Measure type: Controlling disinhibitors

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Controlling disinhibitors is the measure of reducing risk by removing or regulating disinhibiting substances or circumstances.


Disinhibitors can be defined as substances or circumstances that decrease the inhibitions of an offender to commit crimes. Studies[1] have shown that drugs, but above all alcohol are conductive to some forms of crime[2], particularly violent crimes.

It should be noted that not only behaviour-altering substances can influence natural inhibitions, but for instance untidy environments or environments in disrepair can stimulate vandalism and other crimes.

Cluttered, untidy and unstructured spots attract crime

In addition to this, environmental conditions, like overly high temperatures in crowds or gatherings, can affect the public's mood and decrease inhibitions to aggressive behaviour.

Alcohol can be an important disinhibitor of vandalism and other unwanted behaviour


  • School restroom thermostats kept at 17°C
  • Repainting of playground equipment in bright colours
  • Beautification programs (e.g., landscaping, painting, maintenance)


Security issues where this measure can be effective and influenced by the urban planner, are:

Financial gain Boredom or compulsive behaviour Impulse Conflict in beliefs
Burglary Physical assault Destruction by riots Mass killing
Ram-raiding Sexual assault Destruction of property by fanatics
Pickpocketing Vandalism
Robbery Graffiti
Raid Antisocial Behaviour
Vehicle theft


General considerations

In controlling disinhibitors one should be aware that at least part of the people will actively seek circumstances that will diminish their inhibitions. Any measure taken to control disinhibitors should be planned to include alternative sources of disinhibitors: early closing hours for the bars will not suffice if people can bring their own alcohol to alternative locations and 'party on'.

Urban planning considerations

Without a sense of ownership, good levels of maintenance and a clearly defined role, urban settings fall prey to opportunistic crimes. The absence of perceived restrictions, such inadequate surveillance measures and a lack of target hardening, will enable people to engage in anti-social or criminal behaviour.

Urban planning can be used to limit the instances of poor quality and ill-defined functional areas. This can ameliorate the perceived lack of inhibitors in line with the needs of the community as well as the area’s intended land use goals. The control of disinhibitors is directly tied into the application of other measures such as removing means and removal of crime motivators.

Safety/security considerations

Disinhibitors will not only affect the behaviour of people regarding criminal behaviour, but rather their behaviour in general. This means that controlling disinhibitors will generally not only affect security, but also safety: when people are more in control of their actions, accidents as a result of reckless driving or driving under influence will decrease as well as injuries as a result of rowdy behaviour or loss of balance due to intoxication.

Social considerations

Controlling disinhibitors is an example of the designing out approach, or as an aspect of sustainable design, which seeks a balanced consideration of social, economic, cultural and environmental aspects in urban design. An important social aspect is the responsiveness of the measure of controlling disinhibitors to citizens' felt security needs. The measure will only be responsive if based on identification of citizens' self-perceptions of vulnerability and resilience, and felt security gaps.

Practical addressing of social aspects and aspects of security culture in security-related urban planning can best be accomplished by appropriately involving citizens, based on a set of introduced methods of citizen participation as compiled by VITRUV. Ideally, planning for the measure of controlling disinhibitors should include usability tests in relevant social contexts. A practical method to support social considerations in planning for controlling of disinhibitors is, for example, the safety audit that focuses on local and context-specific solutions to address security issues.

Economic considerations

From a rational-economic perspective, behaviour-altering substances influence the natural inhibitions of individual agents in such a way that they do not think rational anymore. As a result, these agents do not longer perform a 'risk-benefit analysis' of a potential crime, resulting in for example aggression and violence. Untidy environments or environments in disrepair, on the other hand, are examples of inhibitors that help the criminal to act more or less anonymously and unwitnessed, which is (from a criminal perspective) a rational thing to do. Controlling disinhibitors as a type of security measure prevents people to make 'irrational' decisions in case of behaviour-altering substances, and prevents rational behaviour in case of 'crime-friendly' environments. This will not just prevent violence and crime in terms of economic damage, but will also prevent indirect economic damage to the economy as it contributes to a safe and whole environment, attracting economic activity (e.g. tourists, businesses, wealthy citizens, etc.).

