Environmental criminology focuses on criminal patterns within particular built environments and analyzes the impacts of these external variables on people's cognitive behavior. It forms a part of criminology's Positivist School in that it applies the scientific method to examine the society that causes crime.
Environmental criminology is the study of crime, criminality, and victimization as they relate, first, to particular places, and secondly, to the way that individuals and organizations shape their activities spatially, and in so doing are in turn influenced by place-based or spatial factors.
The environmental criminology approach was developed in the 1980s by Paul and Patricia Brantingham, putting focus of criminological study on environmental or context factors that can influence criminal activity. These include space (geography), time, law, offender, and target or victim. These five components are a necessary and sufficient condition, for without one, the other four, even together, will not constitute a criminal incident (Brantingham & Brantingham: 1991). Despite the obvious multi-faceted nature of crime, scholars and practitioners often attempt to study them separately. For instance, lawyers and political scientists focus on the legal dimension; sociologists, psychologists and civil rights groups generally look to the offenders and victims, while geographers concentrate upon the location of the event. Environmental criminologists examine the place and the time when the crime happened. They are interested in land usage, traffic patterns and street design, and the daily activities and movements of victims and offenders. Environmental criminologists often use maps to look for crime patterns, for example, using metric topology. (Verma & Lodha: 2002)
The study of the spatial patterns of crime and criminality has a long history. In the Chicago School, Robert Ezra Park, Ernest Burgess, and other urban sociologists developed the concentric zones model, and considered geographic factors in study of juvenile delinquency.
Geography was also considered in law enforcement, through use of large pin maps to show where crime incidents occurred. Mapping and analysis of crime is now entering a new phase with the use of computerized crime mapping systems by the police and researchers, with environmental criminology theories playing an important part in how crime patterns are understood. Other practical applications of environmental criminology theory include geographic profiling, which is premised on the idea that criminals take into account geographic factors in deciding where to commit crimes. (Bartol and Bartol, 2006)
Crime prevention through environmental design (CPTED) is another practical application, based on the idea that situational factors such as the environment (poor lighting) can make crime more likely to occur at a particular time and place. CPTED measures to reduce the likelihood can include added lighting, making the place less conducive for crime.
Concentrated areas of high level of crime, known as crime hot spots, may have situational factors that help explain why the particular place is a problem. Could be that the place is poorly supervised, has poor "place management", has poor lighting or other characteristics. Changing some of those situational factors may help reduce levels of crime in that place.