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Crime prevention in the EU

It is the Commission's wish that this communication will advance efforts to prevent volume crime, i.e. juvenile, urban and drug-related crime.

ACT

Communication from the Commission to the Council and the European Parliament - Crime prevention in the European Union.

SUMMARY

Crimes such as domestic burglaries, thefts from vehicles, common assault and street robberies are among the primary concerns of European citizens. These crimes fall under the three broad priority areas identified by the Tampere European Council: juvenile, urban and drug-related crime.

This communication discusses how to prevent * these types of crime, which are referred to as volume (non-organised crime) crime * because they include all types of frequent crimes whose victims are easily identifiable. Volume crime generally targets property and is often accompanied by physical violence. The seriousness of this type of crime should not be underestimated: the financial cost to society is high, and it is often the first step down the road to more serious forms of crime, such as organised crime.

Trends in crime

The nature and volume of crime at European Union level can be measured by two main sources: (i) official crime statistics registered by the police and (ii) the International Crime Victims Survey (ICVS). As regards the first source, it is not possible to compare absolute and relative numbers between Member States because of the many differences between Member States as regards legislation and the different ways in which official crime statistics are produced. However, for trends in time, these data can be useful.

The trend in the crime level from 1950 to 1970 shows a steady increase. After 1970, however, crime levels rose more rapidly, peaking in the middle of the 1980s. Since 1990 the total amount of registered crime has remained fairly stable in the EU-15 Member States. The average annual percentage increase between 1991 and 2001 was around 1 %.

This communication examines two specific types of crimes: domestic burglaries * and violent crime *. In 2000, police forces recorded three domestic burglaries per minute in the 15 Member States; this reduction compared to previous figures was due to a number of factors including increased preventive behaviour among the population. The same year, however, also saw an increase in violent crime at European level.

Opinion polls show that individuals feel less and less secure, particularly women and the elderly.

Combating volume crime: practical examples

Prevention * must encompass not only crime in the strict sense of the term, but also "anti-social behaviour". It has been proven that, if well designed and implemented, preventive measures can help reduce crime.

For example, leaving a light on when you are not at home, installing additional locks on doors and windows, increasing outside lighting and having an alarm system and/or a guard dog are preventive measures that reduce the risk of burglary. Simply increasing street lighting has reduced crime by approximately 20 %.

In North America, the Perry programme provides enrichment courses for 3-4 year olds from low-income families plus weekly home visits by programme staff. Long-term follow-ups revealed that programme participants have significantly lower juvenile and adult arrest rates, and also significantly higher rates of high school completion, tertiary education, employment and earnings.

Similarly, the European Union's Youth programme, which began in the late 1980s and focuses on well-being, inclusion and increasing policymakers' awareness of the concerns of young people, has had considerable preventive effect.

Finally, strong support has been given to the European Prison Education Association (EPEA) since providing training both in prison and following release is essential in helping former prisoners reintegrate into society.

Preventive action: priorities for action

This communication recommends approaching the issue on two levels: the local level and the European level.

Because volume crime occurs mainly at local level in cities, it is there that policies tailored to local and/or regional conditions must be implemented. In this respect the establishment of national crime prevention policies is a major prerequisite. A typical characteristic of preventive measures is therefore the necessary involvement of a variety of actors, both public (police, local governments, social workers) and private (business associations, insurance companies, citizens' organisations).

These policies have to be accompanied by effective cooperation measures at EU level where advantage needs to be taken of the work undertaken by the European Crime Prevention Network (EUCPN) and the EU funding arrangements, namely the Hippocrates and AGIS programmes run by the European Commission.

For the purposes of this communication, the Commission considers the following to be the primary tasks and activities to be carried out at EU level:

  • exchange experience between policymakers and experts in prevention;
  • define and agree priorities for action;
  • agree on crime prevention policies/measures which have been proven to work (good practices);
  • find agreement on common methodologies to prepare, implement and evaluate prevention policies;
  • make European citizens aware of the usefulness of crime prevention;
  • undertake joint prevention projects;
  • monitor and evaluate national prevention policies and improve the comparability of national statistics so as to identify differences between the level of crimes.

Background

The legal basis for crime prevention activities at EU level is Article 29 of the Amsterdam Treaty, which cites the prevention of "organised or other" crime as one means of meeting the objective of providing citizens with a high level of protection in an area of freedom, security and justice.

Until the entry into force of the Treaty of Amsterdam in May 1999, crime prevention policies at EU level had been limited mostly to the prevention of organised crime. The European Council of Tampere in 1999 confirmed the importance of effective crime prevention policies in the EU.

On 29 November 2000 the Commission submitted a communication to the Council and the European Parliament on "The prevention of crime in the European Union: Reflection on common guidelines and proposals for Community financial support". Following this communication, important developments have taken place, such as the creation of the European Forum for the Prevention of Organised Crime, the establishment of the European Crime Prevention Network and the adoption of a Council Decision creating the Hippocrates programme to co-fund cooperation projects between Member States.

Key terms used in the act
  • Domestic burglary: gaining access to a dwelling by the use of force to steal goods.
  • Violent crime: violence against persons, robbery and sexual offences.
  • Volume crime: any non-organised crime, including frequently committed crimes, whose victims are easily identifiable (domestic burglaries, thefts from vehicles, common assault, street robberies).
  • Crime prevention: according to the definition in the Council Decision of May 2001 setting up a European crime prevention network, "Crime prevention covers all measures that are intended to reduce or otherwise contribute to reducing crime and citizens' feeling of insecurity, both quantitatively and qualitatively, either through directly deterring criminal activities or through policies and interventions designed to reduce the potential for crime and the causes of crime. It includes work by government, competent authorities, criminal justice agencies, local authorities, specialist associations, the private and voluntary sectors, researchers and the public, supported by the media".

REFERENCES

ActEntry into force - Date of expiryDeadline for transposition in the Member StatesOfficial Journal
COM(2004) 165 final12.03.2004-OJ C 92, 16.04.2004

RELATED ACTS

Communication from the Commission to the Council and the European Parliament: The prevention of crime in the European Union. Reflection on common guidelines and proposals for Community financial support [COM(2000) 786 final - Not published in the Official Journal].

Council resolution of 21 December 1998 on the prevention of organised crime with reference to the establishment of a comprehensive strategy for combating it [Official Journal C 408 of 29 December 1998].

Last updated: 02.11.2006
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