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Ten Principles of Opportunity and Crime

Rutger’s School of Criminal Justice professors Marcus Felson and Ronald V. Clarke developed Ten Principles of Opportunity and Crime which describes how opportunities, or vulnerabilities, are the root cause of crime.

  1. Opportunities play a role in causing all crime. – Not just common property crime. For example, studies of bars and pubs show how their design and management plays an important role in generating violence or preventing it. Studies of credit card and other frauds identify security loopholes that can be blocked. Even sexual offenses and drug dealing are subject to opportunity reduction.


  1. Crime opportunities are highly specific. – The robbery of post offices depends upon a different constellation of opportunities than for bank robberies or muggings on the street. Theft of cars for joyriding has an entirely different pattern of opportunity than theft of cars for their parts, and different again from car theft for sale abroad. Crime opportunity theory helps sort out these differences, which need to be understood if prevention is to be properly tailored to the crimes in question.


  1. Crime opportunities are concentrated in time and space. – Dramatic differences are found from one address to another, even within a high crime area. Crime shifts greatly by hour of day and day of the week, reflecting the opportunities to carry it out. Routine activity theory and crime pattern theory are helpful in understanding the concentration of crime opportunities at particular places and times.


  1. Crime opportunities depend on everyday movements of activity. – Offenders and their targets shift according to the trips to work, school, and leisure settings. For example, pickpockets seek crowds in the city centre and burglars visit suburbs in the afternoon when residents are at work or school.


  1. One crime produces opportunities for another. – There are many ways in which this can occur. For example, burglary tends to set up conditions for buying and selling stolen goods and for credit card fraud. Pimping and prostitution can bring assaults and robbery in their wake. A successful break-in may encourage the offender to return at a later date. If a youth has his bike taken, he may feel justified in stealing another one in replacement.


  1. Some products offer more tempting crime opportunities. – These opportunities reflect particularly the value, inertia, visibility of, and access to potential crime targets. For example, VCRs are high in value and low in inertia (they can easily be carried), and are often left in visible and accessible locations. This helps explain why they are so frequently taken by burglars.


  1. Social and technological changes produce new crime opportunities. – Any new product goes through four stages: innovation, growth, mass marketing and saturation. The middle two stages tend to produce the most theft. Thus, when laptop computers first came on the market, they were rather exotic machines appealing to only a few consumers. As their price declined and more people began to understand their uses, the market for them began to grow. At the same time, they began to be at risk of theft. These risks remain high at present while they are being heavily promoted and are much in demand. As their price reduces further, and most people can afford them, their risks of theft will decline to levels more like those of calculators and other everyday business aids.


  1. Crime can be prevented by reducing opportunities. – The opportunity-reducing methods of situational crime prevention fit systematic patterns and rules which cut across every walk of life, even though prevention methods must be tailored to each situation. These methods derive from rational choice theory and aim, (i) to increase the perceived effort of crime, (ii) to increase the perceived risks, (iii) to reduce the anticipated rewards, and (iv) to remove excuses for crime. Thus, situational crime prevention is not just a collection of ad hoc methods, but is firmly grounded in opportunity theory. There are approaching one hundred evaluated examples of the successful implementation of situational crime prevention.


  1. Reducing opportunities does not usually displace crime. – Evaluations have usually found little displacement following the implementation of situational prevention. No studies have found displacement to be complete. This means that each person or organization reducing crime can accomplish some real gain. Even crime which is displaced can be directed away from the worst targets, times or places.


  1. Focused opportunity reduction can produce wider declines in crime. – Prevention measures in one location can lead to a “diffusion of benefits” to nearby times and places because offenders seem to overestimate the reach of the measures. Moreover, there is good reason to believe that reductions in crime opportunity can drive down larger crime rates for community and society.


Opportunity Makes the Thief – Practical theory for crime prevention by Marcus Felson & Ronald V. Clarke

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