Crime Science Research Paper

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With detection, arrest, and prosecution as the universal response to crime, despite their manifest failure to reduce the problem, the time is right for a complete rethink about crime and crime reduction. This research paper considers the need for a new discipline – crime science – which it is argued is necessary if crime control is to be improved. The paper suggests that greater emphasis on experimentation and a more scientific approach to crime problems under the banner of “crime science” will make a significant difference. Examples are provided of the advantages of scientists working together to address crime problems but the paper also argues for greater emphasis on ethical and aesthetic issues if we are to avoid potential pitfalls of this new approach.


This research paper discusses aspects of crime science, which is a new approach to the control of crime, although its roots go back a further 30 or more years. It was formally established in 2001 at the suggestion of Nick Ross – a journalist and broadcaster who with others established the Jill Dando Institute of Crime Science in memory of his murdered colleague. Criminology and crime science are close in background, interests, aims, and objectives which makes them close bedfellows, and followers of each discipline should see each other as potential collaborators and close associates rather than as rivals for students, grants, or kudos (Smith and Tilley 2005). Indeed, many criminologists could, if they so chose, also describe themselves as crime scientists rather as a rocket scientist could also call himself a physicist or just a scientist.

The next section describes crime science – it looks at some of the history of the subject and the reasons for its development, what it is, what it is not, and how it relates to criminology and other mainstream disciplines. The following section describes the “state of the art,” briefly outlining some of the key findings of crime science most of which derive from the roots of the subject in environmental criminology (which is not directed at the study of crimes against the environment; it is concerned with the immediate “environmental” determinants of criminal behavior). After that, we look at some controversies – as with any science, there are a number of issues relating to the subject matter itself but in the case of crime science there are also questions around whether there really is a need for the discipline and how it can achieve one of its aims which is to adopt a multidisciplinary approach to the problem of crime control. The final section considers some “open questions” associated with crime science needing further thought or greater academic attention.

Background Description

It is suggested that there are four major and related elements linking science and crime (Laycock 2005). Firstly, science can help us by improving our understanding of crime and its causes. This is the domain of the social sciences in general and criminology, psychology, and sociology in particular. Secondly, it can help us by making crimes more difficult to commit through the technologies that are developed on the back of it. Examples come from CCTV systems, car deadlocks and immobilizers, luggage scanners at airports, and so on. Thirdly, it can help us in catching offenders more quickly and bringing them to justice. The obvious example here is forensic science including forensic psychology, fingerprinting, and genetics and DNA technologies. Finally, it can help us in thinking like scientists think, that is, in testing hypotheses and developing a body of knowledge enabling the articulation of theory. It is this last point which is common to all those who see themselves as crime scientists and in this there are commonalities with experimental criminologists (Sherman 2009), which are expanded upon further below.

Crime science grew from environmental criminology and crime analysis, both of which have a historical focus upon crime prevention, although crime science takes a somewhat broader view of prevention and includes the detection and disruption of crime. It is thus an outcome-focused approach rather like medical science, with its emphasis on the control of disease through prevention, diagnosis, and treatment. Also like medical science, a range of professions is associated with the achievement of the aims. This is particularly so in preventive medicine where parents teach their children to wash their hands, local authorities provide drains and sewage systems, and the government provides inoculation programs, all of which contribute to the maintenance of good health in society. Similarly with crime prevention, individuals lock their homes and vehicles, look after their children and families, and support their communities in preventing crime and disorder, while the central and local government provide a police service and criminal justice system and might also encourage commercial organizations and industry to play their part in crime prevention through the better design of goods, services, and management systems.

Medical science also makes use of a range of scientific approaches in addressing its problems, so we have medical physics and engineering where products are designed to deal with specific medical problems such as heart monitors and limb replacements. Chemistry also plays a major part in medical science in the development of drug treatments, as increasingly do biology and genetics. Again, crime science takes the same approach in encouraging other scientists to think about the application of their disciplines to the control of crime. Figure 1 below shows diagrammatically what we have in mind.

