Crime and Nature


Marcus Felson

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  • Front Matter
  • Back Matter
  • Subject Index
  • Dedication—40 Years Later

    In 1966 I was one of 75 students in a classic course at the University of Chicago, “The Modern City.” A wonderful pair of professors taught us—Harold Mayer1and Gerhard Meyer.2They presented the fundamentals of urban geography and urban economics, respectively, and their teachings have guided my thinking ever since. Each of them had minor handicaps—Mayer with his misformed arms and Meyer with his bad eyesight and stammer, which gave students time to write everything down. In class, Mayer swung the old slide projector up to the table, then showed us wonderful photographs from cities of past and present. His pictures were not for amusement; every picture illustrated a general point that stuck in the mind afterward.

    Not only were Mayer's publications widely known, but he was also very active in urban and regional planning. Later he moved to the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, contributing to the local and regional planning process. His wonderful photographic collection is now archived in their library.

    Gerhard Meyer had escaped the Nazis and was a personal friend of the famed theologian Paul Tillich. He published almost nothing, instead having his influence indirectly through his students. Meyer was appreciated by his colleagues, but they unfortunately required two decades to promote him to full professor.

    Both Mayer and Meyer were masters at organizing information. Their good humor always reinforced learning, rather than distracting from it. One has been dead for 30 years, and the other for 10, but I have not forgotten them or what they taught me.


    1. American geographer and urban planner (1916–1994). Served in the U.S. Office of Strategic Services during World War II, the Philadelphia City Planning Commission, and the Chicago Plan Commission, where he helped to develop the St. Lawrence Seaway. Professor at University of Chicago (1950–1967), Kent State University (1968–1974), and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (1975 until his death).

    2. American economist of German origin (1903–1973). Emigrated in 1933 to France, in 1935 to Great Britain, and in 1937 to the United States. Taught at the University of Chicago from 1937 onwards, and was appointed full professor after 1965. Meyer also taught the economics module in the core curriculum.


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    List of Exhibits

    • 1.1 Crime and the Seven Requirements of Life 4
    • 1.2 Victimizations Before 6:00 p.m., United States, 2002, Selected Offenses 8
    • 1.3 Different Offender Responses to the Same Adverse Stimulus 12
    • 1.4 Robberies Reported to Police, Albany, New York, 2000, by Hour of Day 16
    • 1.5 Arrests for Burglary, California, 1998, by Age 18
    • 2.1 Natural Variations in Flora and Fauna Compared With Those in Crime 34
    • 3.1 As the Crime Unfolds, Its Story Changes 44
    • 3.2 What the Offender Wants and Hopes to Avoid 46
    • 3.3 The First Crime Leads Directly to the Second 49
    • 4.1 The Span of Crime's Ecosystem 61
    • 4.2 Amsterdam's Tippelzone and the Larger World 68
    • 4.3 How Young Britons Obtain Their Drugs 73
    • 5.1 The Crime Triangle 81
    • 5.2 How Auto Theft Risk Varies by Location 82
    • 5.3 Is Your Security Really Covered? 83
    • 5.4 Abandoned Sites Feed Crime 11 Ways 86
    • 5.5 Abandoned Structures per 1,000 Inhabitants, 12 Cities, United States, 1997–1998 88
    • 5.6 Familiarity and Crime 91
    • 6.1 Crime Finds Its Spots 106
    • 6.2 How Did This Happen? 108
    • 6.3 How Drug Crime Spreads 109
    • 7.1 Three Types of Generic Crime Habitat 117
    • 8.1 Products Thieves Crave, With Implications 129
    • 8.2 Larger Consequences of an Open-Air Drug Market 135
    • 10.1 The Broad Sweep of European Crime Change, 1800–2000 151
    • 10.2 Multiple Techniques to Prevent Diverse Auto Crimes 155
    • 11.1 Crime Symbiosis in Three Directions 165
    • 11.2 Six Forms of Crime Interdependence 170
    • 12.1 Three Functions of Crime Mutualism 186
    • 12.2 Racketeering as a Multiflow Mutualism 190
    • 13.1 Parasitic Crime and Organizations 208
    • 14.1 Shielding Crime in Four Ways 219
    • 14.2 Calls for Police Service at 26 Local Motels, Chula Vista, California, 2003 225
    • 15.1 Three Categories of Foraging Diversity 234
    • 16.1 The Offender's Awareness Space 251
    • 16.2 Where's the Offender Safest? 252
    • 16.3 Overt and Covert Crimes Committed by Insiders and Outsiders 254
    • 16.4 Conspicuous Offending 255
    • 17.1 Crime Foraging Rules 264
    • 18.1 Nine Primary Defenses Applied to Crime 281
    • 19.1 Seven Secondary Defenses Applied to Crime 296
    • 19.2 Sixteen Defenses, in All 302
    • 20.1 Which Gangs Draw Public Attention? 309
    • 20.2 The Quest for a Nastier Image 313
    • 20.3 What's Real About Gangs? 319
    • 21.1 A Proposed Taxonomy for Criminal Acts 333
    • 22.1 Natural Origins of Crime 345
    • Appendix B, Exhibit A: The Overlap Among Three Crime Definitions 373
    • Appendix B, Exhibit B: Crime's Verb, Direct Object, and Motive Phrase, Various Offenses 374
    • Appendix B, Exhibit C: Crime Parasitism as an Overlap Between Exploitative and Symbiotic Crime 374
    • Appendix B, Exhibit D: Parasitic Versus Predatory Crime 375


