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Felson’s Routine Activities Theory

We go throughout our daily lives doing subconscious actions that were drilled into our brain from a young age. We lock our house door, lock our car doors, carry our keys tightly in our hand, and sometimes even check behind us every so often just to be sure no one is following us. We take these precautions because of the “What if’s”, an immense amount of possibilities that could happen at any time. While some of us have grown used to these actions it is still puzzling that they must be made.

We avoid even having to face certain case scenarios and while this makes life easier in the long run they shouldn’t be necessary and only creates an illusion of reality, and a sad one at that. As absurd as it sounds according to criminologist victims can be to blame for a crime being committed in the first place. Sounds a little strange but we take these precautions to avoid being that victim, ultimately changing crime to be based on the opportunity of those who don’t take the same precautions.

Our actions affect the crime rates and give some form of rational for the criminals, or at least that’s what lifestyle choice theories and routine activities theories prove in the criminology field. According to lifestyle choice theory, people become victims of crime because they lack intelligence and rational choices when putting themselves in social situations. This theory looks at crime like it is based on two people’s choices; the criminal’s choice to commit the crime, and the victim’s choice of putting themselves in harm’s way (Johnson).

With that being said taking the precautions creates a lower chance of being victimized. These victimization theories get into the head of the offender and back up their thoughts and reasons behind their actions. The underlying reason could be as simple as they knew they were stronger than the person and so they took the opportunity. While it seems infuriating to remotely try to blame the victim these theories act as reminders for our precautions. I don’t think that those precautions should necessarily be deemed normal but sadly they are because of the opportunity they create when not done.

It seems as though we live in a world of fear trying to erase that opportunity ultimately losing our sense of safety in the day to day routines. We shouldn’t have to lock our doors just because we fear someone will enter, we shouldn’t have to scan our surroundings every second, we shouldn’t be victimized and blamed when we’re just living our life. While these theories do just that they are just the reality that we’ve accepted. Routine activities theory puts an emphasis on the offenders motivation to commit the crime as well as the opportunity for crime as it relates to people’s daily routines.

These opportunities change based on the time, space, and people. Felson viewed crime as an event that happened in a specific location and included an offender, suitable target, and the absence of a guardian that could prevent the crime (4). What exactly is a suitable target? Felson explained a suitable target as being of value to the offender, physically incapable of defense, visible, and accessible (5). The guardian that prevented the crime could have many different motives. They could be a manager protecting the place, a handler protecting the offender, or the guardian protecting the target.

When the offender and the suitable target crossed paths without one of these guardians present than the potential for a crime to occur increases (Routine). The routine activities theory is used to explain crime trends over time and prevent crime problems. Felson hypothesized that when the daily lives shift further outside of the home than the chances of these three paths crossing increased. They analyzed household activity and compared it to the crime rates and discovered that this was true.

They took their analysis to another level and compared to different areas with different crime rates. They hypothesized that people living in lower crime rated areas have more time on their hands so are home more often decreasing the availability for a crime to be committed. While on the other hand people in higher crime areas are away from the home more often allowing them to be more vulnerable to victimization. They discovered this to be true by analyzing TV patterns to gauge the amount of leisure time each location had.

When analyzing victimization data from the National Crime Survey they found that people with higher nighttime activities were at a higher risk for property victimization (Routine). The theories suggest that crime is well planned but at the same time could be a fluke accident. Why is it that the lack of a guardian has such a great impact? For that to be accepted than we must consider that deterrence plays a role. The offender must have some sort of rationality to not want to be caught therefore signifying that they have thought through their actions.

The homes that were empty for longer periods of time were more prone to falling victim to an intruder. These people could have been working to make ends meet and were subject to a higher potential of being victimized. The fact that it comes down to opportunity can almost become sickening. So if someone is smaller than you it is okay to control them? A dog is left unattended it is okay to take it? I fail to see the logic in the offenders rationality but then again I am training to be on the flip side as the one prosecuting them.

There seems to be a lack of judgment between social norms and an offenders actions and the only primitive way to find the balance is to eliminate the possibility. Now that we have taken the time to understand the components of a crime according to routine activities theory let’s begin to analyze the ten principles of the opportunity and crime. The first one is the fact that the opportunity plays a role in causing all crimes. Initially it was believed that opportunity was only necessary in theft and burglaries. It is now accepted that opportunities play a role in violent crimes, sexual offenses, drug dealing, and fraud (Felson 9).

Fights can occur just because someone thinks they can win, abuse can occur in the home, drug dealing can occur in locations that are safe to the dealer, fraud occurs when the doubt of getting caught is in the mind. All of these have common characteristics being that they are a state of mind and a place of safety which upholds the opportunity being prime. Is the opportunity so high and desirable because of lack on impulse? Could all criminals argue for an insanity plea? The crime being committed is not necessarily in question but rather who is to be blamed.

The routine activities theory suggest that it is not necessarily the mens rea (thought of committing a crime) and actus rea (the crime itself) that deems the offender guilty but that the target had a part to play as well. While one could view the theory an insight to better understand the crime and be used as a tool of preventative measures in order to avoid people from being victims. I on the other hand can’t help but question why crime is so desirable to these offenders and why we should be forced to change our routines rather than the offender be forced to face their reality that what they are doing isn’t okay.

