Crime, Law and Social Change

, Volume 56, Issue 1, pp 53–70 | Cite as

Guardianship for crime prevention: a critical review of the literature

  • Meghan E. Hollis-Peel
  • Danielle M. Reynald
  • Maud van Bavel
  • Henk Elffers
  • Brandon C. WelshEmail author


Cohen and Felson’s (Cohen and Felson American Sociological Review 44(4):588–608, 1979) routine activity theory posits that for a crime to occur three necessary elements must converge in time and space: motivated offenders, suitable targets, and the absence of capable guardianship. Capable guardians can serve as a key actor in the crime event model; one who can disrupt, either directly or indirectly, the interaction between a motivated offender and a suitable target. This article critically reviews the literature on guardianship for crime prevention. Our specific focus is two-fold: (1) to review the way guardianship has been operationalized and measured, and (2) to review experimental and quasi-experimental evaluations and field tests of guardianship. Research on routine activities has had an uneven focus resulting in the neglect of the guardianship component (Reynald Crime Prevention and Community Safety 11(1):1–20, 2009; Sampson et al. Security Journal 23(1):37–51, 2010; Tewksbury and Mustaine Criminal Justice and Behavior 30(3):302–327, 2003; Wilcox et al. Criminology 45(4):771–803 2007). Evaluations of guardianship-related interventions demonstrate support for the theoretical construct; however, high-quality field tests of guardianship are wholly lacking. Implications for theory and research are discussed.


Crime Prevention Target Hardening Security Guard Informal Social Control Place Manager 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



We are grateful to the editor and the anonymous reviewers for helpful comments.


