SECU1007 "Understanding the Crime Event"
Word Count: 1954
Shoplifting is the crime problem of stealing from a store discreetly. It is distinct from burglary and
robbery, which are considered theft by breaking into a closed store and stealing by threatening
or engaging in violent behavior, respectively. Shoplifting has been a major issue in England and
the rest of the world for more than seventy years now. Although it has been around for a long
period of time, over the last few years there was a notable increase in the amount of offences
comitted of shoplifting in England. The amount of increase is 23% in the last five years, while the
number of offenders that have been arrested by the police dropped by 17% and the charges
decreased by 25% in the same period. (BBC News, 2019). With the introduction of environmental
criminology, a new point of view to this problem is provided. According to NASP(National
Association for Shoplifting Prevention), 73% of adult and 72% of teenager shoplifters don’t plan
to steal in advance, hence, this shows that the crime is encouraged during the presence of the
customer in the shop. (NASP, 2019). The lack of a security guard or CCTVs(closed-circuit
televisions) in the shop, during times when the shops are crowded,(seasonal occasions) are
patterns, within the shop, found to hugely affect the rate of this particular crime. Therefore, by
shifting our focus to the environmental conditions inside a shop, the event patterns identified
will be explained providing sufficient evidence as well as preventing techniques used for
Moreover, this essay will focus on the crime of shoplifting without taking into consideration the
motivation or situation of the offender committing this crime but in fact look at how shops create
the opportunities for crime to occur. After researching the crime and analyzing the patterns
found around shoplifting, I concluded to my hypotheses. Continuing on this I lay down my main
hypothesis that shops act as crime generators; a location that even though people visiting it have
no intentions to commit a crime but the opportunity is too good to pass up. My second
hypothesis is that a shop that has been victimised already is most likely to be offended again.
Using the following fundamental theories within environmental criminology, routine activity
theory, rational choice along with situational precipitators theory and crime pattern, evidence
will be provided to back up this hypothesis and explain the existence of crime in shops. (Wortley
and Townsley, 2017).
To begin with, the routine activity theory proves that crime is dependent on more than simply
criminals. More specifically, crime requires the combination of the presence of an offender and
suitable victim with the absence of a capable guardian. When this scenario is in place, a crime
opportunity arises. Eck’s crime triangle is the basis of this theory and by forming the triangle for
shoplifting we can have a more specific approach on this crime. In this case our offenders, as you
can see on Figure 1, are the customers that visit a shop, our suitable place. As we are using the
extended version of the crime triangle, we can move to its outer triangle. The handler of the
offender will be his/her family, siblings or friends which are not present at the time of the offence,
therefore cannot affect his decision. The guardian can be both the employee and security guard,
depending on the shop, as well as the police in general. As for the place managers, this will be
the owner/manager of the shop or shopping mall based on the chosen place.
In case an offender comes across a shop in which the desired target is noticed, with the absence
of a shop employee or security guard, a crime opportunity exists. Therefore, the offender is more
Figure 1: Eck’s extended crime triangle. (Wortley and Townsley, 2017).
likely to commit the crime even if his initial intentions when visiting the shop were different; this
relates back to the first hypothesis that crime is generated from the shop.
Moving on to the second principle, rational choice theory explains the motive behind offenders’
actions and how they decide to commit a crime. Offenders analyse the situation they are in by
taking into consideration the effort, risk and reward each time. This simple cost-benefit analysis
will show them the expected benefits and expected costs. In case the benefits outweigh the costs,
then crime occurs. Applying this theory to our example shows that again the opportunity for
crime is offered by the shop, due to the lack of setting significant costs to the offenders. For
example, as mentioned before the most of the shop thefts occur on the busiest times of the year.
This can be again explained by this theory as crowded shops are considered easier to steal from
with lowered costs, as its more difficult to be spotted or arrested. (Cardone and Hayes, 2012).
Similarly, to the rational choice theory, the situational precipitators theory focuses on how
environmental factors can encourage offenders to commit crimes, which they would not have
otherwise. Prompts and pressures are two examples of precipitators of crime that are present in
shoplifting. Prompts are aspects from the surrounding environment that may tempt us, stimulate
us and set examples for us to follow. These include a crowded store, lack of authority figure and
no camera surveillance in the shop. Pressures are situations that exert social pressure on human
based on the expectations and demands of other human beings. Some examples of these are
teenagers that do it because of the pressure that all of their friends are doing and homeless
people that need to feed themselves. Figure 2 puts precipitators and opportunity together to
explain the relation between the two theories.
Figure 2: Relationship between precipitators and opportunities. (Wortley and
Townsley, 2017, pp.66).
