Crime Displacement’s Effect on the Prevention of Social and Situational Crime

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Displacement is a key issue when determining whether crime prevention programs are effective or not. According to Rosenbaum, Lurigio, and Davis in the book, Prevention of Crime: Social and Situational Strategies, displacement is the dislocation of “criminal activity in time, space, method, or type of offense.” Since crime is being displaced on the micro level, the understanding the effects of displacement is important when dealing with situational crime prevention. There are several forms of crime displacement: temporal, spatial, target, tactical and offense. Of all the forms, it is spatial that is the most commonly perceived and when discussing crime displacement is the one most often referred.

Spatial crime displacement is the relocation of criminal activity from one target to the next but in a different place. That is, criminals could be squeezed out of one area just to reorganize in a different area, usually close in proximity and with the intention of targeting the same type of victims (Phillips, 2001, p. 10). Thus, the criminology of location is debunked because criminals can simply move from one location to another with their activities. It is the most easily measurable form of crime displacement and is frequently the most studied. The threat of spatial displacement is primarily the reason why no action is ever agreed upon against certain crimes that occur within a community (Weisburd et al., 2004, p. 3). It is an oft-held belief by opponents of community development initiatives (CDIs) that crime will relocate after the implementation of such initiatives. The police force and community development experts often harbor such beliefs. However, research has shown that spatial displacement is a rare occurrence after the implementation of a CDI. In fact, measures that combat crime are just as likely to be diminished, as displacement is to occur (Guerette, 2009, p. 1).

When considering a CDI, it is important for community developers and supporting organizations to understand the risks of an occurrence of crime displacement. Preparing communities and its police force to look out for and identify displacement when it occurs is key when determining whether the initiative would be successful and how much impact it would have on the community. This is why knowledge on the other forms of crime displacement is important. Spatial displacement is not the only kind of crime displacement that can occur as the result of a CDI. Temporal crime displacement is when criminals work around a CDI by simply changing the time they commit their crimes. If a community imposes a certain curfew in response to increased crime or if certain criminal activity is monitored during specific times of the day, criminals may just decide to do their work at a more beneficial time.

Target displacement occurs when criminals change the targets of their offenses. While police and communities may focus prevention methods on a certain segment of businesses or people, criminals may have their sights set on new, different, and unpredictable targets. With offense displacement, criminals will change their method of crime altogether. Petty thieves could decide to transition to car jackings if measures are put into place to limit or stop thefts in the neighborhood (Guerette, 2009, p. 2).

Even in the occurrence of displacement, a decrease in the crime rate can still occur within a community. According to Guerette, “when harm produced by displaced crime or problem behavior is less than what existed before the intervention,” benign displacement has occurred. Benign displacement, or beneficial displacement, can happen in three ways. Crime displacement could be less serious in nature. For example, instead of armed car jackings, petty thefts could begin to occur (Guerette, 2009, p. 2).

Displacement could be less impactful to the community. Crime could be more dispersed across the community. In other words, crime would shift from small number of repeat victims to a wider range of victims. Crime could also relocate from “more vulnerable groups of populations” like the elderly or disabled. In addition, crime could move to areas in the community where the impact of crime is less harmful. For example, drug dealing could be pushed to just one small area of the community. Not only would it help various forms of policing combat such crime, but it would also reduce the fear of crime in other areas (Guerette, 2009, p. 2). Benign displacement could also occur when the volume of crime is reduced. Although relocation of crime could occur from one area to the next, the reduction of crime in the targeted area could offset any increases in criminal activity in the replacement area.

Crime displacement can also be harmful. Malign displacement occurs when there is an increase in crime with a more serious impact on the community. An increase in criminal activity in a nearby area could result in an overflow of crime back into the intended targeted area. Crimes more serious in nature could begin to happen to a smaller segment of victims, and an increase in criminal activities to areas where it has a more of an impact on the population can occur as well (Guerette, 2009, p. 2).

As previously mentioned, the opposite of crime displacement could occur in a community in which a CDI is implemented. This phenomenon is referred to as a “diffusion of crime benefits.” Crime prevention tactics can positively affect areas surrounding communities even if those areas were not the focal points of a CDI. Though it is less known and researched, the odds of it occurring are similar to that of crime displacement. Diffusion of crime benefits would be the ideal result. Not only would the intended community see a reduction in criminal activity, but surrounding communities will see similar results as well, without the use of any additional resources. Thus, a CDI would have the most impact over multiple communities using the least amount of effort and money (Guerette, 2009, p. 3).

