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There has to be a Better Way: Place Managers for Crime Prevention in a Surveillance Society

We live in a surveillance society. Often justified under the guise of government anti-terrorism activities, domestic crime reduction, or both, surveillance takes many forms, including closed-circuit television cameras, networked cameras, and facial recognition applications. ...

Published onApr 10, 2020
There has to be a Better Way: Place Managers for Crime Prevention in a Surveillance Society


We live in a surveillance society. Often justified under the guise of government anti-terrorism activities, domestic crime reduction, or both, surveillance takes many forms, including closed-circuit television cameras, networked cameras, and facial recognition applications. There is also a range of alternative forms of surveillance, measures considered less of an imposition to privacy, civil liberties, and other personal freedoms. One example is place managers: employees who perform a surveillance function secondary to their employment duties (e.g., bus drivers, parking lot attendants, train conductors). This article reports on an updated systematic review of the effects of place managers on crime in public and private space. Following identification and screening of several hundred references, a total of six studies met the inclusion criteria. Findings indicate that place managers represent a promising situational technique for preventing crime. Future place manager interventions need to be guided by the rich body of theory on place management.

Keywords: place managers, situational crime prevention, surveillance society, social costs, systematic review


Within at least the last decade, urban as well as suburban populations across the world have begun to experience living in a surveillance society (Lyon, 2018; Marx, 2016). Hier (2010) refers to this as the panopticon of our times. Often justified under the guise of government anti-terrorism activities, domestic crime reduction, or both, surveillance takes many forms, including closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras, networked camera systems, facial recognition applications, retinal scans, license plate reader technology, and a greater presence of police and security forces. Within the context of domestic crime (the focus of this paper), there is also the presence of alternative forms of surveillance, measures considered to be less of an imposition to civil liberties, privacy, and other personal freedoms (von Hirsch, 2000; Welsh, Farrington, & Taheri, 2015), and sometimes implemented alongside (or as secondary to) the likes of CCTV or networked camera systems (Piza, Welsh, Farrington, & Thomas, 2019).

In the taxonomy of situational crime prevention, Cornish and Clarke (2003) differentiate three types of surveillance (formal surveillance, natural surveillance, and place managers), with each aimed primarily at increasing offenders’ risks of detection. Formal surveillance is most closely associated with a surveillance society, and most prominently includes the introduction of some form of technology (e.g., CCTV cameras). Another measure associated with formal surveillance is security guards. Natural surveillance involves efforts to “capitalize upon the ‘natural’ surveillance provided by people going about their everyday business” (Clarke 1997, p. 21). Examples include the installation or improvement of street lighting and defensible space.

Place managers include parking lot attendants, bus drivers, train conductors, and others who perform a surveillance function by virtue of their position of employment. Unlike security personnel, however, the task of surveillance for these employees is secondary to their other employment duties. It is important to note that place managers are not limited to carrying out a surveillance function in preventing crime in public and private places. (This is discussed in more detail in the “Theoretical Perspectives” section.) However, the key organizing principle of place managers is their ability (and willingness) to perform what may be described as a more mild form of surveillance (in contrast to the formal surveillance exercised through CCTV or security guards, for example), in addition to it being secondary to their employment duties. Our framing of place managers in this way is based on the classification system of situational crime prevention. In earlier iterations of the classification system, this technique was known as “surveillance by employees” (see Clarke, 1992; Clarke & Homel, 1997). In the classification system’s latest iteration, by Cornish and Clarke (2003), this technique is now referred to as “place managers.” Under either name, surveillance is designed to increase offenders’ risk of detection. For example, in the case of parking lot attendants, the surveillance function they perform comes about from their presence and ability to intervene, thus presenting a deterrent threat to potential offenders.

