Criminology: what use is it to a security officer? By Rob Kennedy

There is some fantastic work undertaken every day by security operatives that contributes positively to society. Those of us that work within the industry are often unsung heroes keeping people safe and protecting property. Credit must be given to those that provide a security presence when most people are at work, home or enjoying themselves within the night time economy. We also do some fantastic work across all sectors of the industry providing reassurance to the public as they go about their day to day business.

There are so many positives that can be attributed to the individuals that work within the sector. The knowledge staff have of individual sites is often first rate. This enables a swift response to any changes to the environment that warrants further investigation. These positives contribute to the combined safety, security and continuity of business in the environment that we operate. Sadly, security is still deemed by many as a grudge spend, this will hopefully change with the professionalisation of the industry enabling better communication with the client and public.

The purpose of this article is to introduce key concepts of criminology to enable security officers to overcome challenges and accelerate their individual progression. It is also the intention to demonstrate that the world of academia can meet the real world of operations. This combination provides the opportunity to contribute to improving operations and mitigate risk. This will hopefully further encourage you as an individual to consider undertaking an academic qualification whilst also enabling better communication and demonstrate the value of this to clients. We will start by explaining four theories that underpin situational crime prevention strategies:

Routine Activity Theory

This is the theory that argues for a crime to be committed the convergence of three factors are required:

An offender

A suitable target (or potential victim)

The absence of a capable guardian

An offender could be anyone that is motivated to commit a crime. A suitable target could be an object worth stealing, physical structures that could be damaged or an individual who could be victimised. The absence of a capable guardian is the lack of a security presence. If any of these three factors are removed, then the opportunity for crime to occur is dramatically reduced. To put this into context this could be the addition of a security officer (capable guardian) at a retail site or the removal of a target for example Argos removes most targets from the potential criminal.

Rational Choice Theory

Rational Choice Theory argues that potential offenders make choices and decisions during both the planning stages and the carrying out of criminal activities. If rational choices are made by the would be criminal to increase the chances of their success, then these choices can be influenced by the perception the criminal has regarding the security protecting the suitable target. This gives the security professional the opportunity to influence the behaviour of the criminal. If the chances of the criminal succeeding are low, or the risk of being caught is high, then the criminal is likely to make the rational choice to move onto a softer target, this is known as displacement. This is superbly demonstrated by the great work done by security officers and crowd management/customer service stewards at our major rail stations. They provide a high visibility layer of security supported by effective patrols. They also demonstrate great customer service skills that can be used to ‘approach’ individuals to ascertain their purpose, and report any suspicious behaviour using the ‘WHAT’ protocol.

Crime Mapping

The recording of where and when crimes are committed can contribute to the identification of crime ‘hot-spots’. Resources can then be deployed to mitigate these ‘hot-spots’ as a crime prevention strategy. This could be an area of a retail unit that houses CRAVED (concealable, removable, available, valuable, enjoyable, disposable) goods or simply redeploying Door Supervisors to the cloak room when closing to mitigate potential acts of violence within a queue.

Crime Prevention through Environmental Design (CPTED)

It is worth mentioning CPTED (pronounced SIP-TED) within this article as it focuses on how space within the operational environment is managed to influence behaviour. This is done by utilising symbolic barriers and altering the said space to encourage acceptable behaviour. The core techniques of CPTED enhance territoriality, access control, natural surveillance, image, maintenance and milieu. CPTED however probably deserves its own article written.

These theories then underpin Situational Crime Prevention…

Situational Crime Prevention (SCP) methods are employed by many security professionals to protect people and assets. SCP is based on the management, design and manipulation of the physical and human environment to reduce the opportunity for specific types of crime. SCP has five factors that are supported by 25 techniques to reduce crime, those factors are:

  • Increase the effort (of the criminal)
  • Increase the risk (of being caught)
  • Reduce the rewards (of the criminal act)
  • Reduce provocations (within the environment)
  • Remove excuses (to commit the crime)

The 25 techniques can be found on the Centre for Problem-Orientated Policing website:

The use of SCP and CPTED combined has proven to be a success with numerous case studies providing evidence of positive results across dynamic circumstances. Hopefully this has enabled a better understanding of criminological theory. The challenge for you now is to apply this theory to meet the various challenges you may encounter. Try problem solving with the 25 techniques, it will help you immensely in your current and future roles.

Why should you consider an academic qualification? That’s an easy one to answer, the security industry is moving forward with the view to professionalise the industry becoming a reality. The final step to this professionalisation in my opinion lies with the educating of the clients that require such services. You can be a key driver behind this and should consider an academic qualification to enhance your development. You will also rise quite swiftly within the industry as progression is very achievable.

Rob Kennedy BA(Hons) MSyI

A motivated and determined security professional currently studying for the MSc in Security and Risk Management with the University of Leicester. Rob is a Training and Development Manager with SecuriGroup, an engaged member of the Security Institute, and a growing voice in the UK physical security industry.