Measure: Target removal

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Target removal is the measure of reducing risk by either removing the perceived attractive aspects from an attractive object, or removing the object as a whole.


If appropriately employed, target removal is one of most effective approaches to crime prevention[1], as it removes the object or subject suited to commit the crime to.


  • Removal of money-carrying devices such as pay phones from high-loitering areas
    Replacement of money pay phones by phones accepting only electronic payments can effectively reduce theft.
  • Omission of ground-level windows against vandalism
  • Concealing or placing out of reach of vulnerable parts
  • Using inlaid signs instead of mounted signs against vandalism
  • Removal of vandalism-prone street furniture, plants or fixtures or replacing them with less attractive targets
  • Removing people vulnerable for robbery and/or assault from high-risk locations by providing alternative routes or means of transport.
  • Removing masses as attractive target for fanatics by designing out crowds and busy places


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

There are no specific environmental conditions required to make target removal effective, but a good target removal measure does require a good understanding what makes a situation attractive for a perpetrator and some creativity to remove the attractiveness of a target without impairing the function of the object (too much).

Urban planning considerations

Urban planning must consider how groups which are particularly vulnerable to criminal acts (women, the elderly etc.) can be removed from high risk locations. This could mean removing needs for such groups to visit these places. For example, bus stops should not be located in isolated areas where potential for entrapment is high. In addition, public facilities such as restrooms, benches and luggage lockers should not be placed in locations of poor visibility where people have the opportunity to loiter. Urban planning should seek to strike a balance between removing a positive contribution to the urban area (e.g. a bus stop) set against the impact such an action may/may not have on reducing crime at this location.

Safety/security considerations

Some targets might serve a role in providing safety, such as fire extinguishers that are regularly vandalised. Removing these should be done only after considering their effect on safety.

Social considerations

Target removal is an example of the designing out approach, or an aspect of sustainable design, which seeks a balanced consideration of social, economic, cultural, and environmental aspects in urban design. For related measures to be effective and accepted by the public, the need to be responsive to the prevailing security culture. This 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 target removal should include usability tests in relevant social contexts. The safety audit is one of the practical measures that could be used.

Economic considerations

Target removal deters security threats and mitigates its effects, preventing material and immaterial damage for (potential) victims, and secondary economic damage to local and regional economies (in terms of e.g. a decrease in investments by companies or the relocation of resources). Graffiti, for example, can have a significant negative impact on real estate prices, on local businesses (as consumers decide to shop in other places), and can lead to the potential loss of funding for community organisation, youth groups and school programs.

At the same time, however, security measures demand an investment in time, capital and effort by private agents, companies/developers and the public authorities, exacting economic cost. These cost contain the relatively straightforward direct expenditures on capital equipment and operational cost such as investments in mounted signs against vandalism or omission of ground-level windows. In addition, security measures can also generate negative indirect economic effects if they have a negative impact on, for example, the perceived security of citizens, consumers and investors, or if the measures influence the reachability of an area, etc.

Whether the act of target removal as a security measures makes sense from an economic point of view, depends on many factors and is case dependent (see the flow chart of an economic assessment). One should first of all compare the potential benefits and cost with other alternatives such as target hardening, access control or punishment. Secondly, one has to take into account which parties are affected by the act of removing means, who is paying for it, whose activities are affected by it, and so on. And last but not least, how the envisioned measure alters 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. In terms of benefit-cost ratio, target removal 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[2]. Since target removal belongs to the the designing out approach, and is as aspect of sustainable design, it seeks a balanced consideration of a variety of aspects in urban design. In general, this demands larger 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.

Mobility considerations

As described above, an example of target removal is removing people vulnerable for robbery and/or assault from high-risk locations by providing alternative routes or means of transport. For example, providing more means of public transport or new routes guiding around poor or dangerous areas. Another example, removing masses as attractive target for fanatics by designing out crowds and busy places, can be achieved by providing more open spaces and squares while avoiding areas/corners that cannot be overseen, or by making more areas of a city attractive by creating for example alternative shopping areas and places to go out in other parts of the city, including appropriate road and public transport means.

Ethics considerations

Removing targets can also mean to remove opportunities, such impacting citizens’ freedom to act. An increase in security may be echoed by an increase in restrictions. This needs to be assessed on a case by case basis that considers, 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 access control measures are:

  • Development management standards - Measures for target removal may conflict with standards that prescribe for example ground-floor window coverage
  • Appearance - Measures for target removal may conflict with appearance rules in situations where certain design elements are mandatory that would be conducive to certain forms of crime
  • Cultural heritage preservation - Cultural heritage rules may prevent taking some measures for target removal

Footnotes and references

  1. Poyner, Barry, what works in crime prevention: an overview of evaluations, crime prevention studies, 1993
  2. 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.