While this paper is concerned with the role of place managers in preventing crime in public and private settings, it is important to note that this collection of alternative forms of surveillance were neither introduced in response to formal surveillance measures (e.g., CCTV cameras) nor developed recently. (For an historical account of the development of some of these alternative forms of surveillance, see Newman, 1972; Clarke, 1997; Welsh & Farrington, 2009a.) The beginnings of the use of place managers can largely be traced to Europe. In the United Kingdom, the Department of the Environment implemented some of the first programs on public housing estates in the 1970s. Resident caretakers were employed to maintain the buildings and grounds, assist residents with needs related to their flats, and serve as a visible presence on the estate (Hough, Clarke, & Mayhew, 1980). In the Netherlands, “occupational surveillance” or surveillance by employees became an important component of government crime prevention policy in the 1980s, with initiatives dating back to the 1960s. These included adding more inspectors on the metro, trams, and buses; introducing caretakers to council estates; and implementing a program of Stadswacht or city guards to patrol city streets. The city guards and many of the other people who were hired and trained to perform these tasks were often drawn from the long-term unemployed (van Dijk, 1995). The initial government funding for the public transport inspectors (also known as VICs or “safety, information, and control” officers) was for hiring young people, most of whom were unemployed (van Andel, 1989).

It was not until the 1990s that the first studies of place managers were carried out on the other side of the Atlantic, first in the United States and then in Canada. Most of the early work in the U.S. focused on private settings, with place managers serving in the role of apartment building managers (Eck, 1994; Clarke & Bichler-Robertson, 1998). This extended to urban entertainment districts (e.g., bars, night clubs), with place managers employed as bouncers or serving staff (Roberts, 2007; Madensen & Eck, 2008). Similarly, the Canadian experience with surveillance by employees began in private settings, notably in bars and night clubs, with place managers taking on the role of bouncers or serving staff (Graham et al., 2004).

This early research on place managers and crime generated little in the way of evaluative knowledge. In the first review on the subject, Clarke and Bichler-Robertson (1998, p. 12) concluded that there is “little criminological research on the effectiveness of ‘place managers’ in preventing crime.” Carried out a decade later, the first systematic review on the effects of place managers on crime in public places reached a similar conclusion, identifying only two high-quality evaluation studies (Welsh, Mudge, & Farrington, 2010).

The main aim of this paper is to report on the findings of a systematic review of the effects of place managers on crime in public and private space. It builds and expands upon the previous systematic review on the subject. We begin with an overview of the extensive and rich body of work on the theoretical perspectives that undergird the place management of crime. This is followed by a description of the methodology used to carry out the systematic review and an analysis of studies meeting the review’s inclusion criteria. The paper ends with some conclusions and a discussion of the findings, with a special focus on directions for research and policy.

Theoretical Perspectives

The theoretical underpinnings of place managers originate from criminal opportunity theory, which includes three separate but complimentary theoretical strands: routine activity theory, rational choice theory, and crime pattern theory. Although there are differences among these strands, each posits that crime can be prevented by implementing changes that affect offenders’ perceptions of the risks and rewards associated with participating in crime (Clarke, 1995). As a theoretical concept, place managers reside most comfortably within the framework of routine activity theory, where crime is conceived as an event that only occurs once a motivated offender, a suitable target, and the lack of a capable guardian converge in time and space (Cohen & Felson, 1979).

This original framework has since been expanded to include offender handlers, target guardians, and place managers as measures that can assist in preventing the opportunity for these criminal elements to converge (Eck, 1994). These elements are of vital importance as rational offenders seek to avoid risks, and the presence of a vigilant place manager can serve to deter offenders (Mayhew, Clarke, Burrows, Hough, & Winchester, 1979). However, it is not essential for place managers to prioritize crime prevention when going about their daily routines, as this benefit can result from carrying out their intended functions (Madensen and Eck, 2013). Indeed, the potential effectiveness of place managers for crime prevention is largely due to the fact that they naturally reside in high-crime places by virtue of their employment (Clarke, 1995) or ownership rights (Madensen & Eck, 2013).

