In the crime triangle location is the critical element

Dear Editor,

There is a concept called the Fire Triangle:  Without sufficient heat, a fire cannot continue. Without fuel, a fire will stop. Without sufficient oxygen, a fire cannot begin, and it cannot continue. Therefore, oxygen, fuel and heat must come into play for a fire to start or continue. Correspondingly, there is what Cohen and Felson’s Routine Activities Theory described as The Crime Triangle:  Without an offender, the crime will not occur. Without a victim, the crime cannot occur. Without a location for the offender and victim to come into contact with each other or sufficient proximity the crime cannot occur. According to Ralph B Taylor the Crime Triangle is a model that illustrates how three elements ‒ motivated suspect, suitable victim and adequate location are required for a crime to occur. He argues that crime is presumed amenable to suppression if any of the three legs of the triangle is removed or neutralised.

In the crime triangle, location is a critical element. However, many law enforcement agencies focus most on the criminals and to a lesser extent the victims, while the location is almost left untouched. At some locations issues may arise be they political, economic, social, technological, legal or environmental, which may greatly contribute to crime. Unless they are effectively addressed crime will flourish. As the police dismantle one gang others will emerge because issues in the environment which are conducive to crime and criminal behaviour are not sufficiently dealt with. This is because the root cause of crime is neglected.

There is another crime triangle presently in place comprising the government, the police and the community. The government input includes providing resources and the establishment of several government ministries and departments to focus on the communities to make them safer and to promote a better life for all. These ministries and departments are doing a good job in patches, but there is the need for them to strive for excellence at all times. The honeymoon is over. It is time for delivery. On the other hand the police have been involved in many community-oriented problem-solving activities in a large number of communities to reduce crime and the fear of crime. Senior Superintendent Stephen Mansell has been carrying the gold medal for police community activities. Like the legendary Olympics and World Championships gold medalist Usain Bolt, Mansell has quietly slipped away into retirement. He is seeking a new career. Thank you Stephen Mansell for a job well done. I hope that the police will find a way to utilise his knowledge and skills and that others will pick up from where he left off. Also in progress is the reform of the Guyana Police Force. I am not aware what form it will take. The British security expert has submitted his report on reform. It is not yet public knowledge.

Bladen (1998) suggests another way to deal with the significance of location, “the hunt and the habitat. “ He explains, “I can’t think of two special-interest groups more philosophically opposed to each other than the hunters and animal rights activists, yet, there are two things they agree upon: the species will survive the hunt;  it will not survive the loss of its habitat… If the ultimate goal is to eliminate the criminal species forever, surely the best way to do that is to eliminate the habitat that spawns and sustains the species. Structured as it is, the criminal justice system puts 95 per cent of its resources into the hunt while the habitat is left almost untouched. We cannot win working that way, because the habitat never stops supplying new customers for the hunt.”

According to Karen Hess and Christine Orthmann (2012)  another way of viewing location as an element of crime causation is to consider incivilities, or signs of disorder. Wilson and Kelling’s “broken window” theory suggests that incivilities lead to higher crime rates, victimization rates and residents’ perception of the fear of crime.

The challenges faced by the police are many. They defy any one-shot solution. However, involvement between the government, the police and members of the community in dealing with the root causes of crime is an effective tool to promote crime reduction and reduce the fear of crime. It calls for a great amount of cooperation and coordination among the stakeholders. The strategy will be fruitful. There must however be sustainability.

Yours faithfully,

Clinton Conway

Assistant Commissioner of

Police (ret’d)

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