Sporting events and the spatial patterning of crime in South Africa: local interpretations and international implications.

Author:Breetzke, Gregory


Research in several countries has investigated the relationship between the occurrence of sporting events and crime (Braaf and Gilbert 2007; Drake and Pandey 1996; Fernquist 2000; Kirk 2008; Lin 2007; Sachs and Chu 2000). A wide variety of crime types has been considered and, overall, this body of literature has largely demonstrated that the occurrence of a sporting event is generally correlated with an increase in the number of crimes. However, the majority of prior research investigating the relationship between sporting events and crime has examined this relationship at a citywide or state level of aggregation. Furthermore, past research has examined this relationship in developed locations and has not considered whether the occurrence of sporting events could affect crime levels in the context of less developed locations.

In this study, we contribute to this literature by using a Geographic Information Systems (GIS) approach to model the sporting event/ crime relationship at much finer levels of aggregation (i.e., stadium vicinity) as well as across the city as a whole. The geographic location under investigation is the city of Tshwane (population 2.2 million; 1,248 square miles) in South Africa. The city has one major sports arena, the Loftus Versfeld stadium, which hosts both rugby union and soccer. We will examine whether crime levels change on game days compared to non-games days and will consider whether the outcome of a home game affects the relationship between sporting game days and the number and seriousness of offences at these multiple spatial levels.

Understanding the sporting events/crime linkage

One key spatial theory of crime that can be used to explain the relationship between the occurrence of sporting events and crime is the routine activities (RA) theory (Cohen and Felson 1979). RA theory is an opportunity-based theory that argues the need for three elements to co-occur before a crime can ensue: the presence of a motivated offender, the presence of a suitable target, and the absence of a capable guardian. The likelihood that these three elements will come together varies across time, due to the existence of routine activities that may affect individual behaviour. These routines may be daily (e.g., time periods within a day in which an individual is at work or in school), weekly (e.g., weekday versus weekend routines), or even yearly (e.g., annual school calendars that determine when youth do and do not attend school). The theory suggests that when individuals are not engaged in normal routine activities, the likelihood that the three key elements will converge increases, which may affect opportunities for crime and victimization.

The theory has, not unexpectedly, been revised and expanded over the years. Felson (1986) drew from Hirschi's (1969) control theory to incorporate the concept of handlers, individuals who have a social bond, or handle, that links them to an offender in such a way that it allows them to exert some control over that offender and prevent crime. Essentially, Felson argued, a web of informal crime control involves four elements: a handled offender (someone who can both commit crimes and be handled or controlled by a handler), an intimate handler (someone who is close enough emotionally to the offender to grasp this handle), a suitable target, and a capable guardian. Felson (1987) then incorporated a place element into the theory, describing the concept of a metroquilt that can interfere with the delivery of crime opportunities to offenders and suggesting that not all places are equally receptive or amenable to crime. Eck (1994) further expanded the theory to incorporate a third type of crime discourager (in addition to guardians and handlers) by developing the concept of place managers, individuals who control or monitor locations (e.g., homeowners, neighbours, private security officers, building managers, receptionists). Eck's concept presents routine activity theory as involving three objects that are necessary for a crime (a motivated or likely offender, a suitable target, and an amenable place) and three elements that directly supervise and control these objects (a handler, a guardian, and a place manager, respectively). Crime is least likely to occur when each necessary object is directly controlled by the appropriate element, thus interfering with and discouraging crime. Felson (1995) then divided each type of controller into four categories of crime discouragers, based on their level of responsibility. Personal crime discouragers have some personal responsibility (e.g., friends, family, property owner); assigned discouragers are employees who are specifically assigned to the task of crime discouragement (e.g., private security, hotel doorman); diffuse discouragers are employees who are not specifically assigned to crime discouragement (e.g., store employees, accountants); and general discouragers are unpaid individuals who lack both personal ties and occupational responsibility (e.g., strangers, bystanders, customers). This created a total of 12 distinct types of crime discouragers, based on the object of supervision and the level of responsibility (Felson 1995). For example, personal guardians are individuals with a personal responsibility toward a suitable target (e.g., a shopper watching his or her purchases), personal handlers are individuals with a personal responsibility toward a likely offender (e.g., a parent preventing a child from being truant from school), and personal managers are individuals with a personal responsibility toward an amenable place (e.g., a homeowner monitoring near his or her home).

Although routine activities tend to be fairly stable, they may be changed or disrupted by a variety of events, such as the occurrence of sporting matches. Other special and/or rare events that may affect routine activities and, by extension, crime include major holidays (see e.g., Cohn and Rotton 2003); unusual weather occurrences, such as Hurricane Katrina (see, e.g., Varano, Schafer, Cancino, Decker, and Greene 2010; Kirk 2008) and the recent earthquakes in New Zealand (see e.g., Mathewson 2011); social interactions that spark riots, such as those occurring in England in 2011 (see e.g., Birch and Allen 2012; McKee and Raine 2011); and even technological failures, such as the 1977 New York City blackout and the blackout in the north-eastern United States in 2003 (see e.g., Genevie, Kaplan, Peck, Struening, Kallos, Muhlin, and Richardson 1987; McPhee 2003).

Essentially, these types of events encourage, or even force, changes in normal routines, affecting criminal opportunities either positively or negatively by affecting the co-occurrence of the key elements needed for a crime. Within the routine activities framework, there are several ways that sporting events could affect crime levels. First, sporting events attract a large number of spectators to a stadium and to the area around it, thereby increasing the number of suitable targets within the stadium vicinity. Because many sporting events, including those held at the Loftus Versfeld stadium (capacity 51,000) in Tshwane, are often associated with tailgate parties (1) that begin several hours before the start of the game, these potential targets are at risk of victimization for a much longer period than just the duration of the game itself. At the citywide level, sporting events can bring family members and friends into close and sometimes intense proximity, either at local sports bars, taverns, and restaurants or at a family member or friend's home where people gather to watch the event on television. The concatenation of suitable targets, motivated offenders, and possibly alcohol may increase the opportunities for violence involving family members and acquaintances.

Second, a sudden influx of people into a relatively small area (i.e., the vicinity of a sports stadium) is likely to increase the number of motivated offenders. Activity nodes such as sports stadiums and shopping malls are well known to attract offenders, as the larger number of people in a confined area does, by its very nature, create an environment that increases opportunities for criminal activities (Brantingham and Brantingham 1995; Lin 2007).

Third, when fans travel to a stadium or converge at bars or taverns to watch the event, their homes are often left unoccupied, leading to an absence of capable guardians and thus increasing their vulnerability to property crimes such as burglary. Similarly, motor vehicles parked in the vicinity of the stadium or elsewhere are unguarded and more vulnerable to crimes such as motor vehicle theft or theft from vehicle. While capable guardians in the form of police and stadium security often have a strong presence in and around stadiums, they are crime discouragers whose task is to focus on crime discouragement in and around the stadium (see Felson 1995). As a result, their influence could diminish as the distance from the stadium increases.

Obviously, the presence of large numbers of spectators in and immediately around the stadium may also increase guardianship. However, Reynald (2010) suggests that there are several key factors that affect guardians' willingness and ability to disrupt possible criminal opportunities. These include the willingness to supervise, the ability to detect potential offenders, and the willingness to intervene when necessary. It may be that these factors are not always present at sporting events. First, Reynald found that individuals who were willing to supervise and intervene tended to be motivated by a sense of responsibility for their neighbours and their community, something that is less likely to occur at a sporting event than in a residential community. Second, Reynald found that the ability to detect potential offenders appears to be determined, in part, by the extent to which possible guardians are familiar with their context and thus able to identify...

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