Place managers have four functions that are crucial to their designated roles, but can also lead to crime reduction benefits (Madensen, 2007). First, place managers organize space within their respective places, which is a function that also comprises the manipulation of physical features that can either encourage or discourage crime. Second, they regulate conduct in the place, and can promote particular activities as well as discourage certain actions that may be detrimental to the place and persons within it. Third, they control access to the place, and can encourage particular individuals to enter while preventing the entrance of potential offenders. Finally, place managers acquire resources, which may involve producing revenue, encouraging donations, or improving budget allocations (Madensen, 2007). Additionally, place managers’ commitment toward crime prevention can vary according to their individual level of responsibility (Felson, 1995), as well as the nature of the place in which they reside (Eck, 2015). For example, Felson (1995) notes that the owners of high-crime places are designated the greatest level of responsibility toward crime prevention in the place, while employees and civilian bystanders have a lesser degree of responsibility.

Besides the potential benefits for crime reduction, place managers can also feasibly cultivate greater social cohesion in certain communities, both in the specific place and in surrounding areas. Their prospective ability to encourage social cohesion in persistently high-crime areas means that they may represent a viable alternative to formal measures of surveillance (Welsh & Farrington, 2009a) and official police responses (Eck, 2015). Prior research has emphasized the importance of improving neighborhood conditions in order to strengthen social cohesion, with low degrees of collective efficacy often found to contribute to high crime rates (Sampson, Raudenbush, & Earls, 1997; Louderback & Roy, 2018). The activation of place managers in a crime prevention capacity might be perceived as a sign of investment in high-crime areas, which can in turn lead residents to exert greater informal social control and possibly even intervene on behalf of neighbors (Welsh et al., 2010).

The use of place managers may also mitigate some of the negative side-effects that often accompany other place-based crime prevention measures. For example, the installation of formal measures of surveillance like CCTV cameras has led to concerns surrounding the infringement of privacy rights (Welsh & Farrington, 2009a). Place managers are likely to be less of an intrusion in this regard, considering that they naturally reside in high-crime places and perform surveillance as a secondary function (Madensen & Eck, 2013). Focused policing strategies can also result in less than desirable side effects, especially when disadvantaged areas are saturated with large numbers of police (Braga, Papachristos, & Hureau. 2014: Eck, 2015). While place managers are often regulated through the use of civil legislation enforced by police and other official agencies (see Bichler, Schmerler, & Enriquez, 2013), they are capable of acting independently and enacting crime prevention measures in their places of their own accord (Madensen & Eck, 2013). When one considers their ability to operate independently and the potential benefits they hold for encouraging social cohesion, it is reasonable to suggest that place managers may represent a viable and sustainable method of addressing place-based crime problems while avoiding the perceptions of bias and injustice that can accompany the use of focused policing strategies in high-crime areas (Eck, 2015).


Systematic reviews use rigorous methods for locating, appraising, and synthesising evidence from prior evaluation studies, and the present review follows the guidelines of systematic review methodology (see Cooper, 2010; Petticrew & Roberts, 2006).

Criteria for Inclusion of Evaluation Studies

Studies were included in this systematic review if they met the following criteria:

(a) Place managers were the main focus of the intervention. For evaluations containing multiple crime prevention measures implemented simultaneously, it must have been stated that place managers were the primary intervention of interest. If this was not explicitly stated, the evaluation was assessed to determine the import given by the authors to the place manager intervention compared to the other interventions.

(b) Place manager interventions were implemented in either public or private places.

(c) There was an outcome measure of crime. The most relevant crime outcomes were violent and property crimes.

(d) The evaluation design was of high methodological quality, with the minimum design involving before-and-after measures of crime in treatment and comparable control areas. In some instances, the comparability of the treatment and control areas was difficult to ascertain or not as strong as the others. We were reluctant to exclude these studies unless they were clearly inadequate.

