Informal Guardianship Research Paper

This sample Informal Guardianship Research Paper is published for educational and informational purposes only. If you need help writing your assignment, please use our research paper writing service and buy a paper on any topic at affordable price. Also check our tips on how to write a research paper, see the lists of criminal justice research paper topics, and browse research paper examples.

Guardianship is the process by which citizens function as effective informal crime prevention and control agents. The concept was first introduced in Cohen and Felson’s (1979) routine activity approach and was originally defined as “any spatio-temporally specific supervision of people or property by other people which may prevent criminal violations from occurring” (Felson and Cohen 1980). In spite of the capable guardian’s central role in determining criminal victimization, research focusing exclusively on guardianship and the mechanisms that facilitate and inhibit it is limited, particularly compared to that of offending and victimization. Recent research has begun to address this gap in the criminological literature to reveal that guardianship against crime is effective when citizens are available and is boosted when they engage in monitoring or supervision of their surroundings and intervene when necessary. Empirical evidence demonstrates that guardianship intensity in residential environments is a place-based characteristic, as it is critically determined by the opportunities available for supervision generated by spatiophysical and sociodemographic contextual factors.


The Concept Of Guardianship

Within criminology the concept of guardianship first surfaced as a critical component of Cohen and Felson’s (1979) routine activity approach. This theory put forward the perspective that in order for a crime event to occur, it requires the convergence of three minimal elements: a likely offender, a suitable target (defined as a person, object, or place), and the absence of a capable guardian. In doing so, they draw attention to the capable guardian as the ultimate protector and defender of people and property against criminal violations. Felson and Cohen (1980) define guardianship as “any spatio-temporally specific supervision of people or property by other people which may prevent criminal violations from occurring.” In spite of the fact that the capable guardian is one of the only actors within the crime event model who has the power to prevent criminal violations from occurring, it has been argued that “the issue of guardianship lags in theoretical development and empirical testing” (Tewksbury and Mustaine 2003, p. 203).

The Capable Guardian

In their original formulation of routine activity theory, Cohen and Felson (1979) explained crime as the product of the convergence of three minimal elements in time and space: (1) likely offenders, (2) suitable targets, and (3) the absence of capable guardians. Thus, the routine activity explanation of crime rate trends identified the capable guardian as one of the only actors within the crime event who has the power to prevent a crime from being executed. The theory defines a capable guardian as any person or thing that discourages crime from taking place (Cohen and Felson 1979). Cohen and Felson (1979) and Felson (1995) emphasize that guardians “keep an eye on potential crime targets” and serve “by simple presence to prevent crime, and by absence to make crime more likely” (Felson 1995). Felson (1995, pp. 53–54) goes on to further clarify the concept by providing examples of who capable guardians are and how they may serve to prevent crime: “a retired person at home might well discourage daytime burglary of his or her own home or even the home next door. Conversely, someone working away from home during the day contributes to a greater risk of burglary by their absence. Two persons walking down the street might serve as effective guardians for one another against a mugging or other attack, while each individual serves as a guardian for his or her own immediate property.”

With these examples, Felson reveals that guardians may be household residents (who can act as guardians over their own as well as nearby properties) and/or passersby (who may act as guardians over others in their presence). Who fulfills the role of a guardian, therefore, is dependent in the first instance on who is present within the context of the crime opportunity. Felson (1995) argues that his conceptualization of the guardian within the crime event model is not a formal policeman or security guard but an informal person or ordinary citizen whose presence, during the course of their daily routines, provides security to potential targets/ victims of crime. It is therefore informal guardians like residents and passersby who are more likely to be present to discourage crime than formal guardians like police officers and security guards.

