhood such as businesses, social facilities and homes functioning properly.

The design elements of CPTED have been effective in reducing or eliminating the need to reinforce law and by-law enforcement that would be done at a cost to the community. Natural access controls that include gates, hedges and fences and doors have served to give the impression to possible offenders, that it is much riskier for them to select the target than not to. Use of natural access controls eliminates the need to have personnel looking after buildings so as to scare off potential offenders.

Natural access control principle when properly implemented has made it possible to have only one entrance to a facility. Single entrance has greatly reduced the opportunity for committing crime by increasing the chances of nabbing a criminal. It has also made it possible to seal of a building from unauthorised entry and when the principle has been used on a neighbourhood scale, then movement into and out of the neighbourhood has been easy to control.

This CPTED principle of natural access control has been very effective in reducing crime when combined with the Safe City initiative of camera programs using CCTV. Offences prevented by this principle are not limited to burglary cases, in open spaces and streets; use of single entry points has prevented entry of offenders or their escape after committing crime.

For single houses, use of walkways and proper open landscaping has made it easier for neighbours to spot a possible offender’s peculiar habits from afar. The design principle has also allowed for increased witness reporting of crimes and has made community policing a success in such neighbourhoods (City of Virginia Beach, 2000).

The second CPTED element is that of territorial reinforcement that emphasizes the boundaries of public and private spaces. To follow this element, designers use porches, sidewalks, or signs that show ownership and send out warning messages against trespassing. The concept gives the offenders and other people the perspective of a protected unit that is the responsibility of its owners.

The effectiveness of this element in crime prevention has been possible because of the nature of people to be more serious about what they own. Individual owners become extra careful at noticing any intrusion while offenders feel guiltier when they think about having to break into a territory. This behavioural reinforcement has largely contributed to reduction of crime rates in such neighbourhoods (City of Virginia Beach, 2000).

The third element of CPTED is natural surveillance as a design concept of making sure intruders are always being observed. Therefore buildings or properties designs are created to increase their visibility and the facilities inside.

Natural surveillance has been much more effective than CCTV at deterring crime because it is not fixed on a single direction. As an offender’s behaviour becomes clearly visible to a police officer, a passer-by or a private security person present, crime prevention soars, since more offenders are caught in the act of offence or before the actual act.

Neighbourhoods and properties that have successfully used natural surveillance have been able to do so because of laying an emphasis on the visual connection. Buildings have low perimeter walls or use transparent perimeters like barbed wires. People inside buildings are able to view the outside easily through large windows and open lobbies.

Setups inside commercial buildings are done in a way that allows a person to glance over the whole room without having to move from one place to another. This setup allows managers, door persons, room attendants and security persons to be able to detect any unusual behaviours and report or respond to crimes before any damage is done. People using the buildings and properties also feel safe because they are able to notice any threat to their safety and call for help.

The last element of CPTED is maintenance which recommends that all facilities and properties be taken care of to allow for their use purposefully as intended. Lack of maintenance makes an offender feel that there is an opportunity of making an offence. The breakdown and deterioration of properties depicts the owner’s reluctance to repair as well as their tolerance for disorder.

Neighbourhoods with unoccupied houses that have been neglected have reported more crime incidents than those without simply because the neglected houses provide a safe hiding place of criminals to conducts their illegal dealings. Residents become insecure and avoid contact with such houses and this further insulates the criminal from the rest of society and allows crime to prevail in that neighbourhood.

Maintenance compliments the other elements and ensures that they are effective at crime prevention. For private property maintenance is the responsibility of the owner while for public property, the authorities are responsible, however neglect of one property will indirectly affect every other occupant of the area because crime incidents affect their perception on the safety of their area and put them at risk of becoming victims.

A single element or principle in a crime prevention strategy when solely applied has a very minimal effect; however combination of two or more strategies of crime prevention has yielded the most positive results in the last two decades. A safer city strategy has greatly relied on the strategy of CPTED to effectively function.

In the case of Tanzania as explained above, opening up of slums by providing passable roads and paths greatly improved the security of the area (Mtani 2007). Another successful combination of the two strategies was reported at the Warwick Junction in Durban South Africa.