Search Strategies

The following search strategies were used to locate studies meeting the above criteria:

(a) Searches of electronic bibliographic databases. The following databases were searched: Criminal Justice Abstracts; National Criminal Justice Reference Service Abstracts; Sociological Abstracts; Google Scholar; Social, Psychological, Educational, and Criminological Trials Register; ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global; and Medline. These databases have been recognized as having the greatest coverage of the criminological and social science literature, and are among the databases recommended by the Campbell Collaboration Crime and Justice Group.

(b) Searches of reviews of the literature on the effects of place managers on crime and, more generally, surveillance and crime prevention.

(c) Searches of bibliographies of included and excluded studies.

(d) Forward citation searches using Google Scholar.

Both published and unpublished studies were considered in these searches. In addition, these searches were international in scope and were not limited to the English language. The following terms were used to search the electronic bibliographic databases for place manager evaluations: employee, place manager, guardian, conductor, attendant, doorman, assistant, and occupational presence. When applicable, “crime”, “surveillance”, “supervision”, and “effectiveness” were added to each of these terms (e.g., place manager and crime) to narrow the search parameters.


The aforementioned search strategies yielded approximately 500 eligible studies, with 410 coming from electronic bibliographic databases and 88 from the other sources (see Figure 1). A total of 69 of these studies were identified as potentially relevant for this review. Of these 69 studies, 55 were excluded because they did not meet the inclusion criterion for the intervention. An additional screening of the remaining 14 studies identified a total of six that met the inclusion criteria; the other eight were excluded because they did not use a high-quality evaluation design.

Figure 1. Flowchart for selection of studies

Summary of Included Studies

Table 1 summarizes key characteristics of the six included studies. Three of the studies were conducted in the U.K., two in the U.S., and the other in Canada. Five of the six evaluations were conducted in single towns or cities, while the other was conducted in five different towns (Moore et al., 2012). Effects of the intervention were not reported for each individual town, but instead aggregated across all sites. 

Table 1. Summary of included studies

Author, publication date, and location

Type of intervention and context


Other interventions

Outcome measure and data source

Research design and time period

Primary results

Diffusion/ displacement

Skilton (1988), London Borough of Brent, UK

Concierge system; public housing estate (South Kilburn)

T=169 flats

C=136 flats


Vandalism; police and housing estate records

Before-after, treatment-control


Before=1 year

After=1 year

T vs C: -84%

(desirable effect)

Not measured

Poyner (1991), Dover, UK

Taxi business; parking garage

T=1 parking garage

C=2 parking lots

Lighting, fencing, access control

Vehicle crimes; police records

Before-after, treatment-control


Before=2 years

After=2 years

TB=80, TA=40,

CB=35, CA=18

(null effect)

No displacement

Graham et al. (2004), Toronto, Canada

Safer Bars program (staff training)

T: 18 bars

C: 12 bars

Environmental risk assessment

Alcohol-related violence; observations

Randomized controlled



1-year evaluation period


TB=.053, TA=.035, CB=.0007, CA=.060 (desirable effect)

Not measured

Moore et al. (2012), 5 towns, UK

Premises audit and action plan with manager in bars/taverns

T: 16 bars

C: 16 bars



Violent incidents; police data, alcometer scores, observations, and surveys

Randomized controlled



6-month  evaluation period

Failure rates:

TB=.0164, TA=.0147,

CB=.0196, CA=.023;  Hazard ratio= .9 (NS)

(null effect)

Not measured

Telep and Hibdon (2018), Seattle (Little Brook Park), USA

Place management training for landlords; high crime neighborhood

T=1 neighborhood

C=1 neighborhood

Wide range of community and situational prevention measures

Calls for service per week; police records

Interrupted time series


Before=1.5 years

After=3 years

TB vs TA: -2.31

CB vs CA: .20

(total calls)


