Security threats

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The distinction between safety and security lies in the type of threat that is at the source of the risk. While security concerns risk due to human intent (wilful harmful acts), safety concerns all other risk. Shortly put, safety concerns protection from accidents, security concerns protection from criminal acts and actors. Criminal acts are all acts that have been criminalized by local, national or international laws and registrations. On the criminal acts page , the types of criminal acts and their impact on society have been described. The criminal actors page provides information on different types of perpetrators and their motivations and modus operandi. These motivations and modus operandi could provide insights and input on which measures can be used to mitigate different safety threats.

Whether a measure is a security measure or a safety measure, depends on the type of risk it is meant to mitigate. A reinforced window for example can be both:

  • When installed to prevent harm coming to the inhabitants coming from a gas tank accidentally exploding, it would be a safety measure.
  • When installed to protect the inhabitants from terrorist explosions, it would be a security measure.

A measure can also serve as a security and a safety measure at the same time. An example can be found in a door: the fire-delaying properties of the door might serve as a safety measure while the fact that it is protecting against unauthorized entry is a security measure.


Over the years, crime has been defined in many ways. There is no single definition of crime or of a criminal act per se. Acts that were punishable by law 80 years ago, are not considered to be a crime anymore today. Or when one country speaks of a criminal act, another country defines that same act as non deviant and normal (being a member of the LGBTQ community for instance). Therefore, within the criminological discourse and literature and on this website, the term criminalization of acts is often used. The types of acts that have been described, have been criminalized by several laws.[1]


A criminal, a term that has not been used in literature within the past decade, also known as a perpetrator, is an individual that conducts criminal behavior and thus deviating him or herself from society. Members of a society often see criminals as “the other”. They do not see themselves as part of the same group. Durkheim described the phenomenon of ‘moral superiority’ as a feeling of moral outrage towards the criminal ‘other’. These feelings functions as a positive social function, improving a sense of community among members of society.[2]


Preventing is better than healing. Preventing criminal acts often has a two-dimensional basis. When looking at the development phase of the criminal act itself and the type of actor, different types of prevention techniques can be used. Measures can either target the first dimension, being the target group (criminal actors, specific situations or potential victims) or target the second dimension, being the criminal act phase. Three phases can be distinguished in the development of a criminal acts. Within the primary phase, general precautionary measures can be used to prevent crime, targeting all actors, situations and victims. Secondary prevention can be used when the first symptoms of a specific type of act emerge, such as early interventions for violent adolescents or cameras monitoring possible threats. Tertiary measures for the prevention of criminal acts are used when the problem is already occurring or has occurred, in order to mitigate or prevent an active problem, such as using innovative technologies to monitor public places pre, during and after an incident. These tertiary measures can be used local law enforcement agencies  and/or urban event planners to prevent acts in multiple phases of an active security threat.[3]

Footnotes and references

  1. DiCristina, B. (2016). Criminology and the “Essence” of Crime: The views of Garofalo, Durkheim and Bonger. International Criminal Justice Review, 26(4), Pp. 297-315.
  2. Durkheim, E. (1893). De la division du travail sovial. – s.l.;s.n.
  3. Dijk, van. J. et al. (2009). Actuele Criminologie. Den Haag: Sdu Uitgevers.