The Conjunction of Criminal Opportunity (CCO) is a one-stop-shop – an integrated framework for thinking about causes of criminal events, interventions to block them, and the various roles that people and organisations can play. It underlies, or connects with, many of the other Crime Frameworks, including the 5Is. This page:
- Describes what the CCO is, and what it’s for
- Sets out the CCO in detail, covering causes, interventions and the nature of crime roles
- Indicates how the CCO framework can be used for particular crime problems
- Discusses the benefits of the CCO relative to conventional Crime Science frameworks, in addressing the complexity of crime, its causes and reduction
- For researchers and advanced practitioners, sets out the technical relationship between intervention mechanisms, principles and practical methods
For further information on the CCO Framework, see:
- How the CCO can be used to describe causes, interventions and crime roles – two examples
- How the CCO relates to other frameworks in Crime Science and beyond
- How the CCO is adapted to cover organised crime and terrorism
- How the CCO relates to design and CPTED
- CCO and crime and security futures
- CCO and cybercrime
- Teaching CCO using a serious game
- Presentations, publications and the origins of the CCO
What is the CCO Framework?
The Conjunction of Criminal Opportunity Framework (CCO) is a one-stop-shop for integrating knowledge and guide practical action and research in and beyond the field of Crime Science.
The CCO is two models in one. It covers both the immediate causes of criminal events of all kinds; and generic preventive principles for blocking, weakening or deflecting those causes, and hence solving the crime problems they have been generating. Its basis is psychological and ecological – agents interacting with their immediate environment and each other. As explained below, the CCO Framework is not itself a theory, although it is theory-oriented.
In brief, according to the CCO:
A criminal event happens when a predisposed, motivated, able and well-equipped offender encounters, seeks out or engineers a setting comprising an attractive, provocative or vulnerable target in a tactically-conducive and bountiful environment and perhaps an accessible enclosure, in the absence of motivated and able preventers and with the possible support of accidental, careless or deliberate crime promoters.
Note the deliberate paraphrasing, deepening and extension of the Routine Activities perspective, whose limitations are discussed further here.
What is the CCO Framework for?
The CCO is basically aimed at knowledge management, and stimulating thinking and theorising for research, evaluation and practice in security and crime prevention. It can:
- Provide a ready-made map of the possible immediate causes of some observed pattern or problem of criminal events, guiding analysis and then intervention
- Integrate theories/perspectives within situational prevention, and situational with offender-oriented action
- Identify gaps and overlaps between existing theories
- Facilitate research into interactions between the various causes, and the processes which bring the causes together in time and space
- Provide a rigorous set of concepts to facilitate simulation/agent-based modelling
- Articulate individual practical interventions in some theoretical depth, supporting the Scientific Realist approach (Johnson et al. 2015, Tilley 2006, Wikström 2007) and the undertaking of Realist Evaluation, which in turn extracts mechanism-based principles to aid intelligent replication of success stories in new contexts, and indeed learning from failure
- Articulate vague concepts/ terms e.g. in CPTED (crime prevention through environmental design), contributing to glossaries and ontologies
- Map the entire range of possible preventive interventions – theoretically and practically plausible or implausible; evidence-based or unsupported, facilitating innovation
- Aid design by systematically briefing designers on how their products, places, systems, procedures and services might influence the causes of crime; and on the broad intervention principles available for designers to draw on in a way that fosters a combination of design freedom and conceptual/empirical rigour
- Guide offender interviews (e.g. Ekblom 1991) for obtaining preventive intelligence on both situational and offender-oriented sides, and investigation of individual crimes (‘means, motive, opportunity…’)
- Systematically help to describe the elements of perpetrator techniques and scripts
- Support training of security/crime prevention practitioners by providing a coherent framework on which to organise their knowledge of causes and interventions (see here for training in the use of the CCO Framework via a serious game)
- Support futures work – horizon-scanning, crime-proofing, crime risk and impact assessment – by identifying the range of causes of criminal events that future changes might influence
The CCO Framework can be used independently, or within the 5Is Framework under the task streams of Intelligence, Intervention and Impact evaluation.
The CCO in detail
The following sections introduce the Conjunction of Criminal Opportunity Framework. They cover the 11 immediate causes of criminal events; the 11 principles of intervention in those causes in undertaking crime prevention; the way various agents (human, corporate or increasingly, AI-based) play the various crime roles depicted within the CCO; and how the role concept has been extended in a ‘system map’ of the various interacting agents, the crime role grid.