TB vs TA: -.66

CB vs CA:  .06

(drug calls)


TB vs TA: -1.65 

CB vs CA: .21

(disorder calls)


(desirable effect for all outcomes)


Some displacement, no diffusion

Telep and Hibdon (2018), Seattle (Bell Street), USA

Place management training for landlords; high crime neighborhood

T=1 neighborhood

C=1 neighborhood

Wide range of community and situational prevention measures

Calls for service per week; police records

Interrupted time series


Before=1.5 years

After=2 years

TB vs TA: .60

CB vs CA:  -.04

(total calls)


TB vs TA: -1.41

CB vs CA:  .06

(drug calls)


TB vs TA: -2.32

CB vs CA: -.15

(disorder calls)


(desirable effect for disorder calls)


Diffusion of benefits, no displacement

Notes: T=treatment area; C=control area; TB=treatment before; TA=treatment after; CB=control before; CA=control after, NS=non-significant.

The nature of place manager interventions varied widely across the six included studies. The earliest study reports on the implementation of a concierge scheme in a high-rise residential tower, which was responsible for providing receptionist services, assisting residents, and controlling access through the main entrance of the tower (Skilton, 1988). Another study examined the effect of a taxi company set up near the entrance of a multi-level parking garage. This intervention was implemented alongside other crime prevention measures, including lighting improvements, ground-level fencing, and the installation of an exit-only door, but the author noted that the taxi office was the primary prevention measure (Poyner, 1991).

Two studies were carried out in bars or night clubs. One of these studies examined the impact of a risk assessment and employee training program designed to alert employees to environmental risk factors that could lead to aggression among patrons (Graham et al., 2004). The other consisted of a risk audit and action plan that was then provided to premises managers in the form of a written report, containing environmental and operational changes designed to reduce the occurrence of intoxication and disorder incidents (Moore et al., 2012). The final two studies both consisted of multi-component interventions implemented in neighborhood settings (Telep & Hibdon, 2018). The primary component of the intervention in these studies was a place management course that was delivered to landlords in both study sites, and provided guidance on how to deal with disorder and problem tenants in their properties. These interventions also included public safety meetings with residents and local businesses, community appearance surveys to assess levels of physical disorder, and CPTED (crime prevention through environmental design) surveys to assess environmental conditions in each neighborhood.

Narrative Synthesis of Effects on Crime

It is important to note that meta-analytic techniques were not used to assess intervention effects on crime. This is because of the small number of studies included in the review, as well as that three of the studies did not report the requisite information to allow for the calculation of effect sizes. We instead present a narrative synthesis of effects on crime.

From the included studies, a generally positive assessment can be made of the effects of place managers on crime, with four reporting desirable effects and the other two reporting null effects. In his evaluation of a concierge scheme implemented in a high-rise residential tower within a public housing estate in the London Borough of Brent, Skilton (1988) found a desirable effect on repairs resulting from vandalism. Operating each day from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m., the concierge scheme performed three key functions: controlling access through the main entrance of the tower; providing receptionist services; and assisting residents. Police records and housing estate maintenance records were used to evaluate the effect of the intervention. Compared to the control site (a neighboring residential tower in the same housing estate) over a 1-year follow-up period, the treatment site reported fewer repairs to communal areas (5 vs. 131) and elevators (28 vs. 75). Overall, Skilton (1988) reported an 84% reduction in repairs resulting from vandalism in the treatment site compared to the control site.

In another U.K. study, Poyner (1991) found a taxi company operating at the entrance of a multi-level parking garage in the city of Dover to have a null effect on vehicle crimes (i.e., theft of and from vehicles and damage to vehicles). The taxi company operated throughout most weekend hours, and was open from 8 a.m. to midnight on weekdays. The study design included two control sites (nearby parking lots, equivalent in terms of parking spaces and payment methods) and outcomes were measured two years before and two years after the intervention was implemented. Poyner (1991) reported that the number of police-reported vehicle crimes declined by approximately 50% in both the treatment and control areas, meaning that the observed reduction could not be attributed to the place manager intervention.

