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Crime science

Cockbain, Eleanor P; Laycock, Gloria; (2017) Crime science. In: Pontell, H and Lab, S, (eds.) The Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Criminology and Criminal Justice. Oxford University Press: New York, New York.

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Crime science (or more accurately crime and security science) has three core tenets: • the application of scientific methods • to the study to crime and security problems • with the aim of reducing harm. Beyond the unifying principles of scientific research (including a clear problem definition, transparency, rigour and reliability), tools and techniques vary between studies. Rather than following a prescriptive approach, researchers are guided in their selection of data and methods by their research question and context. In this respect, crime scientists take an inclusive view of ‘evidence’. ‘Crime and security’ is a broad construct, covering problems associated with diverse illicit goods and acts, offenders, victims/targets, places, technologies and formal and informal agents of crime control. Its pragmatic bent distinguishes crime science from ‘pure research’, i.e. the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake. Contributions to harm reduction might be immediate (e.g. evaluating a novel intervention) or longer term (e.g. building theoretical or empirical knowledge about a particular issue). Crime science is a broad church: researchers may contribute to it without self-identifying as crime scientists. Indeed, its early proponents hesitated to draw its parameters, suggesting these should be defined operationally. Joined by a shared focus on crime, crime science research transcends traditional disciplinary boundaries. The prevalence of multi- and interdisciplinary work reflects the inherent complexity of crime and its control. The social, physical, biological and computer sciences – and their associated technologies – all have contributions to make. Although the term crime science was first formalised in 2001, its roots go back much further. Within criminology, it particularly overlaps with environmental and experimental criminology. As well as sharing methods with these two strands, crime science’s theoretical underpinning (insofar as it has one) derives from opportunity theories of crime (e.g. routine activity theory, the rational choice perspective, crime pattern theory). Crime is conceptualised accordingly as primarily non-random and influenced by both individual criminal propensity and environmental factors that facilitate, promote or even provoke criminal events. Crime science techniques have been applied to a wide variety of issues: primarily volume crimes (e.g. burglary) but also more serious and complex crimes (e.g. terrorism or human trafficking). There is now substantial evidence on the effectiveness of targeted interventions in tackling crimes by manipulating their opportunity structures. Claims that such approaches are unethical and merely cause displacement have been discredited. Crime science now faces other more challenging criticisms. For example, its theoretical underpinnings are arguably too narrow and the boundaries of the field lack clear distinction. Other challenges include expanding interventions into the online world and resolving tensions around evaluation evidence. Crime science can clearly help explain and tackle crime. Its focus on outcomes rather than outputs addresses the growing demand that research be impactful. Evidence generated through robust studies has value for policy and designing primary, secondary and tertiary interventions. In times of austerity and increased focus on multiagency collaboration, there is a clear audience for crime-related research that can inform targeted responses and speaks to a broader agendum than law enforcement alone.

Type: Book chapter
Title: Crime science
Language: English
Additional information: This version is the author accepted manuscript. For information on re-use, please refer to the publisher’s terms and conditions.
Keywords: Science, environmental criminology, situational crime prevention, experimental criminology, prevention, harm reduction, medical model, opportunity theories, multiagency collaboration, interdisciplinary research, multidisciplinary research.
UCL classification: UCL
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL BEAMS
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL BEAMS > Faculty of Engineering Science
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL BEAMS > Faculty of Engineering Science > Dept of Security and Crime Science
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/1529873
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