Routine Activity Theory

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Routine Activity Theory

Routine Activity Theory


Developed over 50 years ago, the routine activity theory has remained at the forefront of crime analysis and prevention efforts. The model addressed crime analysis from a different perspective than most theories preceding it by exploring the convergence of the crucial components of crime at specific locations in space and time without regard to the motivation of the deviant act. Despite receiving criticism for the routine activity theory's simplistic approach, many researchers applied it to various criminological studies from stalking to narcotics trafficking. Understanding the theory can assist law enforcement administrators in comprehending existing research and aid in developing crime control models to address specific crime issues.


The routine activity theory explains how changes in daily patterns or activities of social interaction, such as employment, recreation, educational endeavors, and leisure activities, affect differences in crime rates. It examines crimes as events, occurring at "specific locations in space and time, involving specific persons and/or objects." Three crucial components necessary for predatory crimes are motivated offenders, suitable targets, and the absence of capable guardians. The lack of any one of these would prevent a predatory crime (Felson, 1994). As communities evolve, routine activities of the citizens also change. These societal adjustments cause the convergence of the three primary components to either increase or decrease in certain spaces and at particular times; therefore, changes in the crime rates occur independent of societal or behavioral conditions that motivate offenders (Eck, 1994).

The analysis identifies predatory crime (the focus of the routine activity theory) as an illegal act consisting of direct physical contact between an offender and a victim (e.g., rape, robbery, residential burglary, and theft). It also classifies damaging or stealing an object also as predatory. The definition inherently excludes such nonpredatory crimes as possession of illegal contraband or public intoxication (Cohen and Marcus 1979).

The motivated offender must have the willingness and ability to commit predatory crimes. Although previous criminological research heavily relied on motive, the routine activity theory only analyzes the presence and actions of an offender. While people conduct routine activities, motivated offenders select their targets based upon the perceived value, visibility, accessibility, and inertia of the objective. For example, expensive and moveable items, such as automobiles and portable laptop computers, have a higher risk of theft than washing machines and desktop computers because of the suitability of stealing them (Clarke, 1997).

Offenders or victims can use technological and organizational advances of society to increase their abilities to carry out predatory crimes or defend against them. Offenders may use weapons in the commission of an offense, but victims also may use them as a deterrent. Automobiles, highways, and telephones also provide additional opportunities for offenders to thrive and victims to react. The ability of people to take evasive actions or possess protective tools, such as a weapon, also can reduce their potential for victimization (Brantingham and Paul 1981).

When a motivated offender identifies a suitable target, the presence or absence of a capable guardian becomes ...
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