Crime Science Research Paper

There is no significance to subjects being in the same box and it is not an exhaustive list, but note that the social sciences are included, particularly criminology and psychology which have an obvious special relevance to the control of crime.

Crime science is primarily about the testing of hypotheses associated with the understanding, prevention, disruption, and detection of crime. In the social context, this is a much more challenging task than in a laboratory, where control of extraneous variables is perhaps more easily achieved. Indeed some might argue that experimentation in society is neither possible nor desirable. Crime scientists would disagree and, as is demonstrated in the section below, not all experimentation has to be conducted in the real world. In order to carry out experiments or to speculate about cause and effect, we start with the collection of data. These data then need to be manipulated logically and rationally drawing on the currently best available evidence. In this way hypotheses can be developed and tested, theories articulated, and understanding increased.

Fundamentally, this is the scientific method (Townsley et al. 2003) which has been promoted to police practitioners and their partners under the acronym SARA (Eck and Spelman 1987) standing for scanning, analysis, response, and assessment. At each stage in this process, we are developing and discarding hypotheses. Take, for example, a police commander who may feel that in his police area there is a problem of theft of vehicles from outside residences overnight. This is his starting hypothesis, which it is possible to test using police data. His investigation (part of the scanning process) may show that there is indeed such a problem but that it is in only in the northern part of the police area and there is a much larger issue of theft of motor bikes and scooters in the south. It is then possible to formulate various hypotheses about why the thefts may be happening there (the analysis), to test them, and to implement a response or responses on the basis of the subsequent analysis (the response element of SARA). We then have the hypothesis that our action will reduce the problem by firing a particular mechanism (Pawson and Tilley 1997), which can then be refuted or supported (the final assessment stage of SARA). So we see that at each stage of the SARA process, hypotheses are being developed, tested, and discarded or, if supported, then acted upon.

The formulation of hypotheses is not as simple or straightforward as it might sound. It involves asking questions about what might be causing what, in what context, and then testing the resulting hypotheses. Experience of teaching crime science to practitioners over the past decade has shown it to be one of the most challenging aspects of the process. Articulating hypotheses involves asking clever questions, which is arguably what the best scientists do. Newton’s simple question – why did the apple fall – which led to the discovery of gravity is a stunning question. Indentifying hypotheses is the point at which science involves judgment, which is not in itself a science. Judgment can be thought of as common sense, which as we all know is not too common; indeed Huxley is quoted as saying that “Science is simply common sense at its best, that is, rigidly accurate in observation, and merciless to fallacy in logic” (Attributed to Huxley: see http://quotes.prolix. nu/Science/).

It is through the articulation and testing of hypotheses that theories can be developed. The theoretical basis of crime science is that developed by the environmental criminologists and draws upon four “theories” or perspectives on crime. In summary, they are the rational choice perspective, routine activity approach, crime pattern theory, and social/environmental and behavioral psychology. They are all concerned with the reduction of crime and the first three are sometimes called “opportunity theories” or the criminologies of everyday life (Garland 1996). Their focus is on the effects of the immediate environment on behavior, and although crime science would include the study of more remote causes of crime involving longitudinal studies, for example, it is largely concerned at this stage in its development with achieving more immediate reductions.

Another feature of crime science, perhaps obvious from its focus on the reduction of crime, is its practical nature. Although concerned with theory development, it is also concerned with practical outcomes. There are implications from this for the ways in which research is carried out and particularly for the ways in which it is presented. In this, crime scientists can take lessons from the work produced by the British Home Office Police Research Group which for over a decade from 1992 published short research reports which were intended to be read by intelligent practitioners, particularly the police, who may not have had specific research training and who would not have ready access to academic journals or even the interest in reading them if they did. Similar short summaries are now also available from a number of other agencies including the Australian Institute of Criminology and the US COPS Office website (www.