  1. 1.
    Austin, W. (1979). Sex differences in bystander intervention in a theft. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 11, 2110–2120.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Barclay, P., Buckley, J., Brantingham, P. J., et al. (1996). Preventing auto theft in suburban Vancouver commuter lots: Effects of a bike patrol. In R. V. Clarke (Ed.), Preventing mass transit crime. Crime prevention studies (Vol. 6, pp. 133–161). Monsey: Criminal Justice.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Bennett, T. H., Holloway, K., & Farrington, D. P. (2006). Does neighborhood watch reduce crime? A systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of Experimental Criminology, 2(4), 437–458.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. 4.
    Block, R., & Skogan, W. G. (1984). The dynamics of violence between strangers: victim resistance and outcomes in rape, assault, and robbery. Evanston: Northwestern University.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Bowers, K. J., & Johnson, S. D. (2006). Implementing failure and success: Some lessons from England. In J. Knutsson & R. V. Clarke (Eds.), Putting theory to work: Implementing situational crime prevention and problem-oriented policing, crime prevention studies (Vol. 20, pp. 163–198). Monsey: Criminal Justice.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Brantingham, P. J., & Brantingham, P. L. (1981). Environmental criminology. Prospect Heights: Waveland.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Cohen, L. E., & Felson, M. (1979). Social change and crime rate trends: a routine activity approach. American Sociological Review, 44(4), 588–608.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. 8.
    Coupe, T., & Blake, L. (2006). Daylight and darkness targeting strategies and the risks of being seen at residential burglaries. Criminology, 44(2), 431–464.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. 9.
    Dertke, M. C., Penner, L. A., & Ulrich, K. (1974). Observer’s reporting of shoplifting as a function of thief’s race and sex. Journal of Social Psychology, 94, 213–221.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. 10.
    Eck, J. E. (1994). Drug Markets and Drug Places: A Case-Control Study of the Spatial Structure of Illicit Drug Dealing. Unpublished Ph.D. dissertation. College Park, MD: University of Maryland.Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    Felson, M. (1995). Those who discourage crime. In J. E. Eck & D. Weisburd (Eds.), Crime and place: Crime prevention studies (Vol. 4, pp. 53–66). Monsey: Criminal Justice.Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    Felson, M. (2006). Crime and nature. Thousand Oaks: Sage.Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    Felson, M., & Boba, R. (2010). Crime and everyday life: Insight and implications for society. Thousand Oaks: Pine Forge.Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    Felson, M., & Cohen, L. E. (1980). Human ecology and crime: a routine activity approach. Human Ecology, 8(4), 389–406.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. 15.
    Fischer, P., Greitemeyer, T., Pollozek, F., et al. (2006). The unresponsive bystander: are bystanders more responsive in dangerous emergencies? European Journal of Social Psychology, 36, 267–278.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. 16.
    Garofalo, J., & Clark, D. (1992). Guardianship and residential burglary. Justice Quarterly, 9(3), 443–463.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. 17.
    Gelfand, D., Hartmann, D., Walder, P., & Page, B. (1973). Who reports Shoplifters? A field experimental study. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 25(2), 276–285.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. 18.
    Gill, M., & Spriggs, A. (2005). Assessing the Impact of CCTV. Home Office Research Study, No. 292. London, UK: Home Office.Google Scholar
  19. 19.
    Gottfredson, M. R., & Hirschi, T. (1990). A general theory of crime. Stanford: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
  20. 20.
    Harari, H., Harari, O., & White, R. (1985). The reaction to rape by American male bystanders. The Journal of Social Psychology, 125, 653–658.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. 21.
    Hesseling, R. (1995). Theft from cars: reduced or displaced? European Journal on Criminal Policy and Research, 3(3), 79–92.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. 22.
    Hindelang, M. J., Gottfredson, M. R., & Garofalo, J. (1978). Victims of personal crime: An empirical foundation for a theory of personal victimization. Cambridge: Ballinger.Google Scholar
  23. 23.
    Jupp, V. (1989). Methods of criminological research. New York: Routledge.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. 24.
    Kenney, D. J. (1986). Crime on the subways: measuring the effectiveness of the guardian angels. Justice Quarterly, 3, 481–496.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. 25.
    Knutsson, J. (2006). What is there to gain? A case study in implementing without self-interest. In J. Knutsson & R. V. Clarke (Eds.), Putting theory to work: Implementing situational crime prevention and problem-oriented policing, crime prevention studies (Vol. 20, pp. 89–110). Monsey: Criminal Justice.Google Scholar
  26. 26.
    Latané, B., & Darley, J. (1970). The unresponsive bystander: Why doesn’t he help? New York: Appleton.Google Scholar
  27. 27.
    Laycock, G. (2006). Implementing crime reduction measures: Conflicts and tensions. In J. Knutsson & R. V. Clarke (Eds.), Putting theory to work: Implementing situational crime prevention and problem-oriented policing, crime prevention studies (Vol. 20, pp. 65–88). Monsey: Criminal Justice.Google Scholar
  28. 28.
    Lynch, J. P., & Cantor, D. (1992). Ecological and behavioral influences on property victimization at home: implications for opportunity theory. Journal of Research in Crime & Delinquency, 29(3), 335–362.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. 29.
    Manning, R., Levine, M., & Collins, A. (2007). The Kitty Genovese murder and the social psychology of helping: the parable of the 38 witnesses. American Psychologist, 62(6), 555–562.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. 30.
    Miethe, T. D., Stafford, M. C., & Sloane, D. (1990). Lifestyle changes and risks of criminal victimization. Journal of Quantitative Criminology, 6(4), 357–376.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. 31.
    Miethe, T. D., & Meier, R. F. (1994). Crime and its social context: Toward an integrated theory of offenders, victims and situations. Albany: State University of New York Press.Google Scholar
  32. 32.
