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It has been deduced that crime prevention is an ever-emerging area of criminological research and practice, whereby the efficacy of such strategies determine the quality of everyday living amongst individuals. Cocooning is a domestic burglary prevention strategy which involves visits from police officers to residences where burglaries have occurred, as well those surrounding. It aims to inform and encourage individuals to take further burglary precautions, preventing both repeat and near-repeat victimisation. (Johnson, Davies, Murray, Ditta, Belur, & Bowers, 2017). In order to demonstrate the efficacy of this strategy, statistics and criminological theory will be analysed, examining cocooning itself, as well as rational choice theory and how this can be applied to criminal behaviour. Examined under rational choice theory, cocooning as a crime prevention strategy demonstrates an effective means of preventing repeat residential burglary.
Through obtaining an understanding of residential burglary and situational factors that increase the risk of victimisation, a discernment of cocooning as a crime preventative strategy is established. Residential burglary takes place when an individual illegally enters another’s property with the intent of committing a felony. It is considered to be an opportunistic criminal act and generally occurs unseen. It has been suggested that residences left unattended for long periods of time, that are detached with numerous entry points, and those containing expensive goods tend to be appealing targets. When residential burglary occurs, the psychological effects of victims and financial costs can be extremely significant. Despite the increasing sophistication of crime preventative techniques and the general reduction in burglary rates, there are numerous situational factors correlated with an increased risk of victimisation. It has been suggested that leaving flora to overgrow along the perimeters of a given property may present suitable cover for criminals, therefore increasing the likelihood of a felony occurring. Entry points that have been left unsecured, such as doors and windows, also pose an increased risk. The similarities in these risks correlate to an increased opportunity presented to commit a felony, as well as the reduced likelihood of getting caught.
Research has suggested that burglary events can be useful predictors in determining the time and location of subsequent burglary occurrences. This understanding is crucial when connecting criminal behaviour to crime prevention, ensuring the design and implementation of crime preventative strategies are efficacious. With reference to residential burglaries, observing the patterns of repeat and near-repeat victimisation has resulted in the implementation of numerous crime preventative strategies to counter the heightened risk of further incidents following an initial offence. This is evident with reference to the implementation of cocooning to prevent subsequent offences.
Cocooning as a crime preventative strategy has proven to be successful in reducing burglary rates in Western Australia. In 2016, the West Australian police piloted a small-scale crime prevention program with the intent of reducing residential burglary. This involved the distribution of pamphlets to residences immediately surrounding the victim’s property, 48 hours following an offence. Contained in the pamphlets was information on crime prevention, advise on how to conduct a home security audit, and important contact information, such as the police and Crime Stoppers. (Stokes et al., 2018). These pamphlets were distributed by both mail and in-person visits from the police. Strategies implemented by the police in this program are collectively known as cocooning. As burglary is considered an opportunistic act, modifying targets and potential opportunities will inevitably decrease the risk of repeat-victimisation.
By analysing a set of 207 residential burglaries, it is shown that houses within a 200 metre radius of a victim had a 4.3 percent increased risk of victimisation (Stokes et al., 2018). This percentage fell to 1.5 percent upon the application of cocooning strategies. It is therefore evident that the policing sub-district saw a significant decrease in the likelihood of an offence occurring in surrounding areas, as well as a decrease in the likelihood of repeat-victimisation. Assuming that the risk of victimisation is 4.3 percent without police intervention, approximately 7 burglary offences were prevented within the given timeframe. Despite being a relatively time-consuming process for the police, mentioned statistics demonstrate the benefits of cocooning as a crime preventative strategy.
According to the Australian Institute of Criminology, there have been a range of strategies implemented by property owners in order to reduce the risk of victimisation; these include: increasing the surveillance of the property, making the property appear occupied, ensuring access points are secured, installing sensor lights and alarm systems, securing possible implements that could aid in property entry, and supporting burglary victims with aim to encourage an upgrade to their security. In 2005, Operation Burglary Countdown was implemented as a means of reducing burglary in Bentley and Morley, both suburbs located in Western Australia. Interventions implemented by the operation were numerous, with a large proportion of interventions demonstrating effectiveness in decreasing burglary rates. However, it is important to note that only one particular implementation directly relates to cocooning as a crime preventative strategy in this operation. Essentially, the implementations worked together effectively to decrease burglary rates.
