Applying Crime Pattern Theory and Risk Terrain Modeling to Examine Environmental Crime in Cambodia

Published date01 August 2020
Date01 August 2020
Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice
2020, Vol. 36(3) 327 –350
© The Author(s) 2020
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/1043986220923467
Applying Crime Pattern
Theory and Risk Terrain
Modeling to Examine
Environmental Crime in
Devin Cowan1, William D. Moreto1,
Christina Burton1, Matt R. Nobles1,
and Rohit Singh2
The spatial-temporal analysis of crime has significantly evolved. One innovative technique
recently developed is risk terrain modeling (RTM). RTM, however, has yet to be used for
environmental crime. This research applies RTM and draws from crime pattern theory
to examine illegal activities in two protected areas in Cambodia. Findings suggest that
pathways, edges, areas with suitable targets, conservation posts, landcover, and prior
incidents are related to fauna- and flora-related illegal activities, though this relationship
varies by season, units of analysis, and study area (i.e., patrol-based compared with
official designation). Implications for theory and policy are outlined.
Asia, conservation criminology, crime science, environment crime, environmental
criminology, spatial analysis
Despite its wide-reaching social, cultural, economic, and ecological impact, the study
of environmental crime, as well as its prevention and enforcement, is a “fringe” area
within criminology. As defined by the Environmental Investigation Agency (2008),
“[e]nvironmental crimes can be broadly defined as illegal acts which directly harm the
1University of Central Florida, Orlando, FL, USA
2World Wildlife Fund, Washington, WA, USA
Corresponding Author:
William D. Moreto, Department of Criminal Justice, University of Central Florida, 12805 Pegasus Drive,
HPA1, Suite 311, Orlando, FL 32816-1600, USA.
923467CCJXXX10.1177/1043986220923467Journal of Contemporary Criminal JusticeCowan et al.
328 Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice 36(3)
environment” (p. 1). Environmental crime has largely been studied by researchers in
other disciplines who utilize perspectives that are typically not informed by crimino-
logical research. Criminology, however, is a rich field that has much to offer in the
broader study of environmental crime. This is evidenced by the development of dis-
tinct subdisciplines, including green (White & Heckenberg, 2014) and conservation
criminology (Gibbs et al., 2010), as well as the application of established criminologi-
cal perspectives such as environmental criminology (Moreto & Pires, 2018). Despite
the strong theoretical foundation available within criminology, some have commented
on the need to further conduct empirical assessments to cement the utility and value of
a criminological study of environmental crime (see Nobles, 2019), particularly from a
quantitative orientation (see Lynch et al., 2017).
One area that quantitative criminology can contribute to the study of environmental
crime is through the spatial analysis technique known as risk terrain modeling (RTM).1
To date, RTM has not been used to examine the spatial-temporal factors that may
influence environmental crime. Given its applicability in forecasting crime in urban
settings, as well as its potential use to allocate enforcement and crime prevention
resources, RTM presents a novel analytical approach to study illegal activities in pro-
tected areas (PAs).
Guided by crime pattern theory (Brantingham & Brantingham, 1993a), this study
contributes to the literature by using RTM to examine the environmental factors that
influence fauna- and flora-related illegal activities in PAs in Cambodia. We also add to
the growing RTM literature examining the impact of seasonality (e.g., Szkola et al.,
2019) by explicitly comparing dry and wet seasons. Furthermore, given the nature of
the data, we also develop and compare data-driven study areas to officially designated
study areas. Specifically, we sought to complete three research objectives: first, to use
RTM to assess spatial risk factors that influence fauna-related illegal activities during
the dry and wet seasons in Cambodian PAs. Second, to use RTM to assess spatial risk
factors that influence flora-related illegal activities during the dry and wet seasons in
Cambodian PAs. Third, to compare RTM results between patrol-based study areas to
complete study areas (i.e., designated PA boundaries) to identify any potential differ-
ences in spatial forecasting results.
The Promise and Challenge of Protected Areas
According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), “a protected
area is a clearly defined geographical space, recognised, dedicated and managed,
through legal or other effective means, to achieve the long-term conservation of nature
with associated ecosystem services and cultural values.”2 The establishment of PAs
represents a tangible achievement for conservation and naturalist goals, and the
resources dedicated to the long-term preservation of these assets directly benefit the
indigenous species as well as the surrounding environments. PAs are generally funded
through public means, ensuring some level of public visibility and access. Furthermore,
PAs are readily identifiable as zones of flourishing growth, often focused around
endangered (and therefore economically valuable) natural resources.

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