    In 1916, Ernest W. Burgess published a classic but forgotten paper that marked the beginning of the ecology of crime.1 Almost 10 years later, his book, The Growth of the City, defined the delinquency area of an American, city.2 That was an important example of crime research by the Chicago School—so-called because it studied Chicago as a social laboratory and was centered at the University of Chicago.3 Clifford R. Shaw and Henry D. McKay applied similar ideas in 1942 with an extended study of Chicago's delinquency areas, later applied to other American cities.4

    These scholars drew ideas from the life sciences, especially the larger field of ecology. Such ideas helped them understand cities and crime within them. Unfortunately, little conceptual progress has followed after their efforts.5 More recent knowledge about ecology has not been adequately applied to crime. The task of this book is to borrow once more from the life sciences to help tell the story of crime in neighborhood, city, metropolis, and beyond.

    Two special groups of life-scientists can help us in practical ways. Naturalists know how to gather and synthesize information about plants and animals and their natural history, as well as their daily nurture. They show us how to put together information about crime as well. Ecologists can relate diverse forms of life interacting and adapting, both locally and within a larger world. Even without genetic change, organisms adapt to their environment—in ways highly relevant to crime. This book is a chronicle of how such adaptations occur, and how it is relevant to crime prevention as well.

    I have designed this volume for students who have already been exposed to standard theories of crime. I shall not repeat these theories. Instead, this book pushes ahead. My purpose is to synthesize diverse crime information within a single coherent framework. The tangible features of the social and physical world help achieve such a synthesis. That's why I have looked beyond criminology for assistance. Naturalists and ecologists gaze widely in space and time, and are masters of synthesis. They have learned how to make practical decisions and push forward. They will help us organize what's known and can be known about crime.


    1. E. W. Burgess, “Juvenile Delinquency in a Small City,” Journal of the American Institute of Criminal Law and Criminology 6 (1916): 724–728.

    2. E. W. Burgess, The Growth of the City (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1925).

    3. The term “Chicago School of sociology” is often used. But that was not really a coherent or unified school of thought, but a “school of activity.” On the myth of a “Chicago School,” see H. Becker, “The Chicago School, So-Called,” Qualitative Sociology 22, no. 1 (1999): 3–12. Available from Howard Becker's webpage, I return to this issue in Chapter 5.

    4. C. R. Shaw and H. D. McKay, Juvenile Delinquency and Urban Areas (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1942). Other important references to their work are offered in the endnotes of the last chapter of this book.

    5. But see subsequent work by A. Hawley, Human Ecology: A Theory of Community Structure (New York: Roland, 1950). I regret not spending more time here on Professor Hawley's contribution, which played an important role in my intellectual development.


    I thank three colleagues at Rutgers University for their assistance: Ronald V. Clarke provided ideas and read a messy draft, helping me over several decades to refine my understanding of crime. Michael Maxfield offered useful suggestions, including the book's title, and I much appreciate a man who reads so many books, and thinks about them. Mercer Sullivan has argued with me politely and incisively. Richard Felson offered major criticism, and I listened too him—even though he is a younger brother. My nephew, Alex Felson, also helped me understand Charles Darwin (whose ideas have to be selected for and adapted to the study of crime). Gloria Laycock (of the Jill Dando Institute of Crime Science at University College, London) contributed many thoughts about crime science over the course of many years. Johannes Knutsson of the National Police Academy, Norway, gave several useful suggestions in the course of many visits. Arlen Egley of the National Youth Gang Center allowed me to pester him with e-mail questions. Scott Decker, of the University of Missouri-St. Louis, made some worthwhile comments about gangs. Malcolm Klein, who pretends to be retired, was critical as always, and I took many of his thoughts into account. Richard Block of Loyola University offered useful comments about juvenile gangs, as did Wesley Skogan of Northwestern University. Nick Ross (of the BBC in London) suggested the term “crime science.” Paul and Patricia Brantingham assisted me personally and intellectually over too many years and in too many ways to reconstruct.

