Preventive guardianship: being there is often enough

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


prof. dr. Henk Elffers

About prof. dr. Henk Elffers

Henk Elffers graduated in mathematical statistics at the University of Amsterdam; he fulfilled appointments as statistics consultant at Mathematisch Centrum Amsterdam (CWI), assistant-professor at the Faculty of Geography Utrecht, associate professor methodology of social science at the Law Faculty Erasmus University Rotterdam and professor of psychology of law at the Law Faculty of Antwerp University.

He published on reliability and validity of social science measurement, with an emphasis on self-report methods; multivariate methods; social-psychological models for rule compliance; tax evasion; simulation methods; rational choice; offenders’ location choice; guardianship; the relation judge – general public; displacement of crime.

His research interests focus on quality of criminological data, better conceptualisation of rational choice models for offender decision making in a spatial context, guardianship. Next to his NSCR appointment he is emeritus professor of empirical research into criminal law enforcement at VU University Amsterdam and adjoint-lecturer at the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice of Griffith University, QLD.

Henk is a member of the Empirical Legal Studies Cluster, the Criminal Events Cluster, the Spatial-temporal Cluster, the Computational Criminology Cluster and the Technological innovations (CRIME Lab) Cluster.

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