One of the most widely publicized themes from the body of work carried out under the auspice of the Home Office Crime Prevention Unit and later the Police Research Group was related to repeat victimization (Laycock 2001), which specifically tested a variety of hypotheses over a 15–20-year period, all intended to develop understanding of the statistically observable fact that crime concentrates on victims, places, and products and that by concentrating on their subsequent protection crime can be reduced. In keeping with the desire to influence police practitioners, much of this work did not immediately feature in the academic literature, and this in itself causes problems for academics who are often rewarded in the universities not for the practical influence of their work but for its publication in top journals. A specific example of this is the booklet written by Clarke and Eck and first published as “Become a Problem-Solving Crime Analyst” in 2003 and later, with minor changes, published as a US version. It has since been translated into almost 20 languages and has been hugely influential in supporting the development of police problem solving and crime analysis: But it does not feature in the academic literature and most academics would not, therefore, be aware of it.

State Of The Art

This section presents some of the more recent research carried out by crime scientists and which are at what we would currently see as the frontier of the research agenda. Examples are chosen from the four areas suggested as those on which crime science draws – social sciences which help our understanding of crime, physical sciences including computer science which can assist in the prevention of crime, forensic sciences which support detection, and the use of scientific method to test hypotheses, which all the sciences do but which are discussed here in the context of crime control.

Perhaps one of the most significant observations from criminology over the past few decades has been the extent to which crime concentrates in space (Sherman et al. 1989). This began as not much more than an interesting observation. Sherman’s early work, for example, showed the extent to which there were “hot spots” of crime in major cities of the United States and which he suggested might direct police patrol. More specifically, as crime scientist Ken Pease (Pease 1998) demonstrated, crime also concentrates on individuals, and as noted above this phenomenon of repeat victimization has become the focus of a number of hypotheses about ways in which to prevent crime (Laycock 2001). The conclusion being: Protect victims and crime goes down. This appears to be the case in relation to a number of different offenses and can be observed in a range of different jurisdictions (Farrell and Pease 2008).

Recent work has investigated the way in which these spatial crime clusters are built up. For example, Bowers et al. (2004) have demonstrated that crime clusters in space and time. Domestic burglary hot spots are built up in ways similar to those seen in the foraging of animals (Johnson et al. 2009). The burglar will “hit” an area and then move on before he or she can be arrested. The researchers draw on the statistical methods used by epidemiologists in analyzing their data. They argue that rather like an outbreak of disease, the crimes occur in spates, which are often small enough for the police to patrol.

In a series of related studies, Johnson and Bowers have shown that repeat victimization, which is partially explained by their work described above, has also led to near neighbors of burglary victims being at heightened risk for a short period following the initial offense. Working with international colleagues, they have demonstrated that the same effect can be found in other jurisdictions (Johnson et al. 2007). All of this work has clear implications for crime prevention and detection.

We can see from this substantial body of work the extent to which initial statistical observations from criminologists provided fertile ground for the development of hypotheses by crime scientists, which could then be developed to both inform practice and further the development of theoretical understanding of the phenomenon of crime itself. It is noted here that Johnson, Bowers, and the majority of their international collaborators have relatively little formal training as criminologists.

There are a number of innovative approaches to crime control that might be discussed on the basis of technologies developed from various scientific discoveries. One of the more recent and certainly more controversial is the introduction of full-body scanners at airports and other transport hubs, which are intended to reduce the terrorist threat or to address smuggling and other offenses which involve carrying contraband on the body. The majority of these scanners are based upon either backscatter X-ray technology, which detects radiation reflected from the body, or passive or active millimeter wave technology which interprets natural radiation from bodies (in the case of passive millimeter scanners) or which reflects extremely high-frequency radio waves off the body (for active millimeter scanners) in order to detect illicit material that may be hidden underneath clothing. The potential threat to health is an obvious issue, which is still the subject of discussion, although the extent of the threat depends upon the system that is used. A problem common to all such systems is, of course, the potential invasion of privacy. The fact that these scanners can operate relatively quickly and do not require the subject to remove clothing is likely to increase their use, without any particular “just cause” as might otherwise be expected. This is an example of the importance of alerting the scientists and technologists to the social consequences of some of their inventions. Although it could be argued that innovators are not responsible for the use to which their innovations are put, there is increasing interest in encouraging scientists to think through some of these ethical issues as is discussed more fully below.

