The Everyday Activities That Bind for Crime: Investigating the Process of Routine Activities at Specific Places

Ajima Olaghere

Advisor: Cynthia Lum, PhD, Department of Criminology, Law and Society

Committee Members: Devon Johnson, David B. Wilson, Lynne Schrum

Research Hall, #302
April 21, 2015, 10:00 AM to 07:00 AM


This dissertation explores why and how crime events routinely occur at specific places in high crime areas, such as street blocks, addresses, street corners, intersections. Specifically, this dissertation considers what human activities, behaviors, routines, and the types of environments these activities interact with to contribute to crime occurring at these places. Routine activities theory and environmental criminology suggest that crime is a process created through opportunities stemming from daily human routines or the convergence of offender, target, and ineffective guardianship behaviors. Furthermore, these opportunities for crime are sustained, enhanced, or limited based on surrounding physical and environmental features of where crimes occur. Many scholars have attempted to test the salience of this theory using spatial data analysis, quantitative data analysis, and computer simulation modeling (Lum, 2003; Cahill, 2004; Groff, 2007; Groff, 2008; Bosse, Elffers, Gerritsen, 2010). However, these methods often fall short of actually observing behavior because the methods employed involved using theoretical constructs and administrative data to model and estimate human behaviors, activities, and routines. 
To remedy this methodological challenge, this dissertation uses systematic social observation (SSO) of archived closed circuit television (CCTV) footage of crime events in Baltimore City to understand how daily routines lead to crime in places where crime tends to concentrate. This feasible and practical approach serves as the best possible and safest approach to explore the salience of routine activities theory and environmental criminology, short of observing routines in real time that unfold into crimes.  Given constraints agreed to by the police agency, 100 crime events were purposively selected from a collection of the Baltimore Police Department’s (BPD) archived footage using the following criteria: (1) the crime event was archived, (2) adjudicated, and (3) the CCTV cameras were in close proximity to approximate clustering. Systematic observations of each archived crime event were completed using a theoretically informed instrumentation site at a CCTV monitoring station for six and half months, culminating in over 2,340 hours of data collection of 397 hours of actual footage.  
Qualitative and exploratory data analysis produced findings largely about the routines leading up to drug crime events (74%). Findings also revealed a specific routine or standing pattern of behavior present in certain drug crime events involving three or more dealers on street block corners. These findings, while exploratory, have implications for routine activities theory and crime pattern theory, future research, and practice.