    The following reviewers are gratefully acknowledged:

    Matt DeLisi Travis C. Pratt

    Iowa State University Washington State University

    Marc Swatt Jerome McKean

    Northeastern University Ball State University

    Ken Venters Mark Colvin

    University of Tennessee at Chattanooga Kent State University

    Keith Clement

    Shawna Cleary University of West Florida

    University of Central Oklahoma

    Marny Rivera

    Anthony Luongo Southern Oregon University

    Temple University

    Richard Block

    Loyola University

    These webpages proved very useful for writing this book:

    Center for Problem-oriented Policing

    Jill Dando Institute for Crime Science

    Crime Reduction, UK

    Many students have offered ideas and examples in the context of class. Members of the annual meeting for ECCA—the International Seminar on Environmental Criminology and Crime Analysis—have offered useful comments. My wife, Mary A. Eckert, has been a source of inspiration, influence, and patient encouragement and has actively offered solutions.

    How to Use this Book

    Chapters Especially
    Teaching PurposeRelevant
    To understand crime within a larger system1, 2, 4, 8, 9, 11, 22
    To understand crime's tangibility3, 5
    To recognize crime's diversity1, 10, 13
    To define and classify crime2, 21
    To see what locations foster crime5, 6, 7
    To see how crime draws from other activities11–14
    To learn how offenders find crime targets15–17
    To understand how people defend themselves18, 19
    To isolate the purpose of juvenile gangs20
  • Epilogue

    Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts.

    Richard P. Feynman1

    A good writer is basically a story teller, not a scholar or a redeemer of mankind.

    —Isaac Bashevis Singer2

    Our remedies oft in ourselves do lie, Which we ascribe to Heaven.

    Why did the Lord give us agility, If not to evade responsibility?

    —William Shakespeare3
    —Ogden Nash4

    Crime is impelled by life itself. All people have a natural capacity to discover and enjoy what they are not supposed to do. Sometimes people stumble across illicit opportunities quite by accident. Other times they set out to find these opportunities, perhaps with care, perhaps without.

    Life also impels people to seek security. The human capacity to counter crime draws upon the 15 natural defenses, and all their permutations. These defenses are imperfect because nature is imperfect. Yet such defenses can be effective precisely because they are diverse, flexible, and capable of adaptation and creativity.

    We might use the term “natural crime reduction” to describe measures that shrink a crime's niche, or otherwise thwart its growth or luxuriance or help avoid it. Such reduction includes a family of ideas and techniques known as

    situational crime prevention,

    crime prevention through environmental design,

    secure by design, and

    problem-oriented policing.

    Such prevention draws upon nature's realities, not an idealized version of life. Natural crime reduction can be tailored to the fine points of particular offenses, narrowly specified but broadly conceived. Natural reduction is often imposed near the moment of the crime, or at least with that moment in mind. Thus natural crime prevention seeks to design products that are hard to steal and settings that are more suitable for human use and safety—taking into account the human capacity to break rules.

    This book has discussed crime and security as part of nature, drawing from the scientific outlook of the life sciences. Such thinking helps us understand crime better, and to concoct better solutions to specific crime problems. Accordingly, natural crime reduction prevents crime with actions that are as direct and tangible as possible. It does not promise human perfectibility or rely on eventuality. Rather, it looks toward changes that are quickly evident and verifiable. Ironically, tougher thinking about crime leads to gentler policies, for natural crime reduction avoids heavy-handed interventions, such as genetic manipulation, wholesale repression, and social brainwashing.5 Its pragmatism is possible because it accepts the facts of life, seeking better outcomes without trying to change people into something they are not.


    1. See transcriptions from an interview made in 1981, in R. Feynman, The Pleasure of Finding Things Out (New York: Helix, 1999).

    2. American Yiddish writer and Nobel Prize winner (1904–1991). Day of Pleasure: Stories of a Boy Growing Up in Warsaw (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1969). Also note W. Somerset Maugham's remark,

    I have never pretended to be anything but a story teller. … It is a misfortune for me that the telling of a story just for the sake of the story is not an activity that is in favor with the intelligentsia.

    —From the preface in W. S. Maugham, Creatures of Circumstance (New York: Arno, 1977). Original edition published 1947.