Guardians And Other Crime Controllers

Recent developments in routine activity theory highlight the various roles assumed by the actors who are responsible for crime control, of which guardians represent just one. These roles have been expanded to include handlers who supervise potential offenders (Felson 1995), and managers who supervise places (Eck 1994), to accompany the original group of guardians who supervise potential crime targets (people or property) (Cohen and Felson 1979). Felson developed the concept of the “handler” by linking the routine activity approach and Hirschi’s control theory to explain how parents and others in a community who have knowledge of and close proximity to a likely offender can serve as “intimate handlers” who can exert control over them if they are aware of their rule-breaking. Eck (1994) identified another group of controllers – place managers – who have the power to discourage crime at places through the effective supervision of those places. Place managers can be restaurant managers, apartment building managers, doormen, or concierges – all have the ability to keep an eye on places due to their close proximity to or frequent presence at places, as well as the responsibility they have been assigned to manage those places. These developments in the routine activity approach point to the convergent mechanisms that may come into play for those who exercise control over likely offenders, defined (micro) places, and individual people and/or property targets.

Crime Prevention And Control Through Guardianship

Guardianship And Situational Crime Prevention

Clarke (1997) highlights the importance of increasing guardianship as one of the core situational crime prevention techniques. Based on the premise that specific situational characteristics help generate opportunities for offenders to commit crime, Clarke (1997) explains that crime can be prevented by systematically manipulating situational elements in order to block these opportunities using a range of situational crime prevention strategies and techniques. Situational crime prevention is designed to affect the offender’s decision-making process by manipulating the perceived costs and benefits associated with a particular crime opportunity. The aim therefore is to manipulate situations so that the costs of committing crime outweigh the benefits, thereby discouraging the offender from committing the criminal act. Thus, Clarke (1997) explains that the ultimate goal is to create unfavorable circumstances for the offender through “discrete managerial and environmental change” (1997, p. 2) in order to reduce opportunities for crime and prevent its occurrence.

With this objective in mind, one of the central strategies of situational crime prevention is to increase the risks for offenders to get caught. The key techniques associated with this strategy include extending or increasing guardianship, using place managers, and providing assistance for guardians or tools to facilitate natural and other forms of surveillance including improved street lighting and use of CCTV. Clarke explains that the implementation of these guardianship (and related) techniques is fundamental to crime prevention as it heightens the offender’s perception that he or she will be detected and subsequently puts him or her off from offending in that situation. In short, guardians serve to discourage crime and protect targets through their presence and through supervision.

Support for the role of guardianship as an effective crime prevention technique comes from offender self-reports on factors affecting target selection. In Bennett and Wright (1984), for example, qualitative interviews with burglars reveal that factors related to guardianship in terms of household occupancy and the risk of being seen or detected by others played a significant role in the targets selected for burglary. In selecting their targets, burglars explained that they would look for signs or cues that a dwelling was occupied, in which case the dwelling would be deemed “unsuitable for burglary” (Bennett and Wright 1984, p. 65). Similarly, offenders were also concerned with the proximity of neighboring houses and the presence of neighbors who might act as guardians (Bennett and Wright 1984, p. 63). Offenders were discouraged not only by the presence and proximity of guardians in the form of neighbors but also by their capability as guardians, that is, whether offenders would be noticed by neighbors and whether neighbors would take action upon noticing their presence. They admitted being concerned about “being seen by someone familiar with the property who might intervene if something suspicious occurred” (Bennett and Wright 1984, p. 64).

Guardianship And Informal Social Control

The three groups of controllers or supervisors identified in the routine activity approach – guardians, place managers, and handlers – draw attention to the fact that crime can be prevented by controlling potential targets, crime sites, or offenders themselves through supervision. In this way, the concept of guardianship is subsumed under the umbrella of informal social control, where supervision by the guardian over the target, the handler over the offender, and the place manager over the place is enhanced by social bonds and informed by social norms, which leads ultimately to crime control. Felson and Cohen’s (1980) definition of guardianship as spatio-temporally specific supervision of potential crime targets emphasizes the function of supervision – that is, looking out for, keeping an eye on, monitoring, and natural surveillance – of people or property that is likely to prevent victimization. This definition also explains that guardianship is place and time specific, highlighting that guardianship as a crime prevention technique is situational; it needs to be targeted at specific places and times in order to maximize its effectiveness.