Computer science offers a particularly interesting contribution to crime control first through the realization that prevention must be paramount. Given the ubiquity of the use of computers and the (apparent) anonymity offered by the World Wide Web, effort spent in detecting crimes, which may have been committed by offenders in different countries, is easily seen as futile under most circumstances. So it is very clear that the design of the system itself must be such as to reduce the opportunities for crime and other abuses. We thus see arrangements for online banking, shopping, e-mailing, etc. continuously subject to improvements in the security arrangements associated with them. One observation in relation to the development of computer security systems is the need to take greater account of so-called wetware, that is, humans. Designers of computer password systems make a point of ensuring that the systems will refuse to recognize easily remembered passwords, and as a consequence people tend, for example, to write down passwords on bits of sticky paper or in other insecure places, which of course defeats the purpose. Having the designers of Internet security systems work together with psychologists in the development of these systems should improve the systems themselves and reduce the risk to security. This is a clear example of the advantage of individuals from more than one discipline working together to address a common problem.

Forensic science is now a well-established approach to the detection of crime, and with the developments associated with fingerprint technology and DNA, we see some powerful techniques becoming available to the police and other security experts. Forensic science has a long history of scientists from different disciplines working together, all of whom might call themselves crime scientists but who might also benefit from some of the additional perspectives offered by the social sciences. So, for example, in deciding how to apportion scarce forensic resources when investigating domestic burglary, priority might be given to repeat crimes where we know that there is around an 80 % chance that the same burglar has returned. Such a burglar would almost certainly have a record on the UK National DNA Database and we also know that although a DNA trace is found in only about 5–6 % of burglary offenses, when it is found, there is an over 40 % chance of finding a link to a known offender (Burrows et al. 2005): This percentage is likely to rise in the case of repeat instances of burglary. So a little knowledge of criminology on the part of the forensic scientist would arguably improve their day-to-day performance.

Turning to what is new in forensics, we might look at forensic geosciences, which offer the promise of a whole new branch of science in support of crime detection (Morgan and Bull 2007). Drawing on insights from geology, they explore the distribution of soils, sediments, and dust from crime scenes and address the extent to which they transfer from one place or context to another. It is a fundamental of geography that every contact leaves a trace, and this is what much forensic science is based upon. It has been recently demonstrated, for example, that sand and soil particles have a “fingerprint” or characteristic profile depending upon where they are found. It is thus possible to challenge an assertion by a suspect that he or she was not present at a particular site by comparing the profile of granules found at a crime scene with those on the footwear of the suspect.

All of the sciences test hypotheses but as noted earlier this can be problematic in the real world. It may be unethical, impractical, or politically unacceptable to carry out controlled experiments in the social context. Recent developments in computer science have pointed to a possible way out of this dilemma. Groff and Birks (2008) suggest that new crime prevention approaches could be tested in an artificial computer-generated world before being tried in reality. In a more recent article, Birks et al. (2012) provide a good introduction to computational modelling or more specifically agent-based modelling (ABM). They tested whether the hypothesized mechanisms of environmental criminology were sufficient to explain the observed characteristics of residential burglary – particularly its spatial concentration (hot spots), its concentration on victims (repeat victimization), and the characteristic journey to crime curve. The results showed that the propositions of the routine activity approach, rational choice perspective, and crime pattern theory provide a viable generative explanation of those independent crime characteristics.

This work is an exciting first step in what looks like becoming a rich research vein for crime scientists. The article goes on to provide a number of further projects that might be conducted and through which we might explore the theories and mechanisms associated with crime reduction. One of the advantages of the approach is that it forces the experimenter to be explicit about the mechanisms that are presumed to lead to the reduction in crime and to be highly specific in the articulation of the hypotheses that are being tested (Sidebottom and Tilley 2011).