Immediate causes of criminal events – the offender in the crime setting
The focus of the CCO Framework is on the immediate (or proximal) causes of criminal events. Being limited in number, all on the same temporal and spatial scales and in the common psychological-ecological domain, these are helpful in structuring knowledge and focusing analysis.
The 11 causal elements cover factors both in the crime setting, and what the offender brings to that setting (together, the interaction between offender and setting comprises the crime situation). The setting is that ‘here and now’ part of the environment in which the criminal event occurs, or is close to in space and time, and to which the individual is directly exposed, perceives and reacts. The setting can be material or informational, near or remote (as in crimes of telepresence) and any combination of these.
The diagram below shows these 11 causal elements. Each one actually represents a pathway from more remote (or distal) causes, to the proximal ones in the immediate crime situation. Examples of the remoter causes are an individual offender’s early developmental experiences that render them especially sensitive to provocation; and higher-level/ structural processes such as the market conditions that suddenly increase the price of copper and hence render it a more attractive target for theft.
The CCO Framework comprises various entities including inanimate target, enclosure, environment and practical resources for and against offending; and agents performing crime-related roles (offender, preventer/responder, promoter; target victim).
Agents are usually human individuals or corporate groups but increasingly include intelligent software. These are referred to as caused agents (Ekblom 2010). They are both caused, in the sense of being influenced by how they develop, what recent experiences have primed their motivational and emotional states, and what they perceive; and causing – with purposes, goals, plans and the capacity to take and execute decisions.
As presented in the above diagram, the CCO Framework resembles a kind of ‘anatomical dissection’ of causal elements that come together to make the criminal event happen. But we can take a ‘physiological’ perspective too – a dynamic view of how all the causes are brought together. This could be by geographical/ geodemographic association, the Routine Activities of offenders and their target persons or assets, social networks, or the agency of offenders in seeking targets, planning attacks, pursuing and improvising on crime scripts or even shaping environments e.g. to favour ambushes or online fraud.
Interventions in causes – the principles
The intervention principles of the CCO Framework block, weaken or divert the causes of the criminal events that they are intended to stop from happening. The diagram below illustrates the concept.
For example, suppose that there is a problem of robberies in a hospital car park. Further investigation of possible causes suggests that tactical aspects of the environment, in the form of dense shrubs, affords ambush sites for the robbers. An intervention aimed at redesigning the wider environment could simply be that of trimming the shrubs so there is nowhere to lurk. So, the environmental design intervention in the cause disrupts the conjunction by removing necessary conditions for ambush. This decreases the risk of robberies, which over time reduces the number of such attacks. In turn, this may have knock-on benefits for hospital visitors, taxpayers and so forth.
Interventions to reduce crime can have their effect before the criminal events of interest, during the events and after. In the last case this happens when the interventions limit consequential harm from current events, and influence the risk of subsequent events (see primary, secondary, tertiary security).
It is possible to generalise from the previous diagram to show the intervention principles, with the causes they block, on a single map:
The causes and counterpart intervention principles are also listed in this two-part table, below. The first part of the table relates to offender-related causes and offender-oriented interventions; the second part, to settings and situational interventions.