Availability Of Guardians

Citizens’ capability to guard against crime is defined, in the first instance, by their routine activities as this dictates a person’s availability to act as a guardian. Guardianship for crime prevention thus rests on the notion that any individual can serve as a guardian against crime by being present at the scene of a potential crime event (Felson 1995). Local residents, for example, can guard their residential communities against crime through frequent presence in their residential locale. Routine activities that involve a higher proportion of time spent at or around the home rather than away from home help increase the likelihood that guardians will be available if necessary. The mere presence of a guardian has the potential to discourage offenders who are in search of low-risk opportunities to commit crime. Availability therefore can be viewed as the primary dimension of guardianship.

This is corroborated by empirical evidence which shows that household occupancy or frequency of time people spend at home is a negative correlate of burglary victimization. Garofalo and Clarke (1992) used a survey measure of residential guardianship asking household members how often they were at home, as well as indicators such as the presence of a dog, an alarm system, a timer for lights or radio, informal arrangements with neighbors, and other security measures. Results showed that the combined measures of guardianship contribute to reducing the likelihood of residential burglaries, with the strongest effect when they are used together. Similarly, Miethe et al. (1990) operationalized guardianship in terms of household occupancy, using the number of persons in a household over the age of 12 as its measure. Results showed that individuals who had a decreased level of guardianship over time showed an increased risk of victimization. Time spent away from home not only decreases property guardianship by leaving properties unattended but also increases individual exposure to the risk of personal victimization. In some situations, more important than being present is the evidence of availability. “Traces of household occupancy” in the form of visual or auditory cues inform potential offenders that guardians are present and therefore are likely to play a vital role in discouraging offenders.

As such, the majority of empirical research on guardianship utilizes proxy measures for home occupancy to measure guardianship. Indicators such as the number of owner-occupied households, percentage of labor-force participation, and number of household members have traditionally been used to approximate the level of guardianship at places in lieu of direct measures. The British Crime Survey (BCS) and Garofalo and Clark (1992) provide notable exceptions, as they use self-report survey items to measure the amount of time people spend at home as an approximation of the level of guardianship at the property level. Availability, however, is just one dimension of guardianship and conveys little about actual supervision by the guardian who may be present or whether they would take action to stop a crime in progress. It has been argued that this reflects the tangible problem of the inadequacy of some of the proxy measures of guardianship that have traditionally been used in tests of the concept (see Miethe and Meier 1994, for discussion). While availability is a necessary condition for guardianship, the visible presence of guardians is merely the starting point of the spectrum of capability that citizens can draw upon to guard against crime.

Guardianship In Action: Including Supervision And Intervention

While presence/availability is arguably its most fundamental dimension, Reynald (2009, 2010, 2011a) demonstrates that capable guardianship is intensified through monitoring and intervention when necessary (see Cohen and Felson 1979). Given availability, effective guardianship can be enhanced by actual supervision or monitoring of residential space and property. Felson (2006) explains that the absence of actual supervision determines when and where crime occurs since offenders primarily seek to escape supervision by finding targets and places that are not well attended to. The power to guard against crime can be further intensified when guardians take action to intervene upon observing untoward activities in their surroundings. Intervention can be defined as any action taken to disrupt or prevent a crime event and can encompass a range of actions including shouting out to perpetrators, calling the police, or physically intervening to stop a crime. Intervention as a form of guarding against crime is supported by Brown and Bentley (1993) who explain that the risk of being seen is not always sufficient to deter a burglar since “burglars also need to know whether potential onlookers would care about their presence.. .Burglars also may decide that some neighbours will intervene and others will not” (Brown and Bentley 1993, p. 52).

Reynald (2009, 2011) elaborated on these action dimensions of capable guardianship, arguing that these components of supervision and intervention are directly observable and provide a more ecologically valid measure of the core dimensions of guardianship than traditionally used proxy measures. Measuring these action components of guardianship through observation revealed that guardianship intensity is strongest and is significantly associated with lower property crime rates when guardians are (1) available, (2) engage in supervision/monitoring/surveillance over targets in their surroundings, and (3) take action by intervening when necessary in order to prevent or disrupt crime or related violations. These findings were replicated by Hollis-Peel and Welsh (forthcoming). Together, availability, monitoring, and intervention have been established as a reliable and valid integrated measure of guardianship and can therefore be viewed as the dimensions of guardianship in action (GIA).

