A historical perspective on crime control and private security: a Belgian case study

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Since the last decade of the twentieth century, several authors have claimed that the contemporary and ‘new’ developments in (private) policing and crime control form part of the process of neo-liberal policies and rational choice approaches to crime. However, as is argued in this paper, so-called late-modern strategies and discourses of risk-reduction, loss prevention and situational crime prevention were already present in the armoury of crime control measures more than a hundred years ago. To demonstrate the shortcomings in criminological theory with regards to longer-term patterns of crime control, I have used a case study approach to private (security) organisations in the Port of Antwerp between 1880 and the outbreak of the Second World War. Hence, this study analyses the policing discourses and practices of private players, in cooperation with the public police and authorities or not. It shows that even during the heyday of the criminal justice state, they aimed exclusively at manipulating the temporal and spatial dimensions of the opportunity structures in which criminal activities could develop, which is quite similar to contemporary approaches. Therefore, existing criminological accounts that stress the discontinuities in policing and security need to be questioned.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)551-565
Number of pages15
JournalPolicing and Society
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 13 Jun 2019


  • Private policing
  • crime control
  • crime prevention
  • criminological theory


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