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

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


  • School restroom thermostats kept at 62°F
  • 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{{#info:Burglary is the crime of illicitly entering a building with the intent to commit an offence, particularly (but not limited to) theft.}} Physical assault{{#info:Assault, is a crime which involves causing a victim to fear or to experience any type of violence, except for sexual violence}} Destruction by riots{{#info:Destruction by riots is the act of vandalism of property by organised groups for a shared rational or rationalised reason.}} Mass killing{{#info:Mass killing is the crime of purposely causing harm or death to a group of (unknown) people in order to make a statement or to influence the public opinion. This threat is exerted out of wilful action by fanatics: terrorists or criminal activists.}}
Ram-raiding{{#info:Ram raid is a particular technique for burglars to gain access to primarily commercial premises, by means of driving -usually stolen- vehicles into locked or closed entrances, exits or windows.}} Sexual assault{{#info:Sexual assault is assault of a sexual nature on another person, or any sexual act committed without consent}} Destruction of property by fanatics{{#info:Destruction by fanatics is the crime of purposely causing damage in order to make a statement or to influence the public opinion.}}
Pickpocketing{{#info:Pickpocketing is a form of theft that involves the stealing of valuables from a victim without their noticing the theft at the time. }} Vandalism{{#info:Vandalism is the act of wilful or malicious destruction, injury, disfigurement, or defacement of property without the consent of the owner or person having custody or control.}}
Robbery{{#info:Robbery is the crime of taking or attempting to take something of value by force or threat of force or by putting the victim in fear. It is used her exclusively for acts committed to individual persons.}} Graffiti{{#info:Grafitti is the defacement of property by means of writing or drawings scribbled, scratched, or sprayed on a surface in a public place without the consent of the owner or person having custody or control. }}
Raid{{#info:Raid is the crime of taking or attempting to take something of value from a commercial venue by force or threat of force or by putting the victim in fear.}} Antisocial Behaviour{{#info:Antisocial behaviour is an accumulation category of relatively small crimes that highly influence the security perception of citizens. }}
Vehicle theft{{#info:Vehicle theft is the crime of theft, or attempt of theft of or from a motor vehicle (automobile, truck, bus, motorcycle, etc.).}}


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

Poorly planned urban spaces can have an instrumental role in the disinhibition of anti-social or criminal behaviour. In this situation, urban planning must be used to limit the incidences of poor quality urban spaces through the encouragement of good quality urban areas which can function as an inhibitor to criminal or anti-social activities.

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

An important social aspect is the responsiveness of the measure to citizens' felt security needs. Measures will only be responsive if they are based on identification of citizens’ self-perceptions of vulnerability and resilience and their relation to/interaction with resilience-enhancing measures centred on built infrastructure.

Related 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 should include tests of usability of respective resilience-enhanced built infrastructure in relevant social contexts.

Economic considerations

Controlling disinhibitors (see example below) deters and mitigates security threats. There are, however, costs involved with the improvement of urban security, also referred to as the "Costs of Mitigation"[3], Together these benefits and costs are referred to as economic impact of security measures. The costs of controlling disinhibitors contains the relatively straightforward direct expenditures on capital equipment and operational costs (both temporary and permanent), and in addition generate various types of secondary effects. Whether the costs are making sense from an economic point of view, depends on many factors, and can be answered by two distinct sets of questions:

  1. Are the envisioned measures cost effective from a socio-economic point of view, or are there 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 alter the behaviour of these agents, and, of course, the behaviour of criminals/terrorists?

Economic tools can help decision makers to answer these questions and to prevent wasteful expenditures on security (of course in collaboration with insights from criminology, sociology, etc.). 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[4]. Hence, 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. In general, these kind of measures demand larger initial investments than traditional security measures, but at the same time they are able to avoid future costs 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"[5]. 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

Ethics considerations

Since not all disinhibitors have a criminal quality in themselves, removing motivators may in some cases involve a risk of departure from normal liberal democratic standards (such as protection of liberties).

In general, pinpointing specific ethics aspects in resilience-enhancing measures 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

A prior legal consideration is the tight to deny substances to people and how this may interfere, for example, with the fundamental right of freedom of action. VITRUV offers a summary checklist and a list of methods to assess legal aspects in resilience-enhancing urban planning.

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. Source: Rose, A & S. Chatterjee (2011). Benefits and Costs of Counter-Terrorism Security Measures in Urban Areas. Research sponsor: Department of Homeland Security: 6-7.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.