Decision Making By Guardians: Willingness To Supervise And Intervene

In support of the premise that guardianship can extend beyond the availability of guardians, an interview study with available residential guardians revealed that neither supervision nor intervention when necessary is an inevitable consequence of availability (Reynald 2010). In fact, of a sample of 255 available guardians, 15 % admitted to choosing not to supervise or pay attention to occurrences in their surroundings. Moreover, supervision was shown to enhance guardianship capabilities, as residents explained that monitoring enhanced their contextual awareness by helping them to recognize people and situations that were suspicious and out of the ordinary in their particular residential context. These findings support the results from the GIA studies showing that monitoring or supervision boosts the intensity of guardianship at places.

Consistent with the social psychology literature on bystander intervention, only 16 % of the 217 residents that reported witnessing crime or related events in their surroundings in the past also reported being willing to intervene directly, irrespective of the type of crime event they witnessed. Of equal interest was the fact that 20 % of this subsample admitted they would not take any action to intervene, either directly or indirectly, upon observing suspicious, crimerelated activity. The majority of the sample reported indirect intervention by calling the police for help as their chosen response to a crime event, with many residents explaining that their choice of direct or indirect intervention would depend on the severity of the crime event in progress. Through their discussion of these varying responses to crime, some of the core stages involved in guardians’ willingness to take action to disrupt crime events – that is, to supervise and/or intervene – were able to be elucidated.

Results also revealed that once a crime event is observed by an available guardian, his/her responsive action is decided through an assessment of a range of individual and situational factors that can be broadly categorized as (1) perceived risk to personal safety, (2) perceived capability, and (3) perceived responsibility. When the perceived risk to safety is low and the perceived capability and responsibility is high, available guardians expressed a greater willingness to take some form of direct or indirect action to intervene. Clarke (1997) suggests that guarding against crime within the situational crime prevention context is about encouraging guardians and place managers to take responsibility for monitoring and guarding the places they inhabit. For residents it means taking responsibility, not just for private residences, but also for public areas around residences, while for place managers like shop assistants, parking lot attendants, or train conductors, it means taking responsibility for monitoring their workplaces (Clarke 1997). Felson (1995) builds on this premise by identifying varying levels of responsibility that guardians take for guarding against crime which are determined by physical distance to potential targets/victims, as well as social distance in terms of familiarity and attachment (see Reynald 2011b).

Interviews with available guardians reveal that there are distinct decision-making stages that determine the critical action dimensions of guardianship – supervision and intervention. In particular, they suggest that once a crime event is observed, the responsive action taken by an available guardian is the product of a series of rational choices and the evaluation of the costs and benefits involved. By determining the intensity of guardianship available within particular contexts, these decisions ultimately have an indirect effect on the crime levels within defined contexts. Whether or not guardians take the necessary action to supervise and, in particular, to intervene is affected by individual, contextual, and situational factors which are often interrelated (see Reynald 2010). In order to develop this line of research, these guardianship decision-making stages need to be further extrapolated by developing an understanding of the mechanisms that facilitate intervention by guardians, as well as those that hinder it. A systematic construction of how these mechanisms interrelate to produce the decision to intervene or not is a critical first step in realizing how effective forms of intervention by guardians can be encouraged.

Guardianship And Environmental Support

The aforementioned results point to the importance of contextual factors in generating opportunities for effective guardianship. Wilcox et al. (2007) argue that guardianship is a multidimensional concept which is affected by contextual factors not appropriately considered by most of the previous studies in this area. Alongside the behaviors required to guard against crime as described in the GIA model, the local environment or the characteristics of a place play a critical role in supporting efforts by local citizens to guard against crime. Physical, spatial, social, and demographic factors all make a significant contribution to what is perceived holistically as the residential environment. In turn, each of these groups of factors affects the (visible) availability of residents, their monitoring capabilities, and whether or not they are willing to intervene to disrupt or prevent crime events. Citizens can therefore be empowered to guard against crime through opportunities that are generated by their environment.