|Offender-related causes||Mainly offender-oriented intervention principles|
|Predisposition to offend – pan-situational personality, habits, high-level goals and values that are acquired genetically or developmentally, in early life, adolescence or even later. In interaction with priming circumstances (scroll down blue box on linked page) and immediate settings, predispositions generate states of readiness to offend and/or immediate criminal behaviour||Reducing criminality through developmental/remedial intervention|
|Lack of psychological/ interpersonal Resources to avoid crime, e.g. executive function, skills to enable satisfactory legitimate employment, de-escalate arguments etc||Supplying cognitive, social, work skills to avoid committing crime, e.g. anger management, literacy; contact with positive role models, mentors etc|
|Readiness to offend – a motivational/ emotional state arising shortly before or during the potentially criminal event, which may lead to criminal opportunities being sought or responded to – note the connection with crime precipitators (Wortley 2017). The motivational side is often associated with an instrumental cognitive process of making plans, acquiring resources etc||Reducing readiness to offend by control of disinhibitors e.g. alcohol, or stressors and provocations; satisfaction of psychological and social needs by legitimate means|
|Resources for committing crime – practical e.g. tools, weapons, know-how, networking, contacts; psychological e.g. agility, strength, courage. Resources are either inherent to the offender, brought with them or acquired in the crime situation (Ekblom and Tilley 2000). Resources plus setting and other factors co-define opportunity||Restricting or neutralising resources – tools, weapons, knowledge, contacts|
|Perception/ anticipation of risk, effort, reward in committing the crime – the Rational Choice agenda and wider decision-making processes||Deterrence (increase in perceived risk) and discouragement (increase in perceived effort and reward)|
|Setting-related causes||Mainly situational intervention principles|
|Target property or person (active aspects of the victim role are covered under crime preventers, responders and promoters)||Reducing target vulnerability, attraction, provocativeness; removing/abolishing target|
|Target enclosure – e.g. a safe, locked building, compound; note that a car or a handbag could be both a target of crime and an enclosure containing assets to steal; likewise a computer network||Perimeter/ access security; control of behaviour within the enclosure|
|Wider environment – e.g. town centre, housing estate – characterised by tactical/logistical factors e.g. scope for ambush (see script clashes); and motivating/arousing factors e.g. rich supply of targets, and precipitators such as provocations. Environments and enclosures can be crime attractors, generators or radiators||Environmental design and management to reduce instrumental and motivating properties|
|Crime preventers – people, networks and organisations whose presence or actions directly or indirectly reduce the risk of criminal events; and crime responders – those who act during or after the event to limit harm (see secondary and tertiary security) and/or the risk of subsequent criminal events. Preventers can be further characterised as handlers of offenders, guardians of targets, managers of places and a diversity of other less direct roles (see also supercontrollers)||Boosting preventers’ presence, competence, motivation, responsibility|
|Crime promoters – people, networks and organisations playing roles whose presence or actions directly or indirectly increase the risk of criminal events, whether accidentally, carelessly or deliberately (criminal service providers). For a wider view of roles building on preventers and promoters, see the crime role grid||Discouraging/deterring deliberate promoters, converting accidental or careless promoters into preventers|
More information on causes of criminal events and interventions
A fuller and more graphical listing of the CCO causes/interventions is in this presentation.
Further discussion of intervention – covering the technical relation between mechanisms, principles and methods – is below.
The agents in the CCO Framework – offender, preventer, promoter, described above – occupy social roles. Roles are associated with particular goals or purposes, responsibilities and tasks to perform. Beyond the CCO roles one can add responder and victim. An individual could occupy more than one such role (e.g. a provocative promoter could become a victim). Under the 5Is Framework, the task stream of Involvement targets preventer, responder, promoter and victim roles in tasks such as mobilisation to undertake preventive action or to cease promoting crime.
Crime roles can be differentiated further – for example, they can be individual or corporate; formal or informal (e.g. responders can be police or passers-by). As described under the Problem Analysis Triangle below, preventers can be guardians of targets, handlers of offenders, managers of places, and more. Offenders can be described in subsidiary roles too, reflecting division of labour, for example an organised crime network could include the principal drug barons, smugglers, distributors, finance managers and money mules.
Europol have produced a useful cybercrime dependency map to show how diverse offender roles (whether in tight organisations or loose outsourcing networks) rely on one another to support and defend a criminal enterprise. An early article on CCO and organised crime is Ekblom (2003). A related presentation/case study is here and also coverage in an EU report on knowledge management of good practice for tackling organised crime.
The various crime roles can overlap with one another – for example a victim can become a responder during an attack or a preventer afterwards. The victim role is actually quite complicated. A victim can be a target of a physical assault (in this sense an entity rather than an agent); an owner of stolen assets; a preventer who is unsuccessful this time but perhaps better prepared next time; a responder. Sometimes, as with neighbours in a persistent conflictual relationship, it’s somewhat arbitrary and dependent on the precise turn of events who emerges as offender, who as promoter and who as victim.
Crime Role Grid
Adding to the flexibility and the scope of the picture offered by the use of roles, the crime roles can be mapped onto civil roles, and vice-versa. This can help with deciding who to Involve in crime prevention (as per the 5Is Framework), and how.
So, for example, a housing landlord could be a victim if their assets are damaged; a preventer if they tighten perimeter security on the building; a promoter if they leave security lax so either their own property or that of the tenants is taken; or even an offender if they steal from their tenants or violate safety regulations. The Crime Role Grid is on this page.
How the CCO Framework can be used to describe causes, interventions and roles for particular crime problems
A fight in a pub and theft of airbags from vehicles in a hospital car park are examples illustrating how the CCO Framework can be used. See details here.
