Monday, July 18, 2011

Crime Analysis 101: The Crime Triangle

Recently I started a series of posts I am calling Crime Analysis 101. This series of posts grew from a suggestion from fellow IACA member Jim Mallard who asked me to hit some crime analysis basics on the blog. I recently covered the SARA model and Problem Oriented Policing. In this post, I want to talk about the Crime Triangle.

If you remember the fire triangle from your high school science class, the illustration is similar. Just as it takes heat, oxygen and fuel to support a fire, there are three elements necessary for a crime to occur. You have to have a likely offender and a suitable victim coming together in a time/place. If you don’t have any one of these three parts: offender, victim, and place, a crime won’t occur. While it seems very basic at first glance, the crime triangle or problem analysis triangle as it’s sometimes called, is a very important component in understanding how a crime occurs.

Even more important than understanding how a crime occurred, the crime triangle is very important to developing a solution to complex crime problems. This is because there is an added component, an outer triangle that helps to further explain how crimes occur. Every Offender has a Handler, a person or entity that exercise control over them. This could be a spouse, a probation officer or a teacher. Every Victim has a Guardian, someone who watches over the victim. This could be the police, a store security guard, a parent or in most cases, the victim themselves. Every Place has a Manager, someone who exercises control over the location such as a store owner, a school principal or the manager of a nightclub.

Now let’s look at how the Crime Triangle works in a real world case from the sleepy little burg where I work. A number of years ago, we began having problems with a nightclub in our city. Patrons at the club were creating a significant crime problem, mainly in the parking area of the club with numerous fights and assaults between the patrons. Before the end of the problem, we’d seen two murders, one accidental shooting death and a significant number of assaults. As the problems began to build, we began some of the traditional responses to such a problem. We added more officers to the area on nights the club was open and even organized sweeps of the parking area to arrest patrons for offenses such as public intoxication, underage drinking and other nuisance offenses.

Even with these traditional police responses, we still had problems with this club. This is because we had different offenders and different victims interacting at the same place. We could go in and arrest people all night long and more offenders would take their place and the disorder would continue. The one commonality was that these different offenders and different victims were all interacting at one place, the parking area of the nightclub. As the book Crime Analysis For Problem Solvers put it:
“Repeat location problems involve different offenders and different targets interacting at the same place. These are DEN of iniquity problems. A drinking establishment that has many fights, but always among different people, is an example of a pure den problem. Den problems occur when new potential offenders and new potential targets encounter each other in a place where management is ineffective. The setting continues to facilitate the problem events.”
The problem was the management of the Place was ineffective. We then began to pressure the owners of the club to make changes to exercise more control over their parking area. After repeated unsuccessful attempts to gain cooperation, we were forced to take drastic measures when we brought the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC) and the commanders of the local military base into the mix. TABC controls liquor licensing of nightclubs in Texas and can revoke a club’s liquor license if a club becomes a significant nuisance. The local military authorities can place a location in an “off limits” status for military members if a location is a danger to the welfare of military members.

In this case, we ended up removing the Place side of the crime triangle for this crime problem by seeing their liquor license revoked and their customers disappear causing the club to close and this crime problem to disappear.

Do you have a tough problem crime in your jurisdiction? Have you examined it through the lens of the crime triangle? Which side would be the easiest to remove to solve this problem?


  1. I was unsure of what exactly a crime triangle is and needed to know for a paper for school. Your explanation was succinct and your example was brilliant for students in applied classes. Thanks!

  2. Christine, Wow! That's high praise. Thanks for the kind words.


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