The following section will explain which environmental factors have emerged as most influential when it comes to guarding against crime, as well as the mechanisms through which the environment and guardianship likely interrelate. Relevant theoretical perspectives will be highlighted along with empirical evidence to explain the relationship between the environment and the dimensions of guardianship depicted in the GIA model. This comparison will reveal how the same environmental cues vital for crime prevention may be conversely interpreted by the offender in search of crime opportunities.

Guardianship Opportunities And The Spatio-Physical Context

Natural Surveillance

Both the visible availability of guardians and their monitoring capabilities are critically mediated by the opportunities for surveillance that are provided by the design and layout of the built environment. Newman’s (1972) defensible space theory explains how the spatio-physical environment affects residents’ capability to act as guardians by either facilitating or blocking opportunities for natural surveillance. According to Newman’s theory, residents can maximize their ability to monitor their surroundings if windows and doors of properties are oriented towards public space and designed to face each other along a street, and by ensuring that the lines of sight between private residences and public space are clear and unobstructed. This makes it easier for residents to oversee their property, neighboring properties, and public space immediately surrounding them. With the support of these features of environmental design and layout, residents can supervise their surroundings purposely or inadvertently while carrying out regular household activities (Newman 1972). Felson (2006) reinforces this argument, suggesting that supervision is maximized when guardians can see as much of their residential space as possible. These natural surveillance opportunities function as a tool for crime prevention as they increase the risk that potential offenders will be seen by increasing the observability of residential areas as well as the visibility of residents who are at home.

Image And Maintenance

The image of a residential environment reflects the extent to which it is controlled, maintained, and well cared for by its residents (Newman 1972). Image provides information about the management of a residential place and whether or not its residents are effective place managers. The extent to which residents take responsibility for keeping a place clean and well maintained determines the image of residential places. Residents can help guard against crime through the regular upkeep of properties and the wider residential environment. Broken windows theory corroborates this perspective as it suggests that cues reflecting poor management and maintenance, such as broken windows and graffiti, promote an image of vulnerability and encourage crime. Empirical evidence also shows how physical incivilities like graffiti, broken windows, litter, and general disrepair encourage social incivilities and lead to increased crime, fear of crime, and withdrawal from the community by residents (e.g., Skogan 1990). This evidence reveals the ways in which the image of a place can determine resident participation as it can affect the frequency with which residents are present, as well as their willingness to monitor and intervene when necessary.

Accessibility, Land Use, And The Routine Activities Of Place

While residents can contribute to the maintenance of their physical environment, image is also generated by the routine activities of that place. The social organization of behavior at a particular place determines its routine activities and therefore its risk of being targeted for victimization. The routine activities of a place can be viewed as a function of the level of activity and the type of activity encouraged therein. The accessibility of a place and its land-use patterns in turn contribute to the level and type of activity that is routine at a place. Accessibility and land use affect residents’ ability to guard against crime through their capacity to either generate or inhibit opportunities for effective monitoring and direct intervention when necessary. Taylor et al. (1995, p. 122) explain that the presence of nonresidential land use on a block essentially “alters the ratio of outsiders to regulars on a block, lessening the familiarity of faces residents see around them.”

Similarly for areas that are highly accessible, a high proportion of users are likely to be outsiders and this diminishes residents’ monitoring capabilities by reducing the likelihood that they will be able to detect suspicious activity or individuals who are there for illegitimate purposes. Empirical studies have shown that crime tends to be higher in more accessible, highly utilized areas of the street network. High accessibility and activity level at a place also generates increased opportunities for crime by encouraging opportunities for physical and social incivilities (Taylor et al. 1995). The image of the place that is generated as a result of the number of external users that are attracted to it can have a negative effect on resident’s place attachment, participation, and their territorial behavior.

Taylor et al. (1995) explain that the lack of familiar faces and the physical deterioration that is encouraged by the high usage cause residents to withdraw from public spaces and become much less engaged in place management. This consequently serves only to reinforce the negative place image. Exacerbating the issue further still is that nonresidential land uses on a residential block create “holes” in the residential fabric that residents do not take responsibility for (Taylor et al. 1995, p. 122).