As for all other security measures, there are also cost involved with the controlling of disinhibitors. These cost contain the relatively straightforward direct expenditures on capital equipment and operational cost (both temporary and permanent), and in addition generate various types of secondary effects. Considering the direct and indirect cost of security measures, one should always investigate if the potential benefits of the specific set of security measures outweigh its cost. Of course, the answer to this question depends on many factors and the specific situation. Nevertheless, two fundamental aspects of this economic analysis should always be part of this investigation. These aspects are:

  1. Are the envisioned measures cost effective from a socioeconomic point of view, or do there exist better alternatives?
  2. Which specific agents (individuals, companies, sectors, authorities) are affected by the envisioned measures, and to which extend? How do the envisioned measures change/alter the behaviour of these agents, and, of course, the behaviour of criminals/terrorists (in economic terms)?

Economic tools can help decision makers to answer these questions and to prevent wasteful expenditures on security (see the case example below). In terms of benefit-cost ratio, controlling disinhibitors can be considered as a type of security measure which in a relatively subtle way increases security, in contrast to measures such as security guards, big concrete walls and barb wire that may be pervasive, but can also arouse feelings of fear and anxiety[3]. Since this type of security measure belongs to the designing out approach, and is an aspect of sustainable design, it is a complex measure that in general demands larger initial investments than traditional security measures, but at the same time they are able to avoid future cost due to the long-term prevention of crime.

Case example: A statistical analysis of bar closing hours:

A Scandinavian study on the impact of small changes in bar closing hours on violence concluded that "each additional 1-hour extension to the opening times of premises is associated with a 16% increase in violent crime"[4]. Combined with the cost of an average violent event, one could relatively easily determine the socio-economic benefits of a decrease in opening hours as a measure to control disinhibitors. In order to determine the cost-effectiveness, though, one should for example include the decrease in revenues by commercial venues due to the limited opening hours, the lost of customers for taxi drivers, and so on.

Mobility considerations

Controlling disinhibitors can have a positive effect on driving behaviour and therefore on traffic. For example, if alcohol use can be reduced, traffic safety will be increased. Also creating a pleasant environment can improve the mood of drivers and their driver behaviour. This can for example create a smoother traffic flow with less accidents and congestion. Also, aggression in traffic is less likely to occur in a pleasant environment. A pleasant environment for traffic also means that the road layout should be understandable and easily driveable. An example of the opposite, a road lay-out which is not pleasant and might increase aggressiveness among drivers, is a narrow road with many narrowing sections where the right-of-way is not regulated. Drivers might get irritated at the narrowing sections when they don't get right-of-way, or try to enforce right of way.

Ethics considerations

Since not all disinhibitors have a criminal quality in themselves, removing disinhibitors may in some cases involve a risk of departure from normal liberal democratic standards. In general, pinpointing specific ethics aspects related to removing disinhibitors needs to consider, among other things, citizen security cultures and citizens' personal concerns. There are no ethics considerations that can be planned or implemented without prior identification and addressing of citizens' perceptions. To support this, VITRUV offers a commented list of methods to determine ethics aspects in relevant urban planning.

Legal considerations

Legal considerations when considering controlling disinhibitors measures are:

Footnotes and references

  1. Greenfield, Lawrence A, Alcohol and crime, and analysis of national data on the pravalence of alcohol involvement in crime, prepared for the Assistant Attorney General's National symposium on alcohol abuse and crim, April5-7, 1998, Washington D.C.
  2. About 1 in 3 convicted offender had been drinking alcohol at the time of their crime.
  3. Coaffee, J., P. O’Hare, and M. Hawkesworth (2009): The Visibility of (In)security: The Aesthetics of Planning Urban Defences Against Terrorism. Security Dialogue 2009 40:489.
  4. Rossow, I., T Noström (2011): The impact of small changes in bar closing hours on violence. The Norwegian experience from 18 cities. Society for the Study of Addiction.