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Place Managers for Crime Prevention: The Theoretical and Empirical Status of a Neglected Situational Crime Prevention Technique

Place managers are individuals who are physically and legally able to prevent crime in proprietary places, in addition to their designated functions within these places. They can be apartment complex owners, store managers, bar owners, parking lot attendants, or other ...

Published onFeb 14, 2020
Place Managers for Crime Prevention: The Theoretical and Empirical Status of a Neglected Situational Crime Prevention Technique


Place managers are individuals who are physically and legally able to prevent crime in proprietary places, in addition to their designated functions within these places. They can be apartment complex owners, store managers, bar owners, parking lot attendants, or other individuals who have ownership claims to a place or are employed by that place. Largely informed by the criminal opportunity perspective and recognized as a situational crime prevention technique, place managers benefit from a rich theoretical development, but only limited evaluation research. In examining the theoretical and empirical status of place managers, we were motivated to develop a greater understanding of the potential for place manager interventions to be implemented and evaluated, as well as to explore a promising mechanism—in the form of regulatory frameworks—to help place managers in performing roles related to the prevention of crime.

Keywords: place managers; situational crime prevention; proprietary places; regulation; third-party policing


Place managers are individuals who are physically and legally able to prevent crime in proprietary places, in addition to their designated functions within these places (Madensen and Eck, 2013). They can be apartment complex owners, store managers, bar owners, parking lot attendants, or other individuals who have ownership claims to a place or are employed by that place. A place manager’s primary concern is not crime prevention, but rather to ensure the smooth functioning of their respective place through the management of its social and physical characteristics (Madensen, 2007). However, these characteristics are also important for the prevention of crime, and certain proprietary places are more prone to crime than others, even among places of the same type. This is known as the “iron law of troublesome places” (Wilcox and Eck, 2011, p 476), and it has been proposed that ineffective place managers can explain why some proprietary places generate more crime than others (Madensen, 2007). This point, coupled with the knowledge regarding the spatial clustering of crime in micro-places (Weisburd, 2015), highlights the potential crime reduction benefits that may result from activating place managers in high-crime areas.

Place managers benefit from a rich theoretical and empirical development. (Presentation of this work here is less focused on empirical findings of specific studies.) The concept of place manager is largely informed by the criminal opportunity perspective and is a recognized situational crime prevention technique (Cornish and Clarke, 2003). However, place managers have not been subject to a great deal of rigorous evaluation research. A systematic review on alternative measures of surveillance (in contrast to CCTV cameras and improved street lighting) identified only two high-quality evaluations of the effects of place managers on crime (Welsh et al., 2010).

This is somewhat surprising, especially considering a large body of research on and growing interest in place-based crime prevention (Eck and Guerette, 2014). Admittedly, a great deal of attention is devoted to police interventions, particularly hot spots and problem-oriented strategies (Braga and Weisburd, 2010; Braga et al., 2014). It has been posited that, while these police interventions may be effective at preventing crime in proximal places (i.e., neighborhoods), they have less effect on crime in proprietary places (Madensen and Eck, 2013). Proprietary places can also impact crime at the proximal level if many proprietary places are in close proximity to one another (Sherman et al., 1989).

The main aim of this paper is to examine the theoretical and empirical status of the situational crime prevention technique of place managers. Our motivation is twofold. First, we wish to develop a greater understanding of the potential for place manager interventions to be implemented and evaluated. Second, we wish to explore a promising mechanism—in the form of regulatory frameworks—to help place managers in performing roles related to the prevention of crime.


The past few decades have seen the development of a wide range of strategies that aim to address spatial crime concentration, in reaction to the strong evidence that crime tends to concentrate in micro areas (Weisburd, 2015). The majority of interventions are police-led. However, increased police contact has been associated with a higher likelihood of police misconduct and complaints against police, particularly in racial minority communities characterized by economic disadvantage (Weisburd and Majmunder, 2018). These problems have led to the consensus that police interventions alone are not enough to fully control crime in these places (Braga and Weisburd, 2010). Other strategies have developed that rely upon surveillance methods and civilian partnerships (Welsh and Farrington, 2009). These methods—better known as situational crime prevention—aim to reduce criminal opportunities, and make specific locations unattractive to offenders by increasing the risk of committing crime (Smith and Clarke, 2014).