To call this section “controversies” might be overstating the case, but there are a number of issues with various degrees of contention, which merit some discussion. First, and perhaps most controversially, why not stay within the criminological discipline? Why do we need crime science as a separate enterprise? There are several of reasons. Perhaps the best has been well said by Ken Pease (Pease 2008) in a discussion of crime science in which he reviews the psychological concept of “framing” and the way in which it can be used to describe the partitioning of academic disciplines. Such partitioning, while helpful to universities and employers in facilitating the organization of teaching and in informing assumptions about subsequent knowledge, is also contributory to constraining thinking into “silos” which do not help the development of science in general or problem solving in particular. As Pease puts it:

The cognitive structures into which thinking is organized are known to psychologists as frames. Frames limit cognitive commerce. Thus the primary disadvantage of organizing the study of the natural and social worlds into disciplines is that the frames come to act as artificial barriers to thinking. It is difficult to overstate the importance of framing in the organization of knowledge. Problems are “framed” in ways that make them susceptible to the skills of the framer. (Pease 2008, p. 4)

He goes on to argue that criminology is rooted in sociology (with links to psychology and law), and in line with the notion of framing, criminology’s “solutions” to crime problems and indeed the conceptualizations of crime itself are similarly (over-)influenced by those frames of reference. Crime science is thus an explicit attempt to overcome the negative effects of framing and to make explicit the advantages of working across disciplines.

In his further justification for the emergence of crime science, Pease is critical of criminology. To quote Pease again:

The decision to champion such a discipline shift is rooted in the perception.. ..that the status, progress, and influence of the understanding of crime and criminality achieved by scholarship labeled criminology has.. ..been disappointing both in itself and in its application to the urgent social problems to which it is addressed. (Pease 2008, p. 14)

Pease is also critical of some of the subgroups of criminology and singles out for particular comment the latest iteration of curious thinking from the so-called cultural criminologists. They, he argues, see crime as culturally defined and take scholarship to mean critical reading of the written word rather than empirical, data-driven investigation. If crime science is at one extreme on a continuum, then critical criminology appears to be at the other.

So Pease argues for the establishment of crime science and a break from criminology on three main grounds: First, criminology suffers like most disciplines from the effects of framing; secondly, it has failed to deliver what is required in contributing to the control of crime. On this later point, he is joined by a number of criminologists including past presidents of the American Society of Criminology. They have chosen to try to change the discipline from within while Pease prefers to leave it. Thirdly, some (but Pease concedes not all) criminologists are in his view (and mine as it happens) totally wrong in their approach to crime control. They are members of the criminology “club” and any club that accepts them as members is one to which Pease would rather not belong, as he puts it (paraphrasing Groucho Marx).

The relationship with criminology described in the definition of crime science outlined in this research paper is different from that of Pease, being better described as cherry-picking collaboration. As argued above, and as applies to other social sciences, criminology has much to offer the crime scientist in its insights about crime, ethics, and experimentation as exhibited, for example, by the experimental criminologists. But crime scientists argue that there is a need to do more than work with criminologists if the concern is the control of crime (its prevention, disruption, and detection) ethically and with due deference to good design (i.e., we do not like the Fort Knox option, effective though that might be). We would wish to embrace all the sciences and in particular to approach crime control using scientific methods, that is, to experiment.

Why call it crime science? What is wrong, for example, with police science as suggested by Weisburd and Neyroud (2011)? The arguments for the label crime science have been rehearsed elsewhere, see, for example, Laycock (2012); but in a nutshell, while we share many of the methodological and philosophical ideas and approaches of the police scientists, we would include the operation of the courts, prisons, and probation services as of interest to crime science. We would also wish to address issues of concern to communities such as minor disorder or other problems, which would hopefully fall short of policing. So unless we also want to create prisons scientists, probation scientists, and criminal justice scientists (the list could be longer), we have opted for crime scientists. Furthermore, we draw an analogy with medical science, which is notably not called doctor science and which concerns itself with the prevention, detection, and treatment of diseases. In doing so, it does not rely solely on doctors but, as noted above, expects support from the central and local government, from parents, from schools, teachers, and others in advocating healthy lifestyles. There are direct and obvious analogies with crime control.