There is, however, some debate over the effect of accessibility and mixed land use on residents’ guardianship capabilities and on crime in general. Built on the work of Jane Jacobs (1961), New Urbanism promotes residential developments comprised mixed land use that includes public transportation stops and other amenities. Jacobs (1961) argues that mixed land usage and the flow of people it attracts at various times of the day are factors that encourage, rather than detract from, opportunities to guard against crime since more people means more available guardians.

The Sociodemographic Context And Guardianship

The Density Of Acquaintanceship And The Social Context

Citizens’ willingness to monitor and their willingness to intervene are both influenced by their sociodemographic context. Freudenberg (1986) argues that while monitoring by residents in an area discourages offenders and helps control crime levels, this is likely to be mediated by the social context and the degree to which residents know each other. Thus, he argues that the density of acquaintanceship or the degree to which residents in a community know each other is the critical factor as it determines the degree of “watchfulness” by residents in areas with stable population (Freudenburg 1986). Likewise, Sampson et al. (1997) found evidence to suggest that residents’ willingness to intervene is linked to social cohesion among neighbors and is negatively associated with neighborhood variations in violent victimization. These studies emphasize the importance of the social environment in encouraging residents’ capability to guard against crime.

Residential Mobility, Ethnic Heterogeneity, Income, And Social Ties

Residents’ immediate social environment is fundamentally shaped by demographic characteristics of the broader neighborhood context. Sampson and Groves’ social disorganization model predicts that neighborhood demographic characteristics, including ethnic heterogeneity, low income, and residential mobility, contribute to high crime and delinquency rates by weakening informal social control and disrupting social organizations and networks within neighborhoods. This has been corroborated by microlevel empirical studies. Xie and McDowall’s (2008) study showed that residential turnover independently increases the risk of property victimization due to changes in the opportunity structure for crime that result from constrained capabilities to guard against crime.

According to Xie and McDowall (2008), high residential turnover on streets increases the vulnerability of households to crime through the confluence of several mechanisms that highlights the relationship between the sociodemographic environment and the guardianship dimensions of monitoring and intervention: “Residential moves sever local ties and weaken social control, so newcomers tend to have fewer friends in the neighbourhood who might act as guardians of their homes.. .Long-term neighbours are more likely to recognize unusual patterns and unfamiliar people that may be signs of criminal activity. They will also be more likely to intervene, ask questions, and notify the police of clear indications of unusual activities” (Xie and McDowall 2008, p. 543). High rates of resident turnover mean high numbers of new residents whose lack of knowledge of their residential area has a negative effect on their monitoring capabilities and perhaps even on their confidence to intervene. Xie and McDowall (2008, p. 543) suggest that “potential offenders may perceive the vulnerabilities of newcomers,” including their diminished capacity to distinguish outsiders from their own neighbors.

Alternative Applications And Extensions Of The Guardianship Concept

Mechanical Surveillance

Cohen and Felson (1979) explain that while capable guardians are usually people, the function can also be served to some extent by mechanical objects. As such, CCTV cameras have been used increasingly as technological/mechanical replacements for the supervision and control provided by human guardians. When guardians are not able or available to provide supervision over targets, people, and places, it has been proposed that CCTV cameras are an effective form of surveillance. Moreover, whether manned or not, CCTV cameras are said to create the perception that someone is watching. It is therefore meant to have a similar effect as a guardian who is watching by discouraging offenders in search of crime opportunities because of the elevated risk of detection (see Clarke and Eck 2005).

Guardianship And Physical Control

Target Hardening

Another dimension of the guardianship concept to be introduced is that of physical guardianship or the protection of targets through physical control. Physical guardianship has been defined as “routine activities that provide physical protection of homes” (Wilcox et al. 2007, p. 774) or other property targets. According to Wilcox et al. (2007), these include target hardening measures that overlap with guardianship and are consistent with situational crime prevention, such as the use of alarm systems and locks. One of the principles of SCP is that target hardening can be used effectively to block opportunities for crime by increasing the effort required to commit crime. Several studies have distinguished these types of target hardening measures as a specific form of guardianship (e.g., Miethe and Meier 1994; Garofalo and Clark 1992). It is again important to note, however, that this is distinct from the routine activity concept of guardianship, and even within the situational crime prevention literature, target hardening and guardianship are considered separate techniques for crime prevention. Increasing guardianship is categorized as a technique that helps prevent crime by increasing the risk for offenders that they will be identified or caught. On the other hand, increasing target hardening is a separate technique designed to increase the effort required by offenders to illegally acquire or access a target (Clarke 1997). Though related, these are viewed as distinct techniques that operate successfully individually and in combination to prevent crime through separate strategies.