The manner in which crime prevention techniques are implemented in specific locations is where consideration of place managers is vital, as it is the owners or employees in these places that often dictate the effectiveness of these measures (Eck, 1994). Prior research posits that a strong partnership between police agencies and key stakeholders in the community is a key component of effective interventions in high-crime areas (Braga and Weisburd, 2010). One example was the Beat Health Program, set up in the late 1990s in Oakland, California to target high-crime areas with extensive drug and disorder problems (Mazerolle et al., 1998). This program provided police with the power to hold land owners to account for crime on their property through the use of civil ordinances, and resulted in a reduction of drug-related crimes and physical improvement of targeted street blocks. The authors suggest that the establishment of a cooperative relationship among police, civil agencies, and place managers was key to its effectiveness.

Another key element regarding place managers is the process by which they are activated or encouraged to take on responsibility for crime prevention. If done correctly, it has been posited that place managers may have the ability to bridge the gap between effective reduction of crime and the cultivation of social cohesion in high-crime areas (Eck, 2018; Manning et al., 2016).

Place manager is a broad term used to describe an individual who has responsibility for property and makes decisions about the physical and social environment on that property, and whose function on that property is not primarily related to crime prevention (Manning et al., 2016). The key element is the specific manner in which this kind of individual can perform a crime prevention function throughout their day-to-day activities. Madensen and Eck (2013) define the nature of place manager’s responsibilities through their ability to perform four specific functions, each of which can inherently benefit the prevention of crime. The first function pertains to the organization of space, whereby place managers can directly manipulate the physical and spatial characteristics of the place for which they are responsible. The second has to do with regulating an individual’s conduct whilst they are in the space, depending on the manager’s individual level of responsibility toward that place. A third function involves controlling access to the place, and refers to the ability to deny entry to individuals who are judged to be detrimental to the place’s function or condition. Finally, place managers can manipulate and acquire resources within their relevant place, meaning they are able to manipulate crime targets and implement additional crime prevention measures from the resources that are acquired through the place’s primary function.

Although these functions are able to be performed by all place managers, the necessity of each function will be determined by the nature of the place for which the manager is responsible. Thus, it is important to consider fluctuations in the kind of places that may habitually cultivate crime. Eck (2018) describes how general areas categorized according to the concept of ‘place’ share specific characteristics; they tend to be geographically small (i.e., smaller than a census tract), are contained within official property boundaries, perform some form of societal function (e.g., businesses, schools), and have an owner designated as officially responsible for their upkeep (usually a property owner or business manager). Most places will not experience crime, but still abide by these criteria. This categorization process is applied to store units, residential buildings, and individual homes, which are all considered to be micro-level units of analysis (Eck and Guerette, 2014). Publicly owned areas, such as street segments, city parks, and intersections, often face complexities related to ownership rights and property boundaries, and are more readily applicable to police-led crime interventions as a result (Eck, 2018).

Additionally, it has been recognized that place managers themselves may differ in their level of responsibility. Felson (1995) describes four different categories of responsibility for place managers. Place managers with personal responsibility are usually the designated owners of the proprietary place, be it an individual, business, or agency, and have the greatest responsibility towards the place as a result. Those with assigned responsibility are employees who are responsible for behavior regulation in the place, typically including security guards and loss prevention staff. Place managers with diffuse responsibility are employees of the place who do not have specific tasks that involve regulating behavior, but are instead focused upon the general function of the place. Lastly, those with general responsibility would be third parties, such as customers or bystanders, who are simply visiting the place and hold no ownership claim.

Theoretical Development

The concept of place manager derives from a rich theoretical background, and has connections to situational crime prevention and the criminal opportunity perspective. Situational crime prevention has been defined as “a preventive approach that relies, not upon improving society or its institutions, but simply upon reducing opportunities for crime” (Clarke, 1992, p 3). Similarly, opportunity theories of crime focus on specific criminal events, as opposed to the development of individual offenders (Shariati and Guerette, 2017). To explain the external mechanisms by which crime occurs, there requires consideration of why certain places are selected and others are not. Opportunity theory provides the widest theoretical base for understanding the rationale behind place managers and other situational crime prevention measures (Smith and Clarke, 2014). Opportunity theory comprises three complimentary theoretical perspectives: the rational choice perspective, routine activity theory, and crime pattern theory.