Upgrading of the street light illumination significantly reduced the theft of motor vehicles while the elevation of a pedestrian crossing that was notorious for robberies and assaults led to the eradication of those incidences. In most cases safety needs in public places have been identifies by using the nose test that is fool proof. When a public place offers privacy such that people can urinate then such a place is considered a perfect candidate for redesign using CPTED (Dobson, 2008).

Other crime prevention strategies are essentially either of the two discussed above, but different from the two in their implementation. For example, human trafficking crimes have been reasonably prevented by the UN development fund for women through education awareness; however the awareness program was not part of a safer city initiative.

In this case, the organization created public awareness of the hazards of trafficking and was able to bypass taboos and reach the victims of trafficking who were mainly women and children. The projects were informative on the risks involved and offered solutions to successful prevention of trafficking cases (UN Department of Public Information, 2000).

Explanation for the Difference in the Results Measured

Crime prevention strategies have existed for more than a century as different principles of controlling crime. The consolidation of different elements into a single strategy was achieved in the early 1980s. Even after consolidation, implementation has majorly been based on what worked under given circumstances and with available resources.

Measuring of the impacts of a single strategy has been difficult because of the nature of implementation that encompasses more than one institution and makes data collection tedious and impossible on other fronts. Measurability of each strategy’s effectiveness also differs among different cities of the world.

The main reason for this difference is that each city is at different levels of development and that affects the amount of data that is collected and analysed on crimes prevented as well as crimes committed and their cost to the city. For example, Dar es Salam city was unable to implement the Safe City strategy until it received donor support and therefore the implementation was limited to the amount of funds received for the project (Mtani, 2007).

In addition, Cincinnati having a bigger economy was able to implement CCTV on a city wide scale and afterwards could better report on the crime incidents noted. It reader then clearly sees that the amount of impact that will be reported on the implementation of a crime prevention strategy is dependent on the ability of the city to capture relevant crime prevention data.


Over the past two decades the Safe City crime prevention strategy has been the most effective over the last two decades, and as more cities continue to implement it, better monitoring techniques are formulated and used in measuring its effectiveness on these cities. Its success is mostly attributed to the emphasis of all stakeholder involvement in formulating initiatives for the strategy as well as implementation of those initiatives.

The Crime Prevention through Environmental Design (CPTED) strategy has been the second most effective strategy, however its success might be limited by the fact that after the initial implementation, crime prevention in subsequent years is hard to quantify. Other than the two most significant strategies, other much simpler ones have been used in specific geographical areas or to address specific crimes.


City of Virginia Beach, 2000, Crime prevention through environmental design, general guidelines for designing safer communities. Municipal Center, Virginia Beach, VA

Coumarelos, C 2001, An evaluation of the safe city strategy in Sydney, NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research, Sydney

Dobson, R 2007, urban regeneration as a crime prevention strategy, in Shaw, M and Travers, K (eds.), Strategies and best practices in crime prevention in particular in relation to Urban Areas and Youth at Risk, International Center for The Prevention of Crime, Montreal

Fisher, BS and Lab, SP 2010, Encyclopaedia of Victimology and Crime prevention, Volume 1, SAGE Publications, Thousand Oaks, CA

La Vigne, NG, Owens C & Hetrick SS 2009, Evaluation of target’s safe city initiative; implementing public-private partnerships to address crime in retail settings, the urban institute.

Mtani, A 2007, local innovations for crime prevention: “the case of safer cities: Dar es Salam”. In Shaw, M and Travers, K (eds.), Strategies and best practices in crime prevention in particular in relation to Urban Areas and Youth at Risk, International Center for The Prevention of Crime, Montreal

Shaw, M 2007, Introduction: setting standards and accessing progress in crime prevention, in Shaw, M and Travers, K (eds.) Strategies and best practices in crime prevention in particular in relation to Urban Areas and Youth at Risk, International Center for The Prevention of Crime, Montreal

UN Department of Public Information, 2000, Preventing crime and cutting costs, tenth United Nations congress on the prevention of crime and the treatment of offenders

Welsh, BC and Farrington, DP 2002. Crime prevention effects of Closed Circuit Television: a systematic review, Home office research (252), London

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