As with crime displacement, occurrence of diffusion of benefits can be seen in various ways. Spatial and target diffusion can occur when criminal activity in close proximity of the targeted zone is reduced. Temporal diffusion happens when crime is reduced throughout different time periods even if those time periods were not targeted. When other crimes are prevented besides crime within the intended focus, crime type diffusion has occurred. Anticipatory benefits are another form of diffusion that occurs when crime in targeted areas reduce just before the implementation of a CDI. Criminals are believed to anticipate a crackdown in crime through crime prevention measures and as a result, tend to reduce their criminal activity in those areas (Guerette, 2009, p. 3).

Although crime displacement is seen as a common event, the reality is that its occurrence is limited. Studies have proven that crime does not relocate to nearby neighborhoods in the event of crime reduction and prevention programs (Weisburd, et al., 2004, p. 9). Displaced criminal behavior only occurs when the offenders see a benefit in the risk. Engaging in new crimes in different and unfamiliar areas with potentially different kinds of victims may not produce as big of a reward to make these opportunities worth it for offenders. Criminals may also be limited in tactical knowledge or skills when engaging in illegal activity and thus are reduced to committing their crime in only the target area (Guerette, 2009, p. 4).

Criminal activity tends to concentrate in one area while other areas seem to be relatively unscathed by the impact of such activity. These concentrated areas of crime are often referred to as “hot spots.” Hot spots often affect the value of the residential and commercial properties, change the behavior of people who frequent the area to that of a more suspicious nature, and can cause people to avoid those areas altogether. Multiple studies have suggested policies that focused on crime hot spots are more effective as they are more likely to result in crime diffusion rather than displacement (Eck, Chainey, Cameron, Leitner and Wilson, 2005, p. 1).

In a 2004 study on displacement and diffusion in Jersey City, New Jersey, it was concluded by the team that targeting areas of high crime could likely have a beneficial result in not just those areas but in surrounding ones as well. As a result, the study strongly supports the use of crime prevention methods with the use of a strong police presence as well as increased awareness among residents in the targeted communities. However, their study did reveal that some sort of crime displacement did occur, though it was not spatial. Offenders limited criminal activity in targeted areas but instead of stopping altogether, they just found different kinds of crime to commit in the area. This is more in line with method crime displacement (Weisburd et al., 2004, p. 17-18).

In addition, the study concluded that crime prevention programs should not only be assessed by studying statistics and other data but must also be measured by social observations within the targeted community itself. These observations, though not scientific in nature, serve its purpose. Residents can focus on recognizing and reporting crime as they occur in the community and thus provide a more accurate study of the effectiveness of CDIs (Weisburd et al., 2004, p. 17-18).

Communities are always looking for ways to reduce crime. In order to create the most effective crime prevention programs, it is important to understand the ways these programs could potentially affect them both positively and negatively. Crime displacement is a legitimate concern when engaging in crime prevention methods. The entire purpose of these methods is for the reduction crime not the addition of it. However, understanding the various forms of crime displacement and having the ability to identify which form applies to the target area is key when implementing crime reduction and prevention initiatives. It is important to know that while crime displacement can occur, the likelihood of it occurring is minimal and it should not stop any crime preventive measures from taking place. Community crime prevention organizers must be aware that crime diffusion is more likely to occur making these measures worth the time, effort and money and allowing residents within the community have a more peaceful and crime-free existence.


Eck, John, Spencer Chainey, James G. Cameron, Michael Leitner, and Ronald E. Wilson. (2005). Mapping Crime: Understanding Hot Spots. National Institute of Justice. Retrieved from

Guerette, Rob. T. (2009). Understanding Crime Displacement: A Guide for Community Development Practitioners. Community Safety Paper Series. Local Initiatives Support Corporation. Retrieved from

Phillips, Catherine. (2011) Situational Crime Prevention and Crime Displacement: Myths and Miracles? Internet Journal of Criminology. Retrieved from

Rosenbaum, Denis P., Arthur J. Lurigio and Robert C. Davis. (1998). Prevention of Crime: Social and Situational Strategies. Belmont, CA. Wadsworth Publishing Co.

Weisburd, David, Laura A. Wycoff, Justin Ready, John E. Eck, Josh Hinckle, Frank Gajewski. (2004). Does Crime Just Move Around the Corner? A Study of Displacement and Diffusion in Jersey City, NJ. Grant No. 97-IJ-CX-0055. Retrieved from The U.S. Department of Justice, National Institute of Justice: