The fear of crime and victimization is ever present. Recent statistical evidence from the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Uniform Crime Reports supports this contention with a violent crime (homicide, robbery, forcible rape, and aggravated assault) reported to occur every 23.1 seconds and a property crime (burglary, larceny-theft, and motor vehicle theft) every 3.1 seconds (Federal Bureau of Investigation [FBI] 2005, 7). This frequency of criminal victimization along with a myriad of other social, political, and economic factors contributes to an atmosphere of fear when it comes to crime in our communities.

In this kind of climate, the public continually looks to law enforcement to provide daily protection from such criminal offenders. A challenge to police functioning in this capacity occurs when the true nature and extent of crime in communities is unknown. This is substantiated by findings from the National Crime Victimization Survey, whereby only 40% of violent and property crimes nationwide combined were reported by citizens to the police (U.S. Department of Justice 2005, Table 91).

Defining Guardianship

Beyond these statistics, in many other respects, society relies on the police to serve their communities daily by routinely protecting both persons and property. As such, among the many roles that police assume is that of a guardian to the members of a community. In this respect, the police officer acts much like a parent in protecting a child. In the guardianship role, law enforcement officials often serve as the first line of third-party intervention in mediating everyday disputes between people or over property. This notion of guardianship is rooted in the criminologi-cal theory of routine activities first offered by Cohen and Felson (1979; see more recently Tark and Kleck 2004). According to routine activities theory, criminal behavior is a result of interactions between motivated offenders, available targets, and a lack of capable guardianship that converges in place and time.

If, as Cohen and Felson (1979) hypothesize, there are individuals in society who have the propensity or inclination to offend, crime prevention efforts aimed specifically at reducing the motive for offending may meet with only limited success. Therefore, more effective prevention strategies may need to center on elevating both the real and perceived level of risk for the potential offender when committing the crime. This notion is tied strongly to deterrence theories of criminality.

According to deterrence theory (Bec-caria 1963; Bentham 1948), criminals are discouraged from committing criminal acts if the following conditions exist: the certainty of apprehension is known, a severe penalty is proscribed for the behavior, and the penalty is delivered swiftly. In particular, while severity of the penalty has been the emphasis in many crime control policies, the swiftness of the punishment for the crime and the certainty of apprehension have been much less examined as potential leverages in the control of criminal behavior. From a deterrence standpoint, it is believed that the potential offender will evaluate the benefit of committing the crime in relation to the relative risks. Here, the degree of certainty of apprehension is associated with the existing level of guardianship. Coupling this deterrence notion with routine activities theory yields the contention that the exercise of effective guardianship over people, places, and property contributes to the deterrence of criminal behavior of motivated offenders against available targets.

However, in practice, the routines of everyday life often expose victims to variable levels of exposure, or threat, to the intentions and effects of would-be offenders. These routine daily behaviors are not only carried out by victims and offenders, but also by the police, which typically are the most visible representatives of guardianship. Yet current FBI statistics report the national rate of full-time law enforcement employees to be just 3.5 per 1,000 U.S. inhabitants (FBI 2005, 370). These sheer numbers alone cast doubt on the ability of the police to provide active capable guardianship over the routine behavioral transactions of approximately 270 million people on a daily basis. These numbers suggest, according to some observers, that the challenges to effective police guardianship over people and property are unrealistic given the density of police to population (Goldstein 2003). Therefore, as a matter of practicality, routine guardianship cannot be limited to the particular dynamics of police practices. That is, communities, neighborhoods, families, and individuals, as well as technology, can and do provide for varying types and degrees of capable guardianship on a routine basis.

The Context of Guardianship

Capable guardianship is exercised in the many aspects of everyday life that seldom involve the direct presence or actions of the police. Individual efforts such as use of target hardening methods have been found to effectively increase guardianship over one’s own personal property (Miethe and Meier 1990). Similarly, looking at community settings, higher levels of cohesion among residents has been associated with greater likelihood of intervention in public criminal and deviant activities (Sampson and Raudenbush 1997). Therefore, in well-integrated communities, the risk for victimization appears to be lower because these areas tend to display active social control (Lee 2000). The presence of”collective efficacy” within communities conveys within an informal context that guardianship exists within neighborhoods. Likewise, more formalized community efforts to reduce crime through existing neighborhood watch programs, which is one of the initiatives stemming from community-oriented policing strategies, assist law enforcement by empowering citizens to serve in some capacity as guardians of their own environmental space (see also Nolan, Conti, and McDevitt 2005).

The everyday activities of shopping in a mall, going out for a meal, commuting to work, or simply sitting on your front porch often constitute what may be viewed as forms of guardianship. Each of these activities suggests a higher likelihood that any criminal behavior in these arenas will be observed by someone. This observer, or witness, in turn introduces a number of potential consequences. First, the probability of behavior being witnessed probably increases the risk of the offender not only being identified, but getting caught.

Second, and perhaps more important, the presence of these individuals potentially provides some degree of protection or intervention against would-be offenders. Third, as a latent consequence, if offenders work within criminal networks, conveyance of information about the level of guardianship in a specific location may serve to deter other would-be offenders from victimizing that particular target (Whine 1999). This increase in the level of guardianship, therefore, contributes to reducing the availability of suitable targets and further may discourage motivated offenders from committing criminal acts.

Routine guardianship has other dimensions as well. Thus far, the discussion has focused on overt, or manifest, guardianship exercised by individuals over people, property, or places. Similarly, covert, or latent, guardianship also occurs through many mechanisms that are common to daily routine activities. That is, in today’s world, manifest guardianship is typically associated with the actions of the police or interactions of individuals in public spaces. Advanced technologies, as well as developing innovations in the design and construction of both public and private spaces, have enhanced the opportunity for effective latent guardianship to be exercised throughout many facets of everyday life.

In terms of physical structures, significant advances in crime prevention have occurred by incorporating environmental design factors such as lighting, access, visibility, and security in the construction phases of community and economic development. This crime prevention approach uses architecture and urban planning as an environmental improvement process for solving crime problems better known as crime prevention through environmental design (CPTED). Such an approach has been shown to be successful as one crime prevention strategy (Brantingham, Brantingham, and Taylor 2005). Moreover, crime prevention efforts that have been tied to current technologies provide more abundant examples: Traffic cameras commonly used by news agencies, the availability and use of handheld video recorders, and closed-circuit TV in both public and private buildings, including commercial, residential, and retail enterprises, provide video surveillance and recording of behavior that may occur in those settings. These are just a few of the many technologies available today that afford forms of guardianship. Physical security systems in residences and the workplace are also common. Even in computing environments, electronic transactions such as e-mail traffic, voice retrieval, geographic positioning systems, and both wire and wireless transfers of financial information may provide opportunities for surveillance of behavior in a variety of settings.

Each of these technological developments has become increasingly present in everyday life and has improved the likelihood that guardianship can be exercised over varieties of human behavior that previously were nonexistent. Although such routine guardianship is likely to decrease opportunities for criminal victimization, some individuals are concerned about whether the availability of these sources of guardianship promotes an erosion of personal privacy and increases the potential for policing authorities of the state to abuse such information in the name of public safety. Although perhaps a legitimate concern, the balance between constitutional rights to privacy and prevailing needs for ensuring the public’s security continue with the capacity and means of routine guardianship by the state at the heart of the debate. Nonetheless, routine guardianship persists in various forms and provides for enhanced security and protection of life and property when employed properly.

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