    Moriarty, T. (1975). Crime, commitment and the responsive bystander: two field experiments. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 31(2), 270–376.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. 33.
    Mustaine, E. E., & Tewksbury, R. (1998). Predicting risks of larceny theft victimization: a routine activity analysis using refined lifestyle measures. Criminology, 36, 829–858.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. 34.
    Pennell, S., Curtis, C., Henderson, J., et al. (1989). Guardian angels: a unique approach to crime prevention. Crime and Delinquency, 35, 378–400.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. 35.
    Poyner, B. (1991). Situational crime prevention in two parking facilities. Security Journal, 2(2), 96–101.Google Scholar
  36. 36.
    Reynald, D. M. (2009). Guardianship in action: developing a new tool for measurement. Crime Prevention and Community Safety, 11(1), 1–20.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. 37.
    Reynald, D. M. (2010). Guardians on guardianship: factors affecting the willingness to supervise, the ability to detect potential offenders and the willingness to intervene. Journal of Research in Crime & Delinquency, 47(3), 358–390.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. 38.
    van Roell, G., Dijk, J. M., & Steinmetz, C. H. D. (1982). Interventiegedrag door omstanders: een veldexperiment. Tijdschrift voor Criminologie, 1, 21–35.Google Scholar
  39. 39.
    Sampson, R., Eck, J. E., & Dunham, J. (2010). Super controllers and crime prevention: a routine activity explanation of crime prevention success and failure. Security Journal, 23(1), 37–51.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. 40.
    Sampson, R. J. (2010). Gold standard myths: observations on the experimental turn in quantitative criminology. Journal of Quantitative Criminology, 26(4), 489–500.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. 41.
    Sampson, R. J., Raudenbush, S. W., & Earls, F. (1997). Neighborhoods and violent crime: a multilevel study of collective efficacy. Science, 277(5328), 918–924.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. 42.
    Schwartz, L., Jennings, K., Petrillo, J., & Kidd, R. (1980). Role of commitments in the decision to stop a theft. Journal of Social Psychology, 110, 183–192.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. 43.
    Schwartz, S., & Gottlieb, A. (1976). Bystanders reactions to a violent theft: crime in Jerusalem. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 34(6), 1188–1199.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. 44.
    Shaffer, D. R., Rogel, M., & Hendrick, C. (1975). Intervention in the library: the effect of increased responsibility on bystander’s willingness to prevent a theft. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 5(4), 303–319.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. 45.
    Sklansky, D. A. (2008). Democracy and the police. Stanford: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
  46. 46.
    Stahura, J. M., & Sloan, J. J. (1988). Urban stratification of places, routine activities and suburban crime rates. Social Forces, 66(4), 1102–1118.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. 47.
    Takooshian, H., & Bodinger, H. (1982). Bystander indifference to street crime. In L. Savitz & N. Johnston (Eds.), Contemporary criminology (pp. 209–216). New York: Wiley.Google Scholar
  48. 48.
    Tewksbury, R., & Mustaine, E. E. (2003). College students’ lifestyles and self-protective behaviors: further considerations of the guardianship concept in routine activity theory. Criminal Justice and Behavior, 30(3), 302–327.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. 49.
    Tilley, N., & Webb, J. (1994). Burglary Reduction: Findings from Safer Cities Scheme. Crime Prevention Unit Paper 51. London: Home Office.Google Scholar
  50. 50.
    Tillyer, M. S., & Eck, J. E. (2010). Getting a handle on crime: A further extension of routine activities theory. Security Journal. Online First edition,
  51. 51.
    Tseloni, A., Wittebrood, K., Farrell, G., et al. (2004). Burglary victimization in England and Wales, the United States, and the Netherlands: a cross-national comparative test of routine activities and lifestyle theories. British Journal of Criminology, 44(1), 61–91.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. 52.
    van Andel, H. (1989). Crime prevention that works: the care of public transport in the Netherlands. British Journal of Criminology, 29(1), 47–56.Google Scholar
  53. 53.
    Weisburd, D. (2010). Justifying the use of non-experimental methods and disqualifying the use of randomized controlled trials: challenging the folklore in evaluation research in crime and justice. Journal of Experimental Criminology, 6, 209–227.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. 54.
    Welsh, B. C., & Farrington, D. P. (2009). Public area CCTV and crime prevention: an updated systematic review and meta-analysis. Justice Quarterly, 26(4), 716–745.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. 55.
    Welsh, B. C., & Farrington, D. P. (2009). Making public places safer: Surveillance and crime prevention. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  56. 56.
    Welsh, B. C., Mudge, M. E., & Farrington, D. P. (2010). Reconceptualizing public area surveillance and crime prevention: security guards, place managers and defensible space. Security Journal, 23(4), 299–319.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. 57.
    Wilcox, P., Madensen, T. D., & Tillyer, M. S. (2007). Guardianship in context: implications for burglary victimization, risk and prevention. Criminology, 45(4), 771–803.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. 58.
    Winge, S., & Knutsson, J. (2003). An evaluation of the CCTV scheme at Oslo central railway station. Crime Prevention and Community Safety, 5(3), 49–59.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. 59.
    Winkel, F. W. (1981). Sociopreventie. De rol van omstanders bij de totstandkoming van een delict. Tijdschrift voor Criminologie, 1, 53–71.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Meghan E. Hollis-Peel
    • 1
    • 2
  • Danielle M. Reynald
    • 3
  • Maud van Bavel
    • 4
  • Henk Elffers
    • 4
  • Brandon C. Welsh
    • 2
    • 5
    Email author
  1. 1.Northeastern UniversityBostonUSA
  2. 2.Netherlands Institute for the Study of Crime and Law EnforcementAmsterdamNetherlands
  3. 3.Griffith UniversityBrisbaneAustralia
  4. 4.Netherlands Institute for the Study of Crime and Law Enforcement and VU University AmsterdamAmsterdamNetherlands
  5. 5.School of Criminology and Criminal Justice, Northeastern UniversityBostonUSA

Personalised recommendations