Knowledge in crime and security

Knowledge, whether based on tested theory, evidence from research and evaluation, or reflective practical experience, is vital for good performance in crime prevention and security. This is true at practice, programme and policy levels; and also in informing public debate in a field notorious for ignorance and political posturing.

Gaining, quality-assuring, organising and sharing knowledge of crime prevention and security is therefore an important activity but sadly this has often been neglected.

This page discusses:

  • Why we need deliberately-designed tools for transfer and sharing of crime prevention knowledge
  • The diverse functions and the forms of crime and security knowledge, and how these are represented in the Crime Frameworks
  • A design specification for knowledge frameworks
  • The concept of knowledge frameworks as ‘learning engines‘ that can adapt and grow with the subject matter
  • The challenge of determining ‘appropriate complexity‘ and making more advanced frameworks usable

At the base of this page are lists of publications and presentations on knowledge.

On other pages are:

Why do we need deliberately-designed tools for transfer and sharing of crime prevention knowledge?

Crime prevention is a highly complex activity that is challenging to do successfully. Studies of the rollout of national programmes and the replication of individual ‘success story’ projects have often revealed a significant level of ‘implementation failure’. This problem has a range of causes, including failures in project management processes. But a major issue concerns knowledge of crime prevention and how it is collected, transferred and applied.

More detailed information is needed – for example on what kind of lighting against what kind of crime. However, attempting to replicate a successful project in exact, literal detail – ‘cookbook copying’ – will also fail. This is because preventive action is very context-dependent for its success (what works in one place may not work in exactly the same form in other circumstances). It relies on practitioners intelligently following a process of identifying and solving a given crime problem, and customising generic preventive principles to activate specific causal mechanisms of prevention which fit the current context.

In fact, what we can know about crime prevention practice is much wider than ‘what works’, or ‘what is cost-effective’. Appreciating this issue requires a deeper understanding of the functions and forms of crime and security knowledge.

The functions of crime and security knowledge

Crime and security knowledge have several functions: guiding practice, facilitating delivery of programmes, informing policy, public understanding and debate, and supporting a disciplined and systematic yet imaginative approach to secure design, and crime futures.

Defining, capturing, filtering, organising, synthesising, retrieving and transferring that knowledge are all vital activities which merit investment in systematising and managing it. Research and evaluation activities both feed into the knowledge base and feed from it.

Forms of crime knowledge – the 9 Ks

Security-related knowledge takes several forms:

Note – this has been extended from the 7 Ks of crime knowledge.

Supporting these forms of knowledge requires frameworks to make the process systematic, rigorous and convenient.

Knowledge forms represented in the Crime Frameworks

Terms, definitions & concepts (Know-of)Building blocks for all the Crime Frameworks – systematic, consistent, in-depth suite of terms, definitions and concepts for crime prevention and security.
5Is (Know-knowledge, Know-how)A knowledge-management framework for capturing, assessing, synthesising, transferring and replicating good practice in crime prevention; and a process model for doing crime prevention which is a more detailed equivalent of SARA.
CLAIMED (Know-who)Methodology for mobilising individuals and organisations to take responsibility/ assume a particular role for implementing and supporting security action – comes under Involvement in 5Is.
Crime Role Grid (Know-who)Tabulates crime roles x civil roles (e.g. offender x householder) to aid the targeting of offenders, involvement of crime preventers and blocking of crime promoters in complex crimes.
Conjunction of Criminal Opportunity and Conjunction of Terrorist Opportunity (Know-about and Know-what works)Integrated, one-stop-shop framework of immediate causes of criminal events, and principles of intervention to block them, to aid analysis of crime problems and generation of theoretically-plausible interventions. Equivalent to Problem Analysis Triangle, but more detailed/extensive. The terrorist version is adapted to handle terrorism events.
Ds (Know-what works)How security interventions work by influencing the offender, offering a fresh perspective for generating and evaluating action.
Disruption (Know-what works)Diverse ways of adversely influencing groups/ networks of organised criminals/ terrorists – going beyond the customary superficial use of the term to stimulate better thought-through interventions.
Co-Eco-Devo-Evo (Know-about, Know-what, Know-how)Interactions between offenders and security on a range of timeframes, from here-and-now, to learning/resource acquisition, to arms races, to facilitate better tactical and strategic planning of intervention.
Misdeeds & Security (Know-about and Know-what works)How offenders may exploit or harm things and people in their environment, and how security can respond; an aid to forecasting which maps out the generic types of crime risk that may be associated with a particular kind of new technology or design of product, place, procedure or system; and the counterpart opportunities for prevention.
Security Function and Vibrant-Secure Function (Know-what and Know-how)Systematic way of specifying security requirements for new designs, or describing security-related aspects of existing designs – purpose, security niche, mechanism, technicality. The vibrant version combines what we want more of with what we want less of.

Design specification for knowledge frameworks

Frameworks for knowledge for crime prevention, security and community safety should have theoretical, terminological, conceptual and practical aspects. At one end of the scale they need to enable practitioners to use them in articulating, applying and communicating their crime preventive understandings and interventions, e.g. via logic models and theories-of-change. And at the other end of the scale, theorists and researchers to sharpen their thinking, their formulations, their studies and action projects, and their evaluations.

The frameworks should also act as bridges for conducting two-way traffic between theory, research and practice:

A more formal design specification for knowledge frameworks includes:

Learning engines

Appropriate complexity

Making more advanced frameworks usable

Glossaries and ontologies

Publications and presentations

European Forum for Urban Security, Augsburg.

Critique of mainstream Crime Science frameworks, ECCA Seminar, Muenster.

Security and Human Behavior conference, Los Angeles.

West Yorkshire Police POP Training Course. Centres on the 5Is Framework.

Keynote presentation, ANZ Society of Criminology annual conference, Canberra.

Stockholm Criminology Symposium, Stockholm, June 2008

Why crime prevention needs intelligent design to guide research and evaluation and structure the knowledge they produce. Workshop conference on evaluation, Police Academy, Stavern, Norway.

Capturing and structuring knowledge from impact and process evaluations of crime prevention, community safety and problem-oriented policing, Stockholm Criminology Symposium.

Other publications also addressing knowledge issues

By other authors

Nutley, S., Walter, I and Davies, H. (2007). Using Evidence: How Research Can Inform Public Services. Bristol: The Policy Press. (Applies the Ks list above.)

Olaya, C., Guzmán, L, and Gomez-Quintero, J. (2017). ‘An engineering perspective for policy design: Self-organizing crime as an evolutionary social system.’ Trends in Organised Crime 20:55–84. (Describes the engineering concept of ‘know-how as rules’.)

Tilley, N. (2006). ‘Knowing and Doing: Guidance and Good Practice in Crime Prevention’, in J. Knutsson and R. Clarke (Eds.) Putting Theory to Work: Implementing Situational Prevention and Problem-Oriented Policing. Crime Prevention Studies 20. Monsey: Criminal Justice Press. (Knowledge based on Scientific Realist principles.)

Wikström, P-O. (2007). ‘Doing Without Knowing: Common Pitfalls in Crime Prevention’, in G. Farrell, K. Bowers, S. Johnson and M. Townsley (Eds.), Imagination for Crime Prevention: Essays in Honour of Ken Pease. Crime Prevention Studies 21: Monsey, N.Y.: Criminal Justice Press/ Devon, UK: Willan Publishing.