As a citizen, you can prevent a crime simply by being there. NSCR researcher Henk Elffers argues in the Tijdschrift voor Veiligheid that we should not underestimate the importance of the citizen as a so-called guardian.
‘The police cannot do it alone’ is a frequently heard cry. This means that citizens can also be expected to play a role in the fight against crime. Initiatives like Burgernet or Report crime anonymously, are mainly aimed at the help of citizens if a crime has already taken place, for example in detecting the perpetrator.
The role of citizens in the prevention of a crime
In the article Preventive guardianship: being there is often enough, Elffers looks at the possible role of citizens in the prevention of crime. Simply because people are present somewhere, a crime does not take place. In many cases, offenders do not want to commit their misdeeds in sight of others. They are aware that when they are seen, consequences might follow. Not only can such a citizen intervene himself and thereby fail the execution, but he or she can also warn the police and ensure that a successful crime is resolved and the perpetrator is prosecuted.
Preventive guardianship versus police presence
Interestingly, as a guardian, you do not have to be aware of your role as the precursor of a crime. Your presence is often enough. Sometimes even the threat that you might be there or could come any time, is enough to keep a perpetrator from bad behavior. Elffers argues that this ‘preventative guardianship’ is much more important than the presence of the police.
Measures to strengthen the guardianship
Many people find the image above too optimistic. In the Tijdschrift voor Veiligheid a number of counter-arguments are discussed and refuted. For example the arguments that there are also areas where there are few or no guardians, that not everyone is able to act effectively as a guardian, that people do not always pay attention, and that people are not willing or do not dare to function as a guardian. Finally, Elffers discusses which measures can improve and strengthen the guardianship.
Publication details and further reading
Elffers, H. (2017) Over preventief guardianship: er zijn is vaak genoeg. Tijdschrift voor Veiligheid 2017, 4
- 1&2 October: Guardianship before, during and after a criminal event - September 1, 2019
- Preventive guardianship: being there is often enough - March 5, 2018
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Journal of Experimental Criminology, 10 (1), pp. jan-28, 2013.