In order for that to even occur they would have to be caught in the first place. We don’t live in a utopian society so everything goes full circle and it is hard to find a solid solution. The second principle is crime opportunities are highly specific. Each crime has its own reasons and specific scenarios that were played out. What one criminal is after is not the same for all criminals. The motivation behind the offender changes so removing one opportunity of crime won’t necessarily get rid of all crime (Felson 13).

The third principle is that crime opportunities are specific to a time and space which we discussed a little earlier. Crime is not evenly distributed through a city but rather specifically set in certain areas like when Felson did the experiment comparing the two neighborhoods. This is because of the amount of suitable targets and locations that are favored by the offender (Felson 14). The fourth principle is the opportunities depend on the activity of that day. This is the part that becomes specific to the routine of our daily activities.

Targets can be found and victimized because of the opportunity of the routine and the passing of an offender while doing so (Felson 16). Sonia Alleyne explains that our daily routines become comfortable to us because they are familiar. We don’t have to think and basically turn on auto pilot. You get coffee from the same place every morning, take the same route to work, work the same hours. You begin to loose site of your surroundings and that becomes detrimental to your present moment. If turning that auto pilot off is a preventive measure to being victimized than maybe we should be more amp to doing it more often.

On the flip side she strongly urges a new environment which could increase the opportunity of a crime occurring. What if one day you decide to call in sick to work but really spend the day shopping and having a “mental health day” as I like to refer to it? You would again be put right back in the mix of increasing that opportunity availability. It seems as if it is a tug of war game and deciding which way to go has its gives and takes. The fifth principle is that one crime produces opportunities for another. This is when one specific crime results in many occurring at the same time (Felson 17).

The article gives a great example of how a burglary can include a charge of weapon, assault, or murder along with the stolen goods. The sixth principle is the fact that some products are more tempting and create a bigger opportunity for crime. People rob banks because there is money there, people steal cars from car lots because there is more opportunity. The product itself attracts the offender and it is the best location to reach their satisfaction (Felson 19). The seventh principle is that social and technological changes produce new crime opportunities.

Peoples desire to be up to date on technology and the must have styles end up increasing crime opportunities. These technologies become the new targets for offenders (Felson 22). People want what they can’t have and that has been relatively evident throughout society. It seems as though that is ultimately what creates the opportunity the desire itself. The impulse is unattainable because the desire outweighs the punishment. Most people work for those things weather it is picking up more shifts to get the new iPhone or bringing coffee to try and impress the girl.

The offender skips those steps to get from point A to Z. Preventative measure don’t just eliminate the situation but could even eliminate the desire of the victim. If the new movie gets horrible reviews than the desire of movie hopping decreases. The availability plays a role but the end satisfaction is what is most important to the offender. The eighth principle is that crime can be prevented by reducing the opportunity (Felson 23). These are the precautions we take in our everyday lives. If there isn’t a opportunity in the first place than the crime can’t be committed.

With that being said the ninth principle explains that reducing the opportunity doesn’t get rid of all of the crime. Just because you take that precaution doesn’t mean that everyone does (Felson 25). Even though you’re not there doesn’t mean that someone else isn’t be victimized in your place.. If the location isn’t providing the offender with what they want than they could just ultimately switch locations or change their motivation. On the flip side the tenth principle explains that the opportunity being reduced could cause a decline in crime (Felson 30).

The common theme amongst this is not necessarily preventive measures but measures that catch the offender in the act such as security cameras or red light cameras. Opportunity doesn’t just happen in our everyday lives nor rural communities. Some would argue that the opportunity and crime even increases in agricultural areas. Mears conducted research and hypothesized that this could be because of the location and seclusion of farms. He suggested that because agriculture is more exposed and less guarded it attracted offenders (158). In order for the opportunity to be viable the knowledge must be present.

In this case the offender must know the daily routines and how to operate the machinery. Since most farms have a variation of who is responsible for what different measures are taken to ensure security. It is assumed that the measures will be taken and executed as they should but doesn’t get checked on too much. Women are victimized because of the clothes they wear or the area they are hanging out in. Going out at night is frowned upon and the extra step is taken to ensure our safety. We are deemed as a higher opportunity and expected to take the extra measures just because of it.

Our entire lives we grow up listening to double standards and these theories hold up the reason why. We are victimized because of the offender but according to these theories we’re to blame as well. Victims shouldn’t be to blame and you should not have to live with the fear of all of the “What ifs”. At least the routine theory takes into consideration other elements of the crime while lifestyle choice theory just bluntly accuses the victim of being the reason the crime occurred in the first place. A hot topic right now is school dress codes and why a girls shoulder or collarbone is considered a distraction.

By using these kinds of excuses they create a certain mindset and could educate offenders in a negative manner. Rather than blame a victim or tell people how to live their lives why don’t we put more of an emphasis on how the offender is raised in the first place. While these are only two branches of a million different theories in criminology it is absurd to be able to bluntly blame a victim. These theories get into the mindset of the criminal rather than the mindset of society looking in. Which can be beneficial in the finding of the reason why but detrimental in trying to prove guilt and ultimately create a defense.

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