    3. All's Well That Ends Well, act I, scene i.

    4. Quoted in Wikipedia online encyclopedia, (accessed September 7, 2005).

    5. Consider the eugenics movement that was popular among scientists, intellectuals, and reformers in the early 20th century. Its flavor is captured by the title of a 1910 book by the eminent biologist, Charles B. Davenport: Eugenics: The Science of Human Improvement by Better Breeding (New York: Holt). Available online at (accessed September 5, 2005). Also see C. B. Davenport, Heredity in Relation to Eugenics (New York: Henry Holt, 1913). In addition, note F. Galton, Inquiries Into Human Faculty and Its Development (New York: Dutton, 1973). Original edition published 1883.

    The original eugenics movement was humanitarian and idealistic, linked to the progressive movement. Its goal was to encourage larger families among better people. See D. Pickens, Eugenics and the Progressives (Nashville, TN: Vanderbilt University Press, 1968). Also see T. L. de Corte, Jr. “Menace of Undesirables: The Eugenics Movement During the Progressive Era” (1978). Available from Master Thinking, (accessed September 6, 2005).

    Eugenics was built on implied arrogance, but not implicit cruelty. The progressives did not wish to snatch people from their homes. Some European nations did just that. In the 18th and 19th centuries, the British shipped their undesirables to Australia. See C. Bateson, The Convict Ships 1787–1868 (Glasgow: Brown, Son & Ferguson, 1985). Also see this webpage: Convicts to Australia: A Guide to Researching Your Convicted Ancestors, (accessed September 6, 2005). Note also the French exiling of convicts to the colonies. See P. Redfield, Space in the Tropics: From Convicts to Rockets in French Guiana (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000).

    In greater Germany during the 1930s, the Nazis diverted eugenics into racism, eradicating those they considered inferior to themselves. France, Britain, and Germany apparently did not succeed in purging their gene pool of crime. Australia has a high crime rate, but bear in mind that it is almost entirely urban, and most of its modern population did not get there in convict ships.

    Moral repugnance against eugenics misses the essential point that it is an impractical method for controlling crime. The crime potential resides in the genes of all, and cannot be purged through eugenics or isolated with imprisonment or social prevention.

    Crime Ecology Glossary

    [The prime chapter that considers each concept is bracketed.]

    A crime: Any identifiable behavior that an appreciable number of governments has specifically prohibited and formally punished (comprehensive definition). [2]

    Abandoned sites: Lots or buildings that are no longer used for legitimate activities, often taken over for crime purposes. [5]

    Aegism: The first party draws protection from its counterpart, which is largely unaffected. See also incidental protection. [14]

    Aggressive camouflage: A technique for blending into the surroundings as a prelude to committing a crime. [16]

    Aggressive mimicry: A technique for getting closer to unsuspecting prey by mimicking something innocuous or even desirable. [16]

    Aggressive parasites: A parasite that harms its host too much for its own ongoing benefit. [13]

    Arms race: When offenders and crime adversaries keep adjusting to one another. [10]

    Avoidance: A primary defense based on avoiding risky locations, times, and activities. [18]

    Awareness space: The areas someone knows for relatively frequent trips; includes personal nodes, paths, and edges. [16]

    Barriers: Impediments to the offender's movements toward the crime target. [21]

    Batesian mimicry: Gaining protection from adversaries by imitating an obnoxious model. [18]

    Behavior setting: A location for recurrent use, for a particular activity, at known times; the prime building block for everyday life, including crime. [6]

    Behavioral ecology: The study of very local features and activities that stimulate crime. [4]

    Big Gang Theory: The view that a gang is a large and powerful group covering much of the city. [20]

    Browsing: Foraging for small gains, with a high chance of success each time. [15]

    Colossalism: A huge activity or facility that creates local crime niches on a large scale. [8]

    Commensalism: When one organism feeds off the unused food of another; when one offender grabs leftovers from another. [14]

    Community crime ecology: The study of how the larger parts of a city or locality affect local crime. [4]

    Camouflage: The ability to hide in plain site; includes protective coloration and protective resemblance. [18]

    Competition: When crimes or offenders compete with one another or with legal activities. [9]

    Complex symbioses: More than one symbiotic relationship occurring at roughly the same time among the same organisms. [11]

    Complex web: The intricate web of relationships between criminal activities, shady activities, and legitimate activities. [11]

    Comprehensive crime definition: A crime definition that transcends natural variations, while excluding oddball crimes. [2]

    Conventional settings that invite crime: Settings that emit an excess of cues favorable to crime over cues unfavorable to crime. [6]

