V. Future Directions
Although routine activities theory has informed a wealth of research to date, there are still many avenues of research yet to be exhausted. Several areas of research informed by routine activities theory are in their early stages. Guardianship is one of the earliest concepts within routine activities theory, yet there is relatively little understanding of the various forms of guardianship, when and where these forms are effective, and the means by which guardianship reduces crime. On a superficial level, guardianship appears to deter offending by increasing the likelihood the offender will be detected and sanctioned. As many guardians have limited authority, skills, or means to detect and sanction offenders, one may wonder whether (a) guardianship can be based on some other mechanism other than deterrence or (b) many of the examples of guardianship we assume are effective are really guarding; perhaps other things are preventing crime. More research needs to examine this topic.
Another area for research is the concepts of place manager and management. Recently, the Madensen ORCA model of management unpacks these concepts. It states that place management consists of four activities: (1) the Organization of physical space, (2) the Regulation of conduct, (3) the Control of access, and (4) the Acquisition of resources. The study of management and its influence on crime will have to address all four activities and merge crime science with business and management science.
Handlers have received very little attention by routine activity researchers, relative to guardians and managers, yet recent evidence suggests that they may have powerful influences on crime and crime patterns. Tillyer (2008) showed how the concept of handling can be used to reduce a wide variety of crime, from minor juvenile delinquency to group-related homicide.
Crime concentrations appear when none of the controllers is present or effective and offenders meet targets, but why is these controllers absent or ineffective? One answer might be that the controllers whom Rana Sampson (1987), a consultant on problem-oriented policing, calls super controllers are not exerting sufficient or the right influence on the controllers. Super controllers are people and institutions that control controllers. For example, a bartender and bar owner are managers, and the state liquor regulatory agency is one of their super controllers. Foster parents are handlers of children put in their care. Child welfare agencies act as their super controllers. A security guard is a guardian, and the company that hired the guard is a super controller. There is almost no research in this area, although it holds great promise for understanding crime and developing prevention.
Routine activities theory focuses on offenders making contact with targets at places. Some crimes, however, involve “crime at a distance.” Mail bombers, for example, do not come close to their targets. Internet fraudsters are able to steal from victims from anywhere in the world. Either routine activities theory is limited to place-based crimes or it needs revision. Eck and Clarke (2003) suggested that substituting system for place solves the problem. Systems connect people, and they are governed by managers. The mail bomber uses the postal system to contact his victim, and the Internet fraudster uses a system of networked computers. Research on routine activities in systems is in its infancy.
Although it is possible to study the contribution of elements of routine activities theory to the study of crime, it is impossible to empirically study all the elements interacting to create crime patterns. That is because even our best sources of information contain data on only one or two of the actors involved: offenders, targets, handlers, guardians, and managers. Also, the best data available are often highly aggregated and rife with errors. Computer simulations of crime patterns, however, provide a method for exploring how these parts interact in a dynamical system. This is a very new area of research that has spawned simulations of a wide variety of crime types: drug dealing, burglary, robbery, welfare fraud, and others (Liu & Eck, 2008).