In Toronto, Canada, Graham et al. (2004) found that the Safer Bars Program yielded a significant decrease in the average number of observed violent incidents among patrons in the treatment bars, reporting a reduction from 0.053 to 0.035 incidents per observation. This was compared to an increase in violence in the control bars, where the average number of observed violent incidents rose from 0.007 to 0.06 incidents per observation. However, the overall number of violent incidents was remarkably low throughout the study period, with only 29 incidents of severe aggression observed in both the treatment and control bars. The authors also note that high rates of staff turnover among the bars in their sample may have mitigated the long-term impact of the intervention, but suggest that this is likely due to the intervention being delivered on a one-time basis rather than as part of an ongoing training and licensing process (Graham et al., 2004).

Moore et al. (2012) found a premises-level place manager intervention to have a positive yet non-significant impact on intoxication and disorder incidents in the treatment bars compared to the control bars. As premises can experience more than a single instance of intoxication/disorder, the authors employed a proportional hazards model to account for multiple events and time-varying covariances (such as sporting events and closures for refurbishment) (Moore et al., 2012). Specifically, an Andersen-Gill hazard model was used to estimate the time until failure (defined as the occurrence of intoxication/disorder) for each bar in the study sample. Consequently, the results are reported as rates that indicate the level of risk for each bar experiencing intoxication/disorder in a given time period, with lower values representing a lower risk of failure. The treatment bars reported a pre-test failure rate of .0164 and a post-test failure rate of .0147, while the control bars had a pre-test failure rate of .0196 and a post-test failure rate of .023. Overall, the authors report a marginally desirable but non-significant hazard ratio of .9. Statistical simulations indicated that the intervention would have had a positive and significant effect if the evaluation period had been 272 days rather than just three months (Moore et al., 2012). Moore et al. (2012) reported that time constraints limited the period of evaluation to three months, but did not elaborate further on the specific reasons for this constraint.

In the most recent study, Telep and Hibdon (2018) evaluated two place manager schemes in different residential neighborhoods of Seattle. In Little Brook Park, the authors reported a desirable effect on total calls for service, with 2.31 fewer calls per week in the post-intervention period. The control area experienced a significant increase in total calls for service (.2 more per week) during the same period. The authors also found that the intervention was associated with decreases in disorder calls (1.65 fewer per week) and drug/alcohol calls (.66 fewer per week), compared to minimal increases in these call types in the control area. In the Bell Street neighborhood, the authors found a desirable effect for disorder calls (2.32 fewer per week) during the study period, but not for total calls for service or drug calls. The control area experienced a non-significant decrease in total calls for service (.04 fewer per week) and disorder calls (.15 fewer per week), and a non-significant increase in drug calls (.06 more per week) during the same period.

Three of the six included studies measured the potential for displacement of crime or diffusion of crime prevention benefits. Telep and Hibdon (2018) noted that the Little Brook Park intervention resulted in a minimal amount of spatial displacement, with a small increase in drug and disorder calls in the buffer area, but overall crime reduction benefits outweighed the level of displacement. Conversely, the Bell Street site experienced a diffusion of crime prevention benefits for drug and disorder calls in the buffer area. Skilton (1988) reported no evidence of spatial displacement of vandalism resulting from the intervention.

Two of the included studies reported information on financial costs and benefits of the interventions. Moore et al. (2012) reported that the intervention cost £600 for each premises in their sample, which primarily accounted for the cost of the initial audit process. They contrast this with the average cost of a violent assault to the emergency and health services in the U.K. (approximately £10,400), and state that this value is greater than the cost of implementing the intervention across 17 premises. Skilton (1988) reported information on the financial costs and benefits of the concierge intervention, finding that for every £1 spent on the scheme, £1.44 was saved on repairs over the course of one year.