The examples also give an idea of the analytic power of the CCO in helping users to come up with a range of detailed hypotheses regarding the causes of their problem, and candidate interventions targeted on those causes, and on particular players.
The CCO and complexity
In order to deal with the well-recognised complexities of the causation of crime and the practicalities of prevention, the CCO Framework is more detailed than more conventional Crime Science frameworks such as the Problem Analysis Triangle (discussed here) or the Rational Choice principles of risk, effort and reward.
The image of simplicity of the conventional Crime Science frameworks is, however, misleading. The appropriate comparison should be between practitioners (and researchers) learning to use the CCO framework as a one-stop-shop versus having to bring together all of the individual Crime Science frameworks.
Practitioners using the conventional Crime Science frameworks are faced with all the cognitive effort of continually translating between, say, Routine Activities and PAT, bridging the gaps and taking account of the add-ons. By contrast, in the CCO Framework the terminology of all the elements is designed to be internally consistent; many overlaps and gaps between other Crime Science frameworks are resolved. Moreover, the scope of the CCO includes important detail on offenders, neglected by situational crime prevention.
In terms of cost-to-benefit, the CCO Framework introduces a little more complexity up-front, in order to enable users to handle far greater complexity, richness of detail and scope of causation and intervention in the real world of crime and security. Investing the additional effort in familiarisation with the CCO should be rewarded by improved understanding of crime and the generation of more and better-quality ideas for intervention. This amounts to the building of greater operational and innovative capacity among practitioners and (prac)ademics.
The avoidance of oversimplification and of unnecessary confusion means that the CCO Framework has a steeper learning curve than the conventional frameworks. To address this, the framework draws on graphical design. To take the learning support further, an experimental serious game approach to training in the use of the CCO Framework against cybercrime is described here.
The general position on handling the complexity of crime and its prevention is stated here and in Chapters 4-5 in the 5Is book.
Intervention – technical relation between mechanisms, principles and methods
The CCO Framework makes technical distinctions between mechanisms, principles and methods of intervention. These distinctions apply both to the CCO and the Ds Framework. (The following discussion is more for academics, though the deeper understanding on offer should also benefit more advanced practitioners.)
As set out under the definition-in-depth of crime prevention, and in the terminology of the 5Is Framework, intervention is the term to denote the core action of crime prevention/ security.
The Scientific Realist approach focuses on the underlying causal mechanisms of the phenomena of interest – which could be the occurrence of criminal events, or their non-occurrence due to some preventive intervention. The two views of the CCO Framework – causes and interventions – respectively represent these alternatives. Interventions act through mechanisms, which influence the original mechanisms that cause the criminal events: they block, weaken or divert causes, reduce risk factors/ increase protective factors. (This resembles the medical counterparts of mechanisms underlying a disease, and mechanisms of the treatment.)
Alternatively put, intervention mechanisms can be described in terms of frustrating criminal purposes or goals. These different discourses tie in with the dual caused agent perspective stated above – offenders can be seen as both caused and causing.
Mechanisms are fundamentally about interactions between multiple causal elements of the crime situation (e.g. the force applied by the offender’s use of the crowbar x the resistance of the lock x the physical space available to apply leverage). But it is convenient and normal everyday practice to talk about the influence of a single intervention and its context. What have been called intervention principles are generic causal mechanisms abstracted or ‘distilled’ from their contextual interactions.
Now to bring in methods. A practical intervention method (as per the table of 25 techniques of situational crime prevention and the even more specific illustrative examples within the cells of that table) can apply multiple intervention principles. And these principles in turn are shorthand for the operation of multiple causal mechanisms, each of which itself constitutes an interaction with contextual elements. and that one intervention mechanism can be realised by a variety of practical methods.
The following diagram illustrates this general approach, applied to the CCO Framework. Intervention Method 1, for example, could be the construction of a target enclosure around an industrial estate. This could act by the principles (i.e. generalised mechanisms) of a) conferring physical perimeter security; b) making it easier for crime preventers to undertake surveillance within the enclosure and access/egress control to it; and c) deterring offenders due to extra risk of detection, and discouraging them due to extra effort of getting through the entrance or climbing over the wall.
Most practical crime prevention projects constitute a package which implements multiple methods – see the 5Is case studies for examples. This diagram illustrates a package of methods. It also shows how one method can work by activating more than one principle/ mechanism.
Implementing intervention packages hopefully offers some resilience through redundancy, imposing multiple constraints and/or a layered approach to security.