    Covert criminal act: A criminal act that usually draws little immediate notice. [16]

    CRAVED: An acronym that describes an item's suitability for theft, considering whether it is concealable, removable, available, valuable, enjoyable, and disposable. [8]

    Crime ecology: The scientific study of the processes, interdependencies, transformations, distributions, and abundances of criminal activities. [4]

    Crime event: A three-stage process, including a crime's prelude, the incident itself, and its aftermath. [3]

    Crime food chains: Multiple interdependencies, with one offender feeding off another, who feeds off other people, still. [4]

    Crime habitat: Provides crime's basic needs, including a favorable landscape and suitable locale; includes specific and generic crime habitats. [7]

    Crime mutualism: When both parties relate with net benefit. [12]

    Crime niche: The total requirements for a crime type to occur. See fundamental niche, realized niche. [8]

    Crime sequence: When at least one criminal event flows into the next, without appreciable interruption. The aftermath of the earlier crime is the prelude to the later one. [3]

    Crime symbiosis: A close and prolonged relationship between two parties, providing illicit benefit to at least one of them. [11]

    Crime topography: The study of how fine features of landscape and cityscape affect crime. [4]

    Crime triangle: Describes supervision that prevents crime. The inner triangle includes the offender, target, and place (or setting) where crime might occur. The outer triangle presents three actors preventing crime: the handler, guardian, and place manager. [5]

    Crime web: A complex system of relationships among many legal and illegal roles and activities. [4]

    Crimes of specialized access: A violation of the rules of formal organization, contrary to law. [21]

    Criminal man: Traditional view of the offender, distinct from the rest of the population. [2]

    Diet breadth: The diversity of booty an offender takes, or drugs he ingests. [15] Diversification: How crime takes on diverse forms, giving offenders more options. [10] Dupe: Somebody who falls for mimicry. [18]

    Ecosystem: A dynamic, living, system of different activities, drawing upon one another and on nonhuman resources, environing crime and allowing it to survive and sometimes flourish. [4]

    Edges (between communities): A generic crime habitat where offenders from two or more bordering communities avoid drawing attention. [7]

    Exploitative competition: When competitors use the same scarce resources, to the disadvantage of one another. [9]

    Facilitators: Diverse artifacts and accouterments of daily life that assist criminal acts. [4]

    Fallacy of misplaced complexity: The tendency to imagine central coordination and fancy organization that does not really exist. [4]

    Familiarity (opposite of anonymity): Often decreases crime since potential offenders can be recognized. [5]

    Folds: Where abandoned sites create edge-like areas where offenders gain an extra ability to take over. [7]

    Foraging: When offenders search for crime targets. [15]

    Foraging ratio: The ratio of illicit gains to a combination of search time and handling time. [17]

    Formal organization: A means for separating official tasks from personal gains; includes clear-cut hierarchy of offices, specialized competencies and duties, written rules, merit hiring, and merit promotion. “Crimes of specialized access” thwart these rules. [21]

    Four misses: Crime increases when consumer products are misappropriated, mistreated, mishandled, or misused. [10]

    Fragmentation of crime habitats: A process that serves to reduce crime in a thick crime habitat and interferes with its recolonization. See habitat fragmentation. [7]

    Fundamental niche: Resources that offenders can use for a specific crime type under ideal conditions. [8]

    Gang image: An exaggerated view of the gang, giving it too much credit for bad deeds, organization, leadership, unity, and enormity. [20]

    Gang membership: See gang participation. [20]

    Gang participation: An alternative to gang membership, taking into account unstable and unstructured features of juvenile gangs. [20]

    Gang signaling: Colors, signs, or symbols that different youths use to scare off adversaries; a form of Müllerian mimicry.

    Generic crime habitat: Fosters many different types of crime at a high rate, in a noticeable area or region; includes edges and thick crime habitats. [7]

    Group protection: Traveling and lingering in groups, for security reasons. [18]

    Guardian: Someone, usually an ordinary citizen, who looks after property or other persons, discouraging criminal attacks against them. [5]

    Habitat fragmentation: When modern society fragments natural habitats, erodes interior habitat, threatens biodiversity, and interferes with recolonization. See fragmentation of crime habitats. [7]

    Handler: A parent or other personal supervisor who discourages someone from committing crimes. [5]

    Handling time: The length of time and the trouble an offender goes through to unload the booty, or otherwise bring the crime to fruition. [17]

    Harmony: When crime lives in harmony with noncriminal activities, its harm is limited to particular victims, while the community itself remains healthy. See healthy community, pathology. [7]

    Healthy community: A community that is able to manage human imperfections, preventing these from taking over the daily system of community life. See harmony, pathology. [7]