The rational choice perspective assumes that offenders are capable of weighing the potential harms and benefits associated with committing crime (Clarke and Cornish, 1985). Additionally, this perspective distinguishes between an offender’s decision to become involved in crime, to continue criminal involvement, to desist from offending, and to carry out specific criminal acts, as it recognizes that the processes involved in each of these decisions varies greatly (Braga and Weisburd, 2010). Overlooking these differences may negatively impact the ability of place managers and other individuals to intervene effectively (Clarke, 1995).

Routine activity theory advocates that crime occurs as an event, resulting from the convergence of a motivated offender, an available target, and the lack of a suitable guardian (Cohen and Felson, 1979). Since its inception, routine activities theory has been expanded to include offender handlers, target guardians, and place managers as elements that can mitigate the convergence of criminal elements (Eck, 1994). These elements are grouped together into two groups of three, where offenders, targets, and places are monitored by handlers, guardians, and managers, respectively (Shariati and Guerette, 2017).

Crime pattern theory explores the potential for regularities in the interactions among targets, offenders, and opportunities across geographic space and time (Brantingham et al., 2005). This perspective effectively combines the rational choice and routine activity perspectives by considering how an offender’s decision-making processes may interact with specific place characteristics to influence the likelihood of crime occurring (Braga and Weisburd, 2010).

Additionally, the manner in which interventions are selected and tailored to high-crime areas is a crucial element of the situational crime prevention process. Situational crime prevention measures rely on a systematic process whereby crime problems are identified, appropriate interventions devised, and resulting impacts assessed (Cornish and Clarke, 2003; Shariati and Guerette, 2017). This process helps to ensure that implemented measures take account of localized context and minimize the potential for unintended side effects. This is similar to problem-oriented policing, a development that led police agencies to focus on directing police resources to identifying underlying problems that lead to criminal incidents, and developing innovative solutions to these problems (Goldstein, 1979).

Regulatory Frameworks

Although place managers may be physically able to perform a crime prevention function in their respective places, it has been documented that they may not be motivated to do so without some form of effective regulation or incentive (Eck and Eck, 2012). Indeed, it may even be the case that place managers in high-crime places do not hold the necessary knowledge to implement change that would effectively reduce the occurrence of crime in their places. This point may go some way towards explaining the tendency for high-crime places to remain high-crime places over time (Eck and Guerette, 2014). Relatedly, there is some empirical evidence that incentivizing place managers to change their practices can result in significant reductions in crime (Eck and Wartell, 1998; Mazerolle et al., 1998). As such, it is vital to consider the specific mechanisms by which place managers can be activated to perform functions related to crime prevention.

One of the most prominent mechanisms is the implementation of regulation procedures, which involve the extensive monitoring of high-crime places to hold managers accountable for any criminal activity that occurs. The use of regulatory approaches is widespread in other areas, including health, taxation, and finance (Mazerolle and Ransley, 2012), although it has been suggested that environmental policy is the field that holds the most import for crime prevention (Eck and Eck, 2012). Partly, this is due to the focus of environmental policy on places, rather than individuals. Mazerolle and Ransley (2012) highlight how regulatory approaches originally developed in response to heavy industrialization in the 19th and early 20th centuries, when the aim was to reduce the harms caused by unsafe factories and working conditions, as opposed to punishing individuals for specific instances of malpractice. This aim reflects the priority of regulators to secure the safety and well-being of the wider population, rather than simply holding offenders accountable for their actions (Eck and Eck, 2012).

This is indicative of the wider scope of regulatory approaches, whereby efforts are made to prevent the exporting of costs to those who are not responsible. Eck (2018) discusses how ineffective place managers may regularly export the costs of crime to wider populations (e.g., neighboring businesses and residents), resulting in negative externalities. Externalities are a key consideration within pollution abatement theory, a perspective that is appropriate for guiding the implementation of regulatory schemes in high-crime places. Although all transactions involve externalities, categorized as either exported costs or exported benefits, exported costs are the primary concern with high-crime places as this is the method by which a business creates profit or reduces the cost of its activity (Farrell and Roman, 2006). For example, a retail store manager will take pains to ensure that their most attractive and profitable items are prominently displayed and accessible, but will then contact the police should one of these items be stolen, incurring no responsibility unto themselves in the process. These externalities are exported as the cost (crime in this instance) is not borne solely by the owner of the place, and often impacts local businesses, residents, and even the tax-paying public.

