The research questions in this research program address when, where, and how offender and victim come together when a crime is committed. Knowing the circumstances of a criminal act is not only a scientific endeavor, but also informs crime prevention.
The point of departure for this research is the proposition that crime is not only determined by who we are, but also by the situations and contexts we take part in. We are interested in understanding and explaining how technology such as computers, smartphones, and surveillance cameras, plays a role for crime detection, how environments such as neighborhoods, locations, online spaces, and times of the day play a role for the patterns of crime, and how potentially criminal events are shaped by the presence of friends, bystanders, police officers, and threatening or violent behavior of others.
A situational approach to crime is about changing the situations that make people vulnerable to become a perpetrator or victim of crime. Oftentimes, changing situations is easier than changing people. Our findings can help design crime prevention initiatives, for example behavioral tool kits for people who are vulnerable for aggression and violence, enhancing other people to be instrumental in preventing crime or helping law enforcement to solve it, training for law enforcement officers and shop employees, light installations on streets, online ads and warnings against cybercrime, and the design of public space.
Our research projects share a focus on crime as an event and on the situational context in which this event takes place. Projects within the research line include investigations of the human factor in cybercrime focusing on the people behind the screens who commit crimes in cyberspace and their decision-making processes, studies of how wildlife is illegally hunted and traded, studies of the role of bystanders in interpersonal conflicts, studies of group dynamics among potential co-offenders, studies of rule breaking and peacekeeping in public conflicts, and studies of interaction and collaboration between police and citizens in emergency situations.
Consistent with the focus on proximal causes of offending, victimization and guardianship, the research line draws on theories and arguments that specify direct and immediate causes of behavior, such as situational and contextual opportunities and constraints. We primarily use theories that emphasize situational causes of crime (as opposed to personal causes), including the rational choice perspective, the routine activity approach, crime pattern theory, space-time geography, broken windows theory, symbolic interactionism, micro-sociology, culture in action, and social disorganization theory. All crime is a form of rule-breaking, and we aim to develop generic explanations that are valid for many different types of rule-breaking. It assesses whether contemporary developments like the ongoing digitization of society and the rise of new forms of crime pose challenges to existing theory.
The group embraces variation in the types of data that can inform the research questions. This includes both data originally generated for something other than research purposes (e.g., police records, surveillance videos, body worn camera footage, victimization data, census data, web data, cell phone logs, online forums, cyber-attack logs) and data specifically generated for research purposes through observations, interviews, surveys, honeypots, and online or natural experiments. Such highly diverse data are analyzed with state of the art quantitative and qualitative methodological techniques.
Within the research line many ongoing collaborations exist in the Netherlands as well as abroad such as with the United States, the United Kingdom, Denmark, Germany, South Africa, Canada, and Australia. We also collaborate with societal partners who make use of our research such as the Dutch National Police, cyber security industry partners, municipalities, retail industries, public transport companies, crime prevention councils, and government agencies.