    Host: The party upon which a parasite feeds. [13]

    Hunting: Foraging with low probability of success, requiring rather large gains when success finally arrives. [15]

    Hunting method: How the offender approaches, enters, and commits crimes on the ground. [15]

    Illicit-trade setting: Where people transact illicit business. [6]

    In-between areas: Between legitimate settings, helping offenders set up crimes. [6]

    Insiders: Those who “belong” in an area, and can enter it without drawing undue notice. [16]

    Interdependencies: A variety of relationships linking one crime to another, or to legal or marginal activities; includes symbiotic and nonsymbiotic relationships. [11]

    Interference competition: When some offenders interfere with the foraging or life processes of others, perhaps by cornering some part of the habitat. [9]

    Interior habitat: Hospitable to species that cannot survive at the edge of the habitat.

    Thick crime habitat derives from this idea. [7]

    Intoxication setting: Where people can drink in excess, facilitating subsequent crimes. [6]

    Irritability: A process by which people, including offenders, quickly respond to external stimuli. [1]

    Juvenile street gang: A very local group of youths intimidating others with overt displays of affiliation.

    Juvenile street gang alliance: A weak affiliation of juvenile street gangs that share signals to enhance intimidation.

    Kleptoparasitism: Stealing loot from another offender, who has just obtained it. [13]

    Law of local convergence: Crime stimuli vary greatly, based on the very local convergences of people and things. [23]

    Law of universal response: Populations respond alike to the same crime stimuli. [23]

    Little Gang Theory: Viewing most juvenile gangs as small and local. [20]

    Local drug markets: Where friends, neighbors, or acquaintances make the drug deals, without a substantial search process. [17]

    Marginal activities: Activities strongly disapproved by society or large segments of it, despite their legality. [11]

    Maximum size rule: An offender does not usually forage for something he cannot carry. [17]

    Metabolism: The rhythms of daily life, such as the hourly variations in crime and the activities upon which it feeds. [1]

    Mimicry: When one organism (or crime participant) seeks to look like another. [16]

    Motive: The offender's purpose for committing a particular crime, looking one step beyond the physical target. [3]

    Müllerian mimicry: When several species use similar warning signals, together scaring off adversaries. Gang signaling serves this purpose.

    Multiflow mutualism: When two parties illegally exchange several different resources, to mutual benefit. [12]

    Neutralism: The absence of symbiosis between two parties; occurs because some offending makes few demands on other activities. [11]

    Niche complementarity: When one crime fills illegal gaps left unfilled by another. [9]

    Niche differentiation: When different crime niches coexist in the same area. [9]

    Niche overlap: When two or more crime activities compete for the same resources, that is, have similar niche requirements. [9]

    Niche requirements: The specific requirements of each illegal activity. [9]

    Nodes: The places to which and from which someone travels often. [16]

    Object: The person or thing that the offender attacks, or with whom the offender criminally interacts; includes targets. [3]

    Oddball crime: Behavior that is criminalized in odd places and cases; it is excluded from the comprehensive crime definition. [2]

    Offender convergence setting: Where offenders socialize, linger, find accomplices, and initiate illicit actions. [6]

    Open-air drug market: An outside market for illicit drugs, in geographically well-defined areas at identifiable times; a market where buyers and sellers can locate one another with ease, and any plausible buyer is served. [6]

    Outsiders: Those who do not “belong” in an area, drawing unwanted attention that interferes with their ability to commit a crime. [16]

    Overt criminal act: A criminal act that draws human attention, perhaps with direct confrontation, noise, or violence. [16]

    Parasitism: When one party benefits, harming the host little by little. [13]

    Passive assistance: When crime draws resources from others not directly involved; includes passive communication, passive feeding, and passive shielding. [14]

    Passive communication: Helping an offender transfer information to allure victims or reach co-offenders. [14]

    Passive feeding: Commensalism. [14]

    Passive shielding: When a nonoffender shields an offender, providing basic needs, such as transport, shelter, or refuge. [14]

    Patches: Where an offender searches; often the edges of nodes and paths. [17]

    Pathology: Crime only becomes pathological by taking over terrain and by driving out an appreciable number of legitimate activities. See harmony, healthy community. [7]

    Paths: The routes someone takes among nodes; also the routes an offender takes toward his crime target or object; used in the proposed crime taxonomy. [16, 21]

    Personal reputation: A tough reputation developed as a primary defense against adversaries. [18]

    Physical dominance: A pecking order among boys, established through fighting, shoving, shouting, athletics, feats of bravado, mischief, and related crime. [22]