Discussion and Conclusions

The generally favorable results from the six evaluations included in this updated systematic review suggest that place managers represent a promising, albeit underutilized, situational technique for preventing crime. In the context of evidence-based crime prevention, our use of the term “promising” is not meant to imply that we should begin rolling out place managers to prevent crime in public and private places. Instead, we are acknowledging that the weight of the evidence is insufficient to do this right now, but it is worthwhile to conduct additional high-quality evaluations to see if there may be eventual support for wider use of this situational crime prevention technique. This is consistent with how promising programs are defined in the report and subsequent book by Sherman et al. (1997; 2006): “These are programs where the level of certainty from available evidence is too low to support generalizable conclusions, but where there is some empirical basis for predicting that further research could support such conclusions” (Farrington et al., 2006, p. 18).

The promising nature of place manager interventions is also captured in the wide range of contexts in which they have been implemented, along with their implementation in both public and private space. Disappointingly, much less is known about their potential to displace crime or diffuse crime prevention benefits to proximal locations.


This review has several limitations. First, there is a paucity of high-quality evaluations of place manager schemes. On the one hand, this presents a challenge to exploring implications of the findings for policy and practice, and our discussion on this matter is purposely tempered (see below). On the other hand, it is important that “policymakers, practitioners and scholars have access to the best available information” (Welsh et al., 2010, p. 313), and this is what systematic reviews can provide. Second, as noted above, it was not possible to use meta-analytic techniques to analyze effects on crime or investigate moderators of these effects. This was partly a function of the limited number of studies included in the review, as well as some of the studies not reporting the requisite information to allow for the calculation of effect sizes. The latter draws attention to poor descriptive validity in the reporting of studies, something that confronts the conduct of systematic reviews (Farrington, 2003).

A third limitation has to do with place manager schemes often including secondary interventions. This can present a problem for isolating the independent effects of place managers on study outcomes. This is quite common in situational crime prevention, where efforts to reduce crime often entail implementing a number of complimentary measures, such as CCTV, alarm systems, and improved lighting (Eck & Guerette, 2012). Of the six studies included in this review, four used secondary interventions implemented alongside place managers. Following an assessment of the importance each study gave to place managers in relation to the other interventions, it was determined that these four studies included sufficient detail to specify place managers as the primary intervention.

Directions for Policy and Research

Modern policy regulating surveillance for crime prevention primarily utilizes formal, technological measures, such as CCTV, as well as more advanced measures like facial recognition systems, retinal scanners, and the prevailing use of ‘Big Data’ for tracking personal information (Marx, 2016). The development of extensive surveillance initially occurred in light of new found fears surrounding international terrorism at the turn of the 21st Century. More recent technological advancements have paved the way for surveillance to pervade everyday life, with the advent of social media providing a particularly valuable source of personal information for both governments and corporations (Lyon, 2018). Marx (2016, p. 5) argues that the focus on personal information and technology has driven the move towards a “suspicious, surveillance society.” Here, surveillance measures are increasingly directed towards individual’s personal and home lives, instead of solely being a feature of public space. While surveillance has advanced to this unprecedented state, CCTV still represents one of the most prominent examples of formal surveillance for crime prevention. For example, 87% of large police agencies in the U.S. make use of this technology (Reaves, 2015).

While this increase in surveillance capability may be considered an advantage for crime control, it has been acknowledged that extensive formal measures of surveillance present concerns for privacy and civil liberties (Welsh & Farrington, 2009a, b). It is in this context that place managers may be a viable alternative. Specifically, they represent an already established component of the community, and the task of surveillance is secondary to their primary function (Eck, 1994). Place managers are also unlikely to result in some of the negative side effects often associated with formal measures of surveillance, such as the exclusion of vulnerable or marginalized populations (e.g., unemployed youth and homeless individuals) (Clarke, 2000). Further, the activation of place managers does not require the utilization of advanced surveillance technology that can infringe upon individual’s personal lives, a key concern facing surveillance measures in the modern era (Lyon, 2018).