There are other issues associated with crime science stemming from its roots in environmental criminology, a substantial component of which is situational crime prevention (SCP). A classic criticism of SCP is that it is no more than target hardening and pays no attention to social issues but concentrates on turning social space into a fortress. This criticism is wrong on at least two counts. First, it is not the case that SCP is no more than target hardening. There are currently five major approaches to SCP, all of which have been demonstrated in different contexts to reduce crime – these are the mechanisms (Pawson and Tilley 1997) through which crime is reduced. They are:

  1. Increase the perceived effort required of the potential offender to commit the crime (this includes but is not restricted to target hardening).
  2. Increase the perceived risk to the offender (this includes, but again is not restricted to, increasing surveillance such as introducing CCTV).
  3. Reduce the expected reward (e.g., putting dye capsules on clothing to deter shop theft).
  4. Remove provocation (e.g., controlling taxi queues around night clubs to deter queue jumping).
  5. Remove excuses (e.g., setting clear rules for children about the unacceptability of bullying in schools). Under each of these headings can be found a wide variety of tactics (Tilley and Laycock 2001) but their adoption should depend upon a proper understanding of the crime or disorder problem being addressed, an appreciation of the context within which the tactic is to be applied, and some judgment about its appropriateness such as the extent to which it might cause an oppressive environment, be unethical or an overreaction to an otherwise relatively minor problem. At this point, the decision whether or not to implement becomes one of judgment.

It is also perhaps worth noting here that the default response from the police to the prevention of crime is typically increased patrol, CCTV, or walls, barriers, and other target-hardening approaches. This is perhaps why SCP has become seen as so restricted. Experience of teaching problem solving and the use of the SARA process over a number of years suggests that it can be quite difficult to persuade the police to broaden their response options beyond increasing the perceived effort and risk to the offender.

There have been a number of points so far when the notion of judgment has been mentioned. This has arisen in relation to deciding on which problem to address, which hypotheses to test, and which responses to adopt. Good judgment is an integral part of scientific development. Science is not the barren, formulaic process it is sometimes supposed to be. It should be a creative and vibrant activity that is exciting for the scientist and those who work with them. Some of the latter include the politicians whose job is to decide whether and if so when to adopt the innovations of science and technology and to implement them in society. This again is a judgment: It often requires balancing the rights of individuals with the need to keep society safe or the aesthetic appearance of a neighborhood with the need to reduce crime. In making these judgments, politicians or those who work on their behalf need a reasonable estimate and understanding of risk. It is often this that they are balancing. So, for example, if the risk of a terrorist attack is low, is the cost of implementing a potentially intrusive surveillance system defensible? For the politician, that cost is more than financial: It would include the political cost, that is, they can lose their job. They also would want to take account of precedent, public reaction and what the media might say. This is the policy context within which science and technologies are developed, and although it may be the responsibility of the scientist to ensure that the decision makers are aware of the scientific and technological options, it does not follow that decision makers will simply follow the most scientifically rational route. If scientists aspire to influence judgments (as crime scientists do given their wish to influence policy and practice), then it is perhaps appropriate if they understand this wider decision-making context and how it can be used to further scientific endeavor; science does not sell itself.

The final issue to be discussed here in the current debate on the development of crime science is the level within the universities at which it is taught. The first university to teach crime science was University College London, which is the home of the UCL Jill Dando Institute of Security and Crime Science (JDI). The teaching there has so far been largely although not exclusively restricted to postgraduate training. This has meant taking postgraduate students trained in an acknowledged scientific discipline and exposing them to the challenges of crime control. An advantage of this is that the students either come ready versed in scientific method or are positive about the approach. It compares with the early development of forensic science, for example. Social sciences differ in the extent to which they welcome experimentation, but even within those disciplines that do not have a hard science core, there appears to be a ready market for this more practical and scientifically based style. Other universities are now offering similar programs as crime science slowly develops with some providing courses at undergraduate level.