Self-Protection Measures

The fusion of the routine activities approach with the lifestyle-exposure perspective of Hindelang et al. (1978) inspired the birth of another branch in the conceptualization of guardianship, one that remains distinct from the original form it takes in the routine activity approach. Moving away from the perspective of guardianship as an expression of social control, studies by Mustaine and Tewksbury (1998) and Tewksbury and Mustaine (2003) conceptualize guardianship in terms of specific behaviors geared towards self-protection and target protection. Starting with the perspective that individual lifestyle or routine activities determine “differential exposure to dangerous places, times, and others” (Miethe and Meier 1994, p. 32), Mustaine and Tewksbury (1998, p. 834) define guardianship as “the degree of protection afforded to property or persons.” In keeping with this definition, guardianship is operationalized by the use of self-protective behaviors by individuals, including weapon possession (e.g., carrying a knife or gun) and possession of body alarms or mace (Tewksbury and Mustaine 2003). There remains, however, a great deal of debate about the extent to which personal protection measures like these are synonymous with the original concept of guardianship and reduced risk of victimization (see Wilcox et al. 2007; Reynald 2009).

Conclusions And Future Directions

“Private citizen’s involvement in crime prevention is being given a high priority as a public policy issue” (Geis and Huston 1983, p. 398). This has fuelled debates about whether or not private citizens are capable of guarding against crime, whether or not they have the expertise to do so, and the dangers inherent in involving citizens at this level. These concerns are especially interesting in light of the fact that private citizen involvement in crime control is not a novel phenomenon and actually is an historical antecedent of formal policing in westernized states (Zedner 2006). In fact, crime prevention through guardianship in the form of informal surveillance and shared responsibility has been put forward as an alternative to the ideals of the present-day formal state police (Zedner 2006). This informal guardianship by citizens preceded formal policing as it now exists within the modern criminal justice state. Indeed, the technique of guardianship as a form of situational crime prevention would thus fit in well with what Zedner (2006, p. 85) describes as the eighteenth-century policing experts who “regarded prevention as more important than the retrospective functions of arrest, detention and prosecution that later came to characterize modern policing.” Critical for the development of research on guardianship is understanding the ways in which informal guardians can enhance the functioning of formal guardianship processes and, as a consequence, have a positive impact on crime control (see Reynald 2011b, for further discussion).

While a recent empirical focus on understanding the mechanisms that facilitate and inhibit effective informal guardianship has revealed the importance of environmental/contextual factors in determining guardianship intensity, further micro-level research is needed to elucidate ways in which situational and individual factors interact to affect the intensity of guardianship at places. In his article on communities, crime, and neighborhood organization, Skogan (1989, p. 437) asserts the claim that “the ability of individuals to act in defense of their community is shaped in important ways by the opportunities for action that are available to them.” This highlights the importance of mobilizing citizens to take action through guardianship by raising their awareness of the active role they can potentially play in crime prevention. Aside from continuing to develop our understanding of the function of informal guardians as crime control agents in their residential environments, much needs to be explored about guardianship in other domains. Research on guardianship is dominated by a focus on the way it functions in the residential context, but very little is known about how citizens function as capable guardians in domains away from home.