The potential adoption of place managers as an alternative to formal measures of surveillance also requires consideration of their relationship with police and other agents of formal social control. Although often leading efforts to combat place-based crime, it has been recognized that police are unable to fully address crime by themselves, especially in communities characterized by social disorganization (Braga & Weisburd, 2010; Braga et al., 2014). Additionally, focused policing strategies in high-crime areas can negatively impact perceptions of police legitimacy (Braga et al., 2014). The ability of place managers to act independently of police allows them to avoid this type of negative side effect, while still maintaining a focus on effective crime prevention (Eck, 2015). As a result, it could be said that place managers are the individuals who are best positioned to strike a balance between the public’s interest in community safety and concerns over erosion of privacy and civil liberties (Welsh et al., 2015).

Before place managers can be presented as a viable alternative to formal measures of surveillance, there needs to be a stronger base of research evidence demonstrating their effects on crime. However, future research should ensure place manager interventions are operationalized in accordance with their theoretical foundations. Although place managers are a central component within both situational crime prevention and opportunity theories of crime, the intervention is often assessed through different theoretical frameworks (e.g., Graham et al., 2004; Moore et al., 2012). Future evaluations should utilize the theoretical framework initially developed by Eck (1994) and refined in later works (e.g., Madensen, 2007; Madensen & Eck, 2013).

Further, while there are a number of evaluations of civil legislation in activating place managers to perform a crime prevention role (e.g., Bichler, Schmerler, & Enriquez, 2013; Worrall & Wheeler, 2019), the influence of police agencies in this regard cannot be ignored, and the effects of these interventions cannot be directly attributed to the actions of place managers. Future evaluation research on place managers needs to investigate the independent effects of the intervention. Considering these points, it is vital that researchers begin to explore the potential crime reduction benefits that may result when place managers—who are already embedded within these communities—take responsibility for crime prevention of their own accord.

Additionally, some scholars have recently begun to advise police to focus their resources upon places rather than individuals, with high-crime places being identified and tracked in the same manner as a criminal suspect (Lum & Koper, 2017). Place managers could play an important role in this type of approach, but there is currently a dearth of research related to the quality of relationships between place managers and police, not to mention how this relationship may influence crime outcomes. Instead of assessing how the broad enforcement of civil legislation changes the behavior of place managers, research that is focused on examining the nature of cooperation between police and place managers, and any resulting influence upon crime outcomes, would provide valuable insights into the dynamic of this relationship.

The importance of place managers for addressing place-based crime problems is underlined by their centrality within situational crime prevention and criminal opportunity theories (Clarke, 1995; Madensen & Eck, 2013). Madensen and Eck (2013, pp. 572-573) acknowledge the lack of relevant research on place managers, but underscore the importance of the concept: “In short, place ownership matters, and theorizing and studying crime places have great practical and academic potential.” The existing theoretical foundation and research evidence regarding high-crime places indicates that an institutional shift toward the widespread activation of place managers in a crime prevention role may be a promising method for addressing persistently high-crime places (Eck & Guerette, 2012). Ensuring that future research is based firmly on the theory of place management is an important step toward this objective. 


References marked with an asterisk (*) are studies included in the systematic review.

Braga, A. A., Papachristos, A. V., & Hureau, D. M. (2014). The effects of hot spots policing on crime: An updated systematic review and meta-analysis. Justice Quarterly, 31, 633-663.

Braga, A. A., & Weisburd, D. (2010). Policing problem places: Crime hot spots and effective prevention. New York: Oxford University Press.

Bichler, G., Schmerler, K., & Enriquez, J. (2013). Curbing nuisance motels: An evaluation of police as place regulators. Policing: An International Journal of Police Strategies & Management, 36, 437-62.

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