There is a strong argument for keeping with the postgraduate option and not encouraging the development of undergraduate courses. To do so seriously risks establishing just another academic silo with all the framing difficulties as set out by Pease. We would basically be back to the beginning as far as the encouragement of multidisciplinary working was concerned. Nobody should underestimate the difficulty of establishing multidisciplinarity, which is one of the current buzzwords in research funding circles. While we might be able to point to outstanding examples of cross-disciplinary working, which have led to major scientific breakthroughs such as the work on DNA by Watson and Crick, those collaborations were close to serendipitous. Actually creating an academic context within which similar joint working might be fostered is a real challenge, particularly in today’s world when there is less opportunity in universities for the casual conversations in common rooms seen as a feature of the rosy academic past.

UCL has been extremely fortunate in this area. The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council in the UK, which is one of the major funders of science, provided funding to UCL’s JDI in 2009 to establish a Doctoral Training Centre in Security Science. This involved a £7 million grant to support 10 fully funded PhD students per year for 4 years. UCL undertook to double those numbers. The funding enabled the recruitment of scientists from a range of disciplines to be offered studentships and to work in the same physical space, with all the day-to-day interaction opportunities that this implies, and to share common courses about crime and the ways to control it. This is an ongoing program and its success or otherwise will be closely watched. So far, it has brought computer scientists, mathematicians, political scientists, linguists, and engineers together to carry out research.

Open Questions

Following from the previous section, one of the open questions has to be the extent to which crime science can avoid the “silo pitfalls” of the past and genuinely produce novel solutions to today’s problems which demonstrate sensitivity to ethical concerns and good design. On this, the jury has to be still out. A second related question is whether or not crime science can add value to crime control through investment in a multidisciplinary approach – indeed at this stage, it is an open question whether different disciplines will be working together on common problems or whether their interactions will be restricted to coffee and biscuits. On this, the recent launch of a crime science open access journal might in the longer term prove helpful in providing an appropriate academic outlet for joint papers which might otherwise struggle for acceptance in the well-established mainstream disciplinary journals. Fundamentally crime science is attempting to generate a common language and understanding of the potential methods of crime control across disciplines that might not normally exist.

The aspirations of crime scientists to affect policy and practice are laudable, if potentially challenging, not least because there is a fundamental difference in the contingencies under which practitioners, policy makers, and researchers operate. For example, practitioners are not typically rewarded for reading research papers or for their understanding of science, while policy makers increasingly have an eye on the media representation of their policies rather than the extent to which they may reflect risk or rationality as a scientist may see it. Whether or not crime scientists can better influence policy and practice than, say, criminologists have managed to do is therefore an open question. The way to deal with this, however, is to change those contingencies not to complain about the lack of influence of research over policy and practice. The questions are as follows: How do we make practitioners (in the present case largely the police) more interested in what they perceive as irrelevant research? How do we motivate researchers better to communicate with the practitioners? How do we encourage policy makers to pay more attention to scientific research results? Until these questions are addressed, the lack of connection of the police with science, as described by Weisburd and Neyroud (2011), for example, will remain.

There is of course a huge range of further open questions when we turn from what might be described as administrative issues to the more academic ones. First, much more work needs to be done on ethics and legitimacy specifically in relation to the implementation of various technological solutions to crime problems. A tendency to exaggerate the risk or threat of crime (particularly terrorism) leaves societies vulnerable to the unfettered implementation of “hard” solutions to crime problems, which may be effective but which in the longer term may also be undesirable.

The most important research questions are ultimately a matter of opinion and inclination, but for the writer, as a crime scientist with an interest in crime prevention as a means of controlling crime rather than detection, arrest, sentencing, and ultimately imprisonment, the key question has to be how to design a social system which minimizes criminal opportunities while protecting rights, freedoms, and aesthetics. This might remain an open question for some time to come.


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