    Place: A location clearly for human use that may or may not be recurrent. [6]

    Place manager: Someone with formal or informal responsibility to look after a place or setting, often protecting it against crime. [5]

    Primary defenses: Defenses usually applied before detecting the presence of an adversary. See routine precautions. [18]

    Product life cycle: Changes in consumer products and their markets, during which their theft rates accelerate, then fall. [10]

    Protective coloration: Blending in with surroundings by adapting colors or patterns similar to those of others, by reducing the contrast with the surroundings, or by hiding the eyes; a form of camouflage. [18]

    Protective resemblance: Adapting the look, behavior, and motion of surrounding organisms; a form of camouflage. [18]

    Prudent parasite: A parasite that minimizes its damage at any one time so it can take advantage of its host for a longer period. [13]

    Racketeering: Complex relationships between organized crime and otherwise legitimate organizations; a multiflow mutualism. [12]

    Range: The offender's normal search area when foraging. [15]

    Rare crime: Widely criminalized behavior that nonetheless occurs rarely. [2]

    Realized niche: Resources that offenders have actually used for a specific crime type. [8]

    Recolonization: After criminal activity has been removed from a local area, through its connection to nearby areas, crime regains its foothold. [7]

    Recovery: Crime's local ability to bounce back, after direct interference from police or others. [7]

    Regional crime ecology: The study of how crime is affected by features beyond a single city or locality. [4]

    Regional drug markets: Where strangers find each other by some sort of search process to complete a drug transaction. [17]

    Relative generalist: An offender who commits a rather wide variety of crimes, but not all types. [15]

    Repeat victimization: When the same type of crime victimization is experienced by the same victim or target within a limited period of time. [3]

    Requirements of life: Organization, adaptation, metabolism, movement, growth, reproduction, and irritability. [1]

    Routine precautions: A general term for a variety of primary defenses. [18]

    Search time: Length of time an offender searches. [17]

    Secondary defenses: Used to defend oneself from adversaries after detecting their proximity. [19]

    Self-altering: How crime unfolds and transforms its own environment. [1]

    Setting: See behavior setting.

    Situational crime prevention: Preventing specific crime types by removing direct opportunities to carry them out. [19]

    Social foraging: Foraging in groups to overcome a single offender's individual limitations. [15]

    Space: A vague word referring to locations that may or may not be for human use. [6]

    Specific crime habitat: Invites a particular type of crime to flourish in a noticeable area or region. [7]

    Subject: The offender or offenders; used as part of a sentence to summarize a criminal act or acts. [3]

    Susceptible host: Provides an environment meeting the parasite's needs. [13]

    Target: A person or thing attacked or taken by an offender. [3]

    Taxonomy: A classification system, with order among its categories. [21]

    Territoriality: The tendency to defend an area larger than one's home nest but smaller than one's range of activity. [22]

    Thick crime habitat: A generic crime habitat containing many abandoned sites, where offenders can escape controls, even near home. [7]

    Tippelzone: A drive-in prostitution park found in the Netherlands. [4]

    Tools: These help an offender overcome barriers, as he moves toward a crime target. [21]

    Verb: The specific sociophysical act in committing a crime. Helps formulate a summary sentence about a crime or crime category. [3]

    Virulent growth: When crime easily attaches, invades, colonizes, and poisons conventional activities. [7]

    Web of crime: A complex living system that links legal and illegal activities within the larger ecosystem. [4]

    White-collar crime: See crimes of specialized access. [21]

    Appendix A. Main Points from Crime and Everyday Life1

    Chapter 1. Fallacies About Crime

    • The dramatic fallacy: Emphasizing crimes that are most publicized, while forgetting ordinary crimes.
    • The cops-and-courts fallacy: Overrating the criminal justice system's power over crime.
    • The not-me fallacy: Thinking that you are too good to commit a crime; believing that offenders are from a different population than you are.
    • The ingenuity fallacy: Overrating the skill required to commit a crime.
    • The agenda fallacy: Linking crime reduction to your favorite ideology, religion, or political agenda.2

    Chapter 2. The Chemistry for Crime

    • An ordinary crime occurs when a likely offender converges with a suitable target in the absence of a capable guardian against crime.
    • Fights occur after a sequence of events, with someone perceiving an insult and escalating the insult process, leading to blows.
    • Criminal acts are highly responsive to settings and the cues that they emit.
    • Place managers, such as apartment doormen and office receptionists, are very important for preventing crime.
    • Certain car models are hundreds of times more likely to be stolen than other models. Crime risk is highly responsive to situational factors and specific crime opportunities.