Moving on to the last theory, Crime Pattern Theory will help us understand the reasons behind
the location of the crime rather than the reasons the crime happens. Offenders move around
between their home, work and entertainment areas as they follow their everyday activities. The
places they visit the most as well as their best-known routes form their awareness space. Most
criminals will stay in their awareness space to commit offences because they are familiar with
the area and feel more confident in it. This theory is linked to our hypothesis regarding the repeat
victimization. A shop that falls in the awareness space of an offender, can be offended several
times by the same person. (Read Hayes, 2019).
According to these theories, my hypotheses states that there should be evidence of shops being
victimized more than once and shops acting as crime generators. Correspondingly, we should
expect to see differences between shops based on their location as well as their shop’s condition.
It will be interesting to see how the time period of the year affects as well the crime rates.
Most of the research of this project is based around shops in London, United Kingdom. To collect
data for the research, I used the police data (Data.police.uk, 2019). Even though the data
collected from the police might not be accurate enough as not all of the crime is recorded, but
its sufficient for evidence to be provided. After collecting all the data for the last year, I started
plotting online on the map the shops targeted over each month as well as the frequency of the
Figure 3: February 2018 Shoplifting incidents on City of London Street, labeled by frequency.
The result for the month February 2018 can be seen in Figure 4, this month was selected
specifically so that there is no seasonal period to alter our results. The frequency that each shop
was victimized during this month is labeled next to each shops location. As it can be seen on the
map, a supermarket located opposite to Liverpool Street Station was victimized the most
reaching a number of 13 incidents recorded by the police. This can be explained due to the
crowded area almost throughout the whole day and due to the fact, the shop is next to an
underground station where a lot of people are already been attracted to. Crowded shops are
more difficult to keep secure as you cannot monitor and control every customer in it. In addition,
the shop has a facing on the open street which make it a suitable for “grab and go” as the offender
has multiple escape routes from the shop. By paying close attention to the common points
between all of the offended shops we can see that the all of them have a fronting on high streets.
Continuing on, to have a broader view of our problem, a full year analysis needed to be done.
This will help identify any crime patterns that exist through the year and not specifically on a
given period. In the Figure 5, found below, we can see the shoplifting offences of last year that
occur at the City of London Street. Looking closely to the diagram, we can see that the most
incidents happened in October, November, August and March. The Easter was on the 1st of April
last year, therefore, March can be considered the pre-Easter period; hence the shops were more
busy than usual. Same goes with October and November which can be considered as preChristmas period. Hence the time period can be correctly said to affect the crime of shoplifting.
Figure 4: Police data used to form Figure 3 (Data.police.uk, 2019)
Figure 5: Chart created using police data for each month of the year 2018
In order to completely test my hypothesis of the shops creating the opportunity for the item theft
to occur, I needed specific data for the environmental conditions inside the shop. Obtaining data
showing whether there are CCTVs or a security guard in the targeted shop. Having this data would
help me identify patterns proving that with the absence of a security guard crime rate increases.
In addition, the condition of the shop is highly suggested that it will affect the crime occurrence,
therefore data relating how well taken care of the shop is by its employees. According to the
Broken Window Theory (Wilson & Kelling) a broken window is considered a physical sign that the
residents in a neighborhood do not especially care about their environment and that similar
crime will be tolerated. (tutor2u, 2019). In the case of shops, employees who do not respect and
keep the shop in order, will result in encouraging anti-social behavior to the customers.
The most important way of preventing a crime is removing the opportunity for this crime to
occur, in this way it is certain that no crime will exist. A lot of techniques can be employed in
order to minimize the crime rate of shoplifting. To begin with, the most effective method would
be the use of modern tags. New tagging methods include computer chips in them which can be
used to track where and when an item was stolen. Offenders will notice the new updated tags
and affect their decision. Additionally, the shop must be always kept to perfect condition,
maintaining a clean and organized shop will attract the right customers as well as remove the
precipitator of crime from the shop. The right security tools are the most common solution, but
still a lot of shops lack the presence of a security guard or closed-circuit televisions. This can be
explained due to the extra costs for the salary of the guard. A solution to this problem can be the
hiring of a security guard as part-time only for the months of the year where the shop is busiest.
To conclude, it has been shown that using environmental criminology the crime of shoplifting can
be approached in a new way using the patterns identified to minimize this crime. Continuing this
research using data from other countries would be interesting in order to check the validity of
the result, even though the results of the current study provided solid empirical data.
Consequently, shop managers can benefit from this study, using the preventive techniques
presented to minimize this crime.
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