By Emily Moir

This brief is based on the following paper: Moir, E., Reynald, D., Hart, T., & Stewart, A. (2019). Guardianship in action among Brisbane suburban residents: environmental facilitators of guardianship intensity and the influence of living in a Queenslander. Security Journal,

What problem does your research address? Why is this significant?

When we think of who is responsible for crime prevention, many people would probably first think of the police. However, police have finite resources and cannot be at all places at all times. Instead neighbourhood residents (or guardians) can be used to help prevent and control crime in the areas they live (Reynald, 2009). Residents can act as guardians by supervising their surroundings and intervening (either by confronting the person directly or calling neighbours or the police for help) when they see something unusual or suspicious. Prior research has found that crime is lower in areas with higher levels of residential guardianship (Reynald, 2011; Hollis-Peel & Welsh, 2014). The purpose of this research was to explore how design features of Australian suburban properties and streets can help maximise opportunities for residents to act as guardians to enhance community safety.

How did you conduct your research?

Observations of 279 properties across two suburbs in Brisbane were conducted. Guardianship activity was measured by observing whether (1) resident/s were present in their home, (2) resident/s were watching over their surroundings, and (3) resident/s intervened with observers and asked what they were doing during. Further, observers measured several property and street level characteristics including cues of ownership (territoriality), fencing, security measures, how well the property was looked after, the number of visible windows, and how accessible and busy the street was.  

What are your major findings?

Observations found that approximately 28% of residents who were at home acted as guardians by watching over their street. When these residents were monitoring what was happening around them, just under half then went on to ask one of the observers what they were doing (i.e., intervened with someone unfamiliar/potentially suspicious). Brisbane residents were more active at guarding their area than U.S. residents (Hollis, Fenimore, Caballero & Hankhouse, 2019; Hollis-Peel, Welsh & Reynald, 2012), but not as vigilant as the Dutch (Reynald, 2009). Importantly, results show that the number of windows on a house and signs of ownership were associated with higher levels of guardianship by Brisbane residents and guardianship was lower on streets that were more accessible by vehicles.  

What does your research mean for policy and practice?

The findings of this study suggest that housing and street design can impact levels of crime control exhibited by residents. When opportunities for surveillance are maximised through where and how windows are positioned on a house, residents can easily act as guardians and keep an eye out for anything suspicious happening on their street. Further, when residents feel a sense of ownership, they are more likely to protect their property through guardianship and crime control. Overall, opportunities for crime and crime control need to be considered when planning and designing residential areas.


Reynald, D.M. (2009). Guardianship in action: Developing a new tool for measurement. Crime Prevention and Community Safety, 11(1), 1–20.

Reynald, D.M. (2011). Factors associated with the guardianship of places: Assessing the relative importance of the spatio-physical and sociodemographic contexts in generating opportunities for capable guardianship. Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, 48(1), 110–142.

Hollis, M.E., D.M. Fenimore, M. Caballero, and S. Hankhouse. (2019). Examining guardianship in action in Waco, Texas. Crime Prevention and Community Safety, 21(1), 68-80.

Hollis-Peel, M.E., D.M. Reynald, and B. Welsh. (2012). Guardianship and crime: An international comparative study of guardianship in action. Crime, Law and Social Change, 58(1), 1–14.

Hollis-Peel, M.E., and B. Welsh. (2014). What makes a guardian capable? A test of guardianship in action. Security Journal, 27(3), 320–337.