    Chapter 3. Crime Decisions

    • Offenders act to gain quick pleasure and avoid imminent pain.
    • Offenders make decisions, but plan very little in advance of their crimes.
    • Offenders are attuned to practical details in choosing their crime targets and timing.
    • Each setting emits cues that communicate temptations and controls, influencing the offender's action.
    • Even strange offenders make decisions.

    Chapter 4. Bringing Crime to You

    • Crime shifts with historical stages, from village to town to convergent city to divergent metropolis.
    • The divergent metropolis is especially criminogenic.
    • Stand-alone homes are much easier for burglary.
    • Cars parked in public places are much more likely to be stolen.

    Chapter 5. Marketing Stolen Goods

    • Thieves and burglars depend on markets for stolen goods.
    • Such markets depend on the public to purchase used items.
    • Reducing the chance to sell stolen goods also reduces crime.
    • Poverty areas facilitate the sale of stolen goods.

    Chapter 6. Crime, Growth, and Youth Activities

    • Teenagers in the past had roles in agriculture and labor, impairing their participation in crime.
    • Teenagers in the past reached sexual maturity at later ages.
    • In recent decades, teenagers spend much more time away from parents.
    • Crime involvement of teenagers is highest around 3:00 p.m. on school days, usually on the way home from school.
    • Large high schools generate higher crime rates than small ones.

    Chapter 7. White-Collar Crime

    • Offenders can get to victims via (1) overlapping activity space, (2) personal ties, or (3) specialized access (via work roles).
    • So-called white-collar crimes use the third route, above.
    • Crimes of specialized access have no special motives.
    • These offenders victimize (1) employees, (2) customers, clients, or patients, (3) the public, (4) their own organizations, or (5) other organizations.

    Chapter 8. One Crime Feeds Another

    • Committing one offense is a slippery slope leading to another.
    • Many crime victims are repeat victims.
    • Many criminal acts generate other criminal acts. Other criminal acts are largely self-limiting.
    • Crime prevented here is generally not displaced there.
    • Crime prevented here sometimes leads to declining crime in nearby times and places, a diffusion of benefits.

    Chapter 9. Local Design Against Crime

    • Environmental criminologists teach us how to design buildings and settings to reduce crime.
    • It is possible thereby to control natural access, provide natural surveillance, and foster territorial behavior.
    • Natural strategies are cheaper and more effective than providing guards or relying on equipment alone.
    • New York's Port Authority Bus Terminal reduced its crime inside by 70 percent after redesigning its environment and improving its management.

    Chapter 10. Situational Crime Prevention

    • Situational prevention does not seek to improve human character.
    • This method applies to very specific slices of crime, e.g., auto parts stripping.
    • This method is practical, natural, simple, and low in cost.
    • It seems to make each criminal act difficult, risky, and unrewarding.

    Chapter 11. Crime Science and Everyday Life

    The last chapter in that book introduced readers to the current book.


    1. Marcus Felson, Crime and Everyday Life, 3rd ed. (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2002).

    2. Only 6 of 10 fallacies are presented here.

    Appendix B. Exhibits

    Appendix Exhibit A The Overlap Among Three Crime Definitions

    Appendix Exhibit B Crime's Verb, Direct Object, and Motive Phrase, Various Offenses

    Appendix Exhibit C Crime Parasitism as an Overlap Between Exploitative and Symbiotic Crime

    Appendix Exhibit D Parasitic Versus Predatory Crime

    About the Author

    Marcus Felson has been a leader not only in crime theory (“the routine activity approach”) but also in applying that theory to reducing crime. His prior book, Crime and Everyday Life, is used in criminology classes throughout the world. His central argument is that everyday legal activities set the stage for illegal crime. Felson's work offers important examples of how crime has been reduced quickly by focusing prevention efforts directly onto local problems.

    He is currently professor at the Rutgers University School of Criminal Justice; he has served as professor at the University of Southern California and the University of Illinois and as visiting scholar at the University of Stockholm, at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver (British Columbia, Canada), and at the Jill Dando Institute of Crime Science at University College London. He received his BA from the University of Chicago and his PhD from the University of Michigan.

    Professor Felson has been a guest lecturer in many countries, including Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Canada, Chile, Denmark, England, Finland, France, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Scotland, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Arab Emirates. He is author of more than 90 professional papers, including Redesigning Hell: Preventing Crime and Disorder at the Port Authority Bus Terminal. He is coeditor (with Ronald V. Clarke) of Business and Crime and Routine Activity and Rational Choice and coauthor of Opportunity Makes the Thief.

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