Expanding on this, Eck and Eck (2012) describe four types of cost stemming from high-crime places: costs borne by victims (direct victimization), costs of responding to crime (incurred by taxpayers), costs borne by neighboring places (e.g., reputation), and costs to the offenders themselves (e.g., imprisonment, loss of income). Regulatory approaches have been proposed as the best method for ensuring that place managers are held accountable for the costs of crime generated by their places, instead of externalizing it. However, the efficacy of place management depends a great deal upon place managers fully accepting their responsibility for crime prevention, which may also influence their receptivity towards regulatory schemes. Manning et al. (2016) demonstrated how place managers in Brisbane, Australia, consistently underreported crimes to police to avoid being subjected to civil sanctions. This example highlights the importance of tailoring regulatory schemes to the specific characteristics of the high-crime place, and the unintended consequences that may occur should this not be considered.

This principle connects to various policing paradigms, namely problem-oriented policing (Goldstein, 1979) and third-party policing (Mazerolle and Ransley, 2005). Third-party policing is particularly relevant regarding place managers as it developed from the recognition that police cannot fully prevent crime by themselves (Mazerolle and Ransley, 2005). It has been suggested that attempts to mobilize the wider community against crime is a form of decentralization in how governments approach crime problems (Weisburd, 2008). In practice, the activation of place managers through third-party policing usually entails the use of civil ordinances. This is an especially pressing matter given the potential negative side effects that can result from pressuring place managers to reduce crime without giving them clear and effective guidance.

Relatedly, Eck (2018) proposes guidelines for the regulation of high-crime places and compares means-based regulation to ends-based regulation. Within means-based regulation schemes, regulators are primarily concerned with ensuring place managers adhere to the practices that have been approved for use by the regulating body (Eck, 2018). This form of regulation inherently assumes that the approved practice will result in crime reduction benefits so long as the practice is adhered to by the place manager. This means it is important to ensure that approved practices are based firmly on empirical evidence and are assessed thoroughly prior to their implementation. Means-based regulation can rely upon methods of command and control, where specific practices are forbidden and violations are penalized, or subsidies, where particular practices are encouraged and adherence is rewarded (Eck, 2018).

Alternatively, ends-based regulations are focused solely upon the outcome, where failure is met with punishment, and success is met with an appropriate reward. In this form of regulation, the means by which the targets are met are largely left to the discretion of the place manager (Eck, 2018). As a result, unforeseen consequences may arise. For example, the implementation of the Beat Health Program resulted in treatment blocks experiencing a higher number of evictions than control blocks (Mazerolle et al., 1998). This disparity was attributed to the civil ordinances that were used to coerce place managers to meet crime reduction targets, which ultimately led to landlords evicting tenants they perceived to be troublesome (Mazerolle et al., 1998). A more recent study, conducted in Chula Vista, California, found a similar pattern when call limits were imposed upon motels generating high numbers of calls to the police (Bichler et al., 2013).

To prevent this type of negative consequence, it is essential that place managers are provided with the necessary knowledge to function effectively in a crime prevention role. Third-party policing can include police educating external parties on effective practice, reflecting the transition into shared responsibility for crime prevention (Mazerolle and Ransley, 2005). This would ideally take the form of a program that provides place managers with information related to the extent of their responsibilities and the practical knowledge necessary to manage high-crime places, potentially including lessons related to effective surveillance and creating a space defensible to crime (Welsh and Farrington, 2009). Despite the limited number of rigorous evaluations related to third-party policing, the evidence appears to suggest that positive cooperation and the sharing of vital information among law enforcement, civil agencies, and place managers is key for crime prevention (Mazerolle and Ransley, 2005; Weisburd and Majmunder, 2018).

Discussion and Conclusions

This paper set out to examine the theoretical and empirical status of the situational crime prevention technique of place managers. We were motivated to develop a greater understanding of the potential for place manager interventions to be implemented and evaluated, as well as to explore a promising mechanism—in the form of regulatory frameworks—to help place managers in performing roles related to the prevention of crime. Our review indicates that place managers benefit from substantial theoretical development, and have important connections to the criminal opportunity perspective, situational crime prevention, and third-party policing. However, this theoretical development has not been translated into sufficient evaluation research.