  1. Bennett T, Wright R (1984) Burglars on burglary: prevention and the offender. Gower, Aldershot
  2. Brown BB, Bentley DL (1993) Residential burglars judge risk: the role of territoriality. J Environ Psychol 13:51–61
  3. Clarke RV (1997) Situational crime prevention: successful case studies, 2nd edn. Harrow & Heston, Albany
  4. Clarke RV, Eck J (2005) Become a problem-solving crime analyst: in 55 small steps. Jill Dando Institute of Crime Science, University College London, London
  5. Cohen LE, Felson M (1979) Social change and crime rate trends: a routine activity approach. Am Sociol Rev 44(4):588–608
  6. Eck JE (1994) Drug markets and drug places: a case– control study of the spatial structure of Illicit drug dealing. Unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, University of Maryland, College Park
  7. Felson M (1995) Those who discourage crime. In: Eck JE, Weisburd D (eds) Crime and place: crime prevention studies, vol 4. Criminal Justice Press, Monsey
  8. Felson M (2006) Crime and nature. Sage, Thousand Oaks
  9. Felson M, Cohen LE (1980) Human ecology and crime: a routine activity approach. Hum Ecol 8(4):389–406
  10. Freudenburg WR (1986) The density of acquaintanceship: an overlooked variable in community research? Am J Sociol 92(1):27–63
  11. Garofalo J, Clark D (1992) Guardianship and residential burglary. Justice Q 9(3):443–463
  12. Geis G, Huston TL (1983) Bystander intervention into crime: public policy considerations. Policy Stud J 11:398–408
  13. Hindelang MJ, Gottfredson MR, James G (1978) Victims of personal crime: an empirical foundation for a theory of personal victimization. Ballinger, Cambridge, MA
  14. Hollis-Peel ME, Welsh BC (forthcoming). What makes a guardian capable? A test of guardianship in action. Secur J. Advance online publication, August 13, 2012; doi:10.1057/sj.2012.32
  15. Jacobs J (1961) The death and life of great American cities. Random House, New York
  16. Miethe TD, Meier RF (1994) Crime and its social context: toward an integrated theory of offenders, victims and situations. State University of New York Press, Albany
  17. Miethe TD, Stafford MC, Sloane D (1990) Lifestyle changes and risks of criminal victimization. J Quant Criminol 6(4):357–376
  18. Mustaine EE, Tewksbury R (1998) Predicting risks of larceny theft victimization: a routine activity analysis using refined lifestyle measures. Criminol: Interdiscip J 36:829–858
  19. Newman O (1972) Defensible space: crime prevention through urban design. Macmillan, New York
  20. Reynald DM (2009) Guardianship in action: developing a new tool for measurement. Crime Prev Commun Saf: Int J 11(1):1–20
  21. Reynald DM (2010) Guardians on guardianship: factors affecting the willingness to monitor, the ability to detect potential offenders & the willingness to intervene. J Res Crime Delinq 47(3):358–390
  22. Reynald DM (2011a) Factors associated with the guardianship of places: assessing the relative importance of the spatio-physical and socio-demographic contexts in generating opportunities for capable guardianship. J Res Crime Delinq 48(1):110–142
  23. Reynald DM (2011b) Guarding against crime: measuring guardianship within routine activity theory. Ashgate, Surrey
  24. Sampson RJ, Raudenbush SW, Earls F (1997) Neighbourhoods and violent crime: a multilevel study of collective efficacy. Science 277(5328):918–924
  25. Skogan WG (1989) Communities, crime, and neighbourhood organization. Crime Delinq 35(3):437–457
  26. Skogan WG (1990) Disorder and decline. Free Press, New York
  27. Taylor RB, Koons B, Kurtz E, Greene J, Perkins D (1995) Street blocks with more nonresidential land use have more physical deterioration: evidence from Baltimore and Philadelphia. Urban Aff Rev 30:120–136
  28. Tewksbury RA, Mustaine EE (2003) College students’ lifestyles and self-protective behaviors: further consideration of the guardianship concept in routine activity theory. Crim Justice Behav 30(3):302–327
  29. Wilcox P, Madensen TD, Tillyer MS (2007) Guardianship in context: implications for burglary victimization risk & prevention. Criminology 45(4):771–803
  30. Xie M, McDowall D (2008) The effects of residential turnover on household victimization. Criminology 46(3):539–575
  31. Zedner L (2006) Before and after the police: the historical antecedents of contemporary crime control. Br J Criminol 46:78–96

See also:

Free research papers are not written to satisfy your specific instructions. You can use our professional writing services to buy a custom research paper on any topic and get your high quality paper at affordable price.


Always on-time


100% Confidentiality
Special offer! Get discount 10% for the first order. Promo code: cd1a428655