Routine Activity Theory Implications on Increasing Crime Rate in Indian Society

Cohen and Folsen’s Routine Activity Theory of Crime, appeals to me at an intellectual level to understand the increasing rate of crime in Indian society. However, it contradicts my personal philosophy about human beings. The theory presumes that every human being basically has a criminal tendency and is capable of crime. I believe that human beings are inherently good and each human being irrespective of the crimes they have committed is capable of good deeds. Hence, I will try to discuss the theory without bias and balance the two opposing views. If I sound partial towards my philosophy, then forgive me from the goodness of your heart.

1.      Introduction

The theory was based on analysis of US crime data of 1947-1974. During this period the average income of families increased, number of people below poverty line decreased, education levels improved, and unemployment levels decreased. However, the rate of violent crime in urban areas   increased – rape (174%), assault (164%), robbery (263%) and homicide (188%).

The Indian urban society is showing similar trends since liberalization in 1990s. While growth, income, economy, facilities, education etc. has significantly improved in urban areas, the rate of crime has increased exponentially. Before, in 1960s and 1970s, others would ostracize a middle class person if he were publicly involved in criminal activity. Now, nearly every second person is involved in a corrupt and unethical activity openly. Though we blame it on deteriorating social values, this theory helps us understand why we compromise the values and participate in a crime.

2.      Concept

The theory states that “structural changes in routine activity patterns can influence crime rates by affecting the convergence in space and time of three minimal elements of direct contact predatory violations: (1) motivated offenders, (2) suitable targets, and (3) the absence of capable guardians against a violation”. Lack of any one of these reduces crime. However, the level of control exercised by the guardians has a direct impact on crime. Even if motivated offenders and suitable targets remain the same, if control reduces, crime increases. The theory states that income of the offender does not have any impact on his desire to commit crime and contradicts the popular notion that people with less income have a higher propensity to commit crime.

Source: Wikepedia

Now this can be understood in Indian context. The number of people living away from their traditional homeland has increased as more people are living in nuclear families or as singles in different cities. The change in social behavior has changed the routine activity of people as social controls of family and community have decreased. These aspects reduce the worry of motivated offenders on how their community will judge them if they participate in unethical behavior. Secondly, the same aspect makes suitable targets more vulnerable to crime as protective layers have reduced. Hence, due to this changing social structure, motivated offenders and suitable targets have both increased. With it, the corruption in law enforcement agencies has reduced control. The sum total of it all has increased the crime rates in Indian urban areas.

3.      Effect

Then the theory states that motivated offenders cooperate to strengthen their efficiency in criminal activities. On the other hand, the potential victims join hands to gain collective strength to protect themselves from the attack. The challenge becomes bigger for potential victims when high-net worth individuals undertake criminal activities. The potential victims risk of victimization increases.

From the Indian context, the driver for change in social values has been the thirst for money and power. The higher level of ambition for being powerful and materialistically successful has motivated people to break the traditional social norms and move towards corruption and crime. Previously, the lack of a good criminal justice system was compensated by strict controls from family and community. Now all the three guardians have decreased control and the value of rewards gained from criminal activity is high. The other factor to consider is that voluntary help groups and social support groups are less in India; hence, the potential victims do not get the desired protection. As Cohen said – “it is ironic that the very factors which increase an opportunity to enjoy the benefits of life may also increase the opportunities for predatory violations”. Crime has become the by-product of freedom and prosperity as it has enmeshed itself in routine activities of daily life in Indian urban society.

Closing Thoughts

My personal belief is that for every action, especially criminal or unethical activity, a person needs to ask whether they need to involve themselves in it. When one accepts rewards for the wrong reasons, one cannot avoid punishment for the wrong reasons also. Hence, why go for the wrong rewards in the first place; and if one has received them, why not return them? When one is in a financially strong position and survival does not depend on income from criminal activity, why not refuse to undertake that activity. No one can involve another in a criminal activity if the participants do not wish for any monetary benefits. Hence, to enjoy the benefits of life, say no to crime and unethical activities.


Routine activity theory – Crime Prevention Division – By Cohen and Folsen