One could surmise that the substantial theoretical development of place managers would lend itself to tests of program effects, but this has not been the case. This lack of evaluation research is compounded when one considers the extent of the literature regarding the manner in which place manager’s actions may be monitored or regulated. Drawing upon the principles that underlie third-party policing and pollution abatement policies, it has been suggested that the regulation of place managers by official bodies may represent a policy approach that takes advantage of the evidence regarding the spatial concentration of crime (Eck, 2018), and may also reduce the likelihood of conflict between police and citizens in high-crime places (Welsh and Farrington, 2009). Considering this, we next explore some directions for research and policy.

Directions for research

There are a number of relevant evaluations on the effectiveness of civil ordinances, however, the role of police in enforcing these ordinances means that any crime reduction benefits may not be directly attributable to the actions of the place manager themselves. It may be said that the majority of attempts to activate place managers in a preventive capacity include some form of civil enforcement or encouragement, but there is a substantial difference among regular police visits to high-crime establishments (Mazerolle et al., 1998), a notice of a potential fee being mailed to such an establishment (Payne, 2015), and action taken by the place manager of their own accord. This is an element that research has yet to clearly define, and further research on the direct effects of place managers on crime (separate from police influence) would assist in clarifying their effectiveness regarding crime prevention.

Although it is important to clarify the direct effects of place managers on crime, regulation of place managers is also a vital avenue for future research. Eck’s (2018) discussion of regulation procedures comprehensively weighs means- and ends-based mechanisms, but there is little research regarding the effectiveness of these procedures in activating place managers to prevent crime in proprietary places. We posit that how a place manager perceives their crime prevention role has a major influence in determining their effectiveness, and it has already been identified that this perception may shift according to the type of place (Eck, 2018), as well as the place manager’s individual level of responsibility (Felson, 1995). Additionally, place manager’s perceptions may be altered according to the form of regulation to which they are subjected. Some prior research notes that ends-based regulations may lead to unintentional side effects and social harms, including the potential for evictions (Bichler et al., 2013; Mazerolle et al., 1998). This is another important priority for future research.

Directions for policy

The place-based crime literature attempts to conceive of ways to address high-crime places, whether proximal or proprietary, that take advantage of the current research evidence regarding the spatial concentration of crime. Partly, this is a reflection of the rising demands on police agencies that have caused both police leaders and policy-makers to think more carefully about how police agencies should focus their resources and perform their roles, while still achieving their crime reduction aims. In a sense, limited police resources have aided the development of a number of innovative strategies that aim to assist police through the sharing of responsibility for crime with external parties (e.g., place managers) (Webster, 2015).

Rather than focusing upon the actions of criminal suspects who commit crime, it has been suggested that police time would be better spent on evaluating and holding to account the manager of the place where the crime occurred (Mazerolle and Ransley, 2005). This notion ties directly into a policy suggestion by Lum and Koper (2017) in the context of evidence-based policing. Specifically, they advocate that police make use of a ‘Case of Place’ approach, where high-crime places are identified, tracked, and charged in the same manner as a high-crime suspect. Key to this strategy would be the identification and activation of the responsible place manager, who would be required to engage in crime prevention or face some type of civil charge. This would be an intensive form of place regulation, but it would allow police agencies to utilize their resources efficiently, and could lead to similar crime reduction benefits that have been found in prior research on the use of civil ordinances (Bichler et al., 2013; Mazerolle et al., 1998).

Place managers may also be well positioned to assist police in cultivating a positive relationship with citizens in high-crime places. Considering the negative side effects that may result from over-policing in high-crime areas (Braga and Weisburd, 2010), the fact that place managers can operate independently of police means that agencies can develop strategies to target crime while simultaneously reducing the potential for conflict that often results from adding greater numbers of police. Further, it has been recognized that place managers can potentially lead to greater social cohesion in these areas, as they represent a less intrusive measure of surveillance and are less likely to be a source of conflict for local residents in the area (Welsh and Farrington, 2009). Taking into account the benefits that can result from activating place managers in this capacity, the time is now ripe for a program of evaluation research to test place managers as a viable situational crime prevention technique.


We are grateful to the journal editor and the anonymous reviewers for helpful comments.


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