Routine Activities Theory

Routine Activities Theory Helps us Understand Motivation

There is a large amount of research looking at the causes of crime, in particular when it is related to delinquency. One of the many theories that has emerged from all these studies is the Routine Activities Theory. The theory was developed by Lawrence Cohen and Marcus Felson (1979). This three pronged theory also offers a great opportunity to help us understand some of the motivation behind campus crime and how we can prevent it.

Predatory crimes are dependent on the interaction of three factors

The routine activities theory holds that the occurrences of predatory crimes are dependent on the interaction of three factors. Predatory crimes are defined as violent crimes against persons, and crimes in which a perpetrator attempts to steal an object directly from its holder. Think of things such as assaults, thefts and the occasional sticky roommate finger syndrome. (This probably explained why my cereal always ran out.) These offenses are dependent on the following factors; the absence of a capable guardian, motivated offenders and a suitable target.

routine activities theory

Absence of a capable guardian

Absence of a capable guardian holds that in the absence of someone or something in an authoritative position to detect the action it is more likely to occur. Think about when you were a kid and you wanted to sneak a cookie from the cookie jar. If you know the chance of someone catching you is small you are more likely to grab it. The same thing goes for college campuses. We have a great security force that patrols areas regularly and in a random pattern. This makes the chances of getting caught a lot larger and the absence of a guardian a lot smaller.

Availability of suitable targets

The availability of suitable targets also plays a role in the likeliness of an offense. Items like smartphones, jewelry, MP3 players and even lose cash are considered common targets on college campuses. They are not easily identified and are very easy to resell.

Motivated offenders

Motivated offenders are individuals who have been pushed by social forces to commit offenses.

Though this theory was developed to explain criminal patterns juveniles, it also explains many occurrences of campus offenses or even household offenses. Why did your bicycle get stolen? High demand of bicycles at the start of the year, you (intentionally) forgot to make sure you locked you bike and lastly no one to watch it 24/7.

It also gives us a lot of insight into how to prevent offenses on our campus and keep it a safe environment. Security on our campus does a great job, but they can’t be everywhere all the time. Keep a watchful eye out and be the guardian. Whether it is the library or crossing the campus report suspicious activities (remember 100% of unreported crime goes unsolved).

Don’t make it easy on them!

The most common cause of campus theft is leaving dorm rooms unlocked. Make sure to always store your values and never leave your property laying around. Not everyone is out there to grab your things, but its better to be safe than sorry.  There are a great many students that can tell you this first hand.

A great example is how I managed to hide my friend’s Macbook from him in less than a minute after he left it at an empty table with his back turned to it. He spent the next 20 min looking for it.

Though a bit mean, it did teach him a lesson and since then he never leaves his things laying around. All it took was a motivated offender, a suitable target and the lack of a guardian.

So the next time you park your bike and are thinking about locking it, leave your phone or other valuables out in the open think about the fact that sometimes crime can be distilled to be a function of routine activities of normal living and that each and everyone of us is part of the solution.

If you are interested in learning more about the routine activities theory, here’s a short video with a brief description of Routine Activities Theory


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