Through the use of media campaigns and home security advice, information on crime prevention was given to residences living near residential burglary sites. It was desired that upon the application of such cocooning measures, there would be an increase in the perceived effort associated with a crime by making targets more difficult to access and remove (Australia. Australian Institute of Criminology., 2017), ensuring residences are secure and difficult to access. This increases the perceived effort required to commit a felony, and encourages individuals to consider the consequences of their actions before committing an offence. It also encourages residents to increase surveillance around their properties by setting up home security cameras and alarm systems. According to statistics provided by The Australian Institute of Criminology, the operation found that burglary rates decreased by 45 percent in Bentley and 24 percent in Morley upon police intervention. It was found that residents who were victim to burglary more than once decreased by 49 percent in Bentley and 58 percent in Morley. It was also found that residents were satisfied that the state government had implemented enough measures to effectively reduce burglary rates in both suburbs.
Analysis of these statistics provides evidence that cocooning measures implemented by the Western Australian Government have effectively lowered burglary rates and the risk of repeat-victimisation. Along with resident satisfaction, cocooning as a crime preventative strategy not only aims to prevent victimisation, but also provides a simple means to prevent such criminal activity from occurring.
Rational choice theory assumes that individuals proceed to commit a particular action on the basis of maximising profits and reducing losses. This theory allows criminal motivation to simply become a calculation of balancing the costs and benefits regarding an offence. It also predicts that human beings will optimise the expected advantage of options when making decisions. It has been also argued that rational choice theory involves a sequence of choices that are influenced by numerous external factors. These external factors, both social and psychological, play a role in swaying an individual towards criminality. Despite these influencing the choices made by an individual, crime through the scope of rational choice theory is never without purpose. Essentially, there will always be a foreseen benefit to the offender. It has also been suggested that offenders generally have consistent preferences and are self-regarding.
Through the application of rational choice theory, an understanding of criminal behaviour can be understood and correlated to residential burglary. Rational choice theory is an important approach used by criminologists, social scientists and psychologists to understand human behaviour. Key assumptions that underlie repressive crime control, fundamental to rational choice theory, are that harsher penalties will cause burglars to think twice before offending.
For example, in the instance of residential burglary, an offender will search for a target residence and effectively spend more time looking for an opportunity even if the reward is less pronounced. If an offender then targets the same residence after the implementation of cocooning strategies, it is less likely for the offence to occur as the crime is more difficult to commit, and now, the disadvantages of committing the offence outweigh the proposed benefits. Another example would be through the implementation of burglary alarms. Evidence has been provided which indicates that the prevention of burglary can be achieved through such cocooning measures, developed under rational choice theory. It is suggested that burglar alarms increase apprehension, therefore deterring potential offenders as they determine whether the benefit of obtaining potentially valuable goods outweighs the possibility of getting caught. Therefore, this action is considered to be rational as given the beliefs of the offender, this was the crucial means of determining personal desires.
As with most criminological theories, it is almost impossible for rational choice theory to be applied and explain all aspects of a given situation. With reference to rational choice theory, it cannot be applied to all research situations given that the theory assumes a person’s actions are instrumental. (Boudon, 1998). One major criticism of rational choice theory is that it generally fails to explain the motivation of an offender. It is assumed that any individual would commit an offence provided the benefits are maximised and outweigh the losses. This however, fails to take into consideration other factors influencing criminal motivation, including pleasure and thrill, which would increase for individuals who enjoy risky situations. Another commonly mentioned criticism of rational choice theory is that it fails to take into consideration the structural aspects relating to decision-making. Generally, social references are considered, but rarely are these linked to offence-patterns. Some individuals have also argued that rational choice theory is not necessarily a good theory to use when referring to criminal activity as this behaviour is typically irrational. Despite criticism, rational choice theory aids in obtaining an understanding of the criminal mind and the calculations behind an offence, not necessarily the motivation.
It is conclusive that rational choice theory provides an effective insight into crime preventative strategy cocooning by analysing criminal behaviour. This allows for an understanding as to why criminals offend with reference to maximising costs and reducing losses, leading to a decrease in the rates of residential burglary across Australia. This is evident in studies conducted by both the West Australian police and the Western Australian government, whereby cocooning strategies were implemented and proven to be successful. It is hopeful that in the near future, technological development will lead to major advancements in cocooning strategies to further increase the efficacy and time-management of implementing these strategies.
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