Armed Robbery: Who Commits It and Why?

Article excerpt

Armed robbery stories figure prominently in the media but official statistics suggest that armed robbery has actually declined markedly since the early 2000s. Reasons for this decline are debated, although it appears that target hardening in banks, a reduced domestic heroin market and possible changes in offender profile may all be influencing the observed trend. This paper focuses on the third of these explanations by providing an overview of the type of person who commits armed robbery. It describes offenders' backgrounds, motivations to offend and attitudes towards victims, and how armed robberies are undertaken. Ongoing research into these areas is important as it assists in the development of effective and up-to-date crime prevention measures.

Toni Makkai

Director

Introduction

In the 1990s, the number of known victims of armed robberies in Australia increased from around 5,000 per year to a peak of over 11,000 in 2001 (Figure 1). Between 2001 and 2005 the number dropped steadily to around 6,000 (ABS 2006). The number of banks robbed and the number of victims of armed robberies involving firearms have generally mirrored this pattern. It is unlikely that these statistics represent the full extent of armed robbery in this country, as these data reflect only offences reported to and recorded by police. Factors underlying these trends may include reductions in regional and metropolitan bank branches and bank security hardening, such as through the use of protective screens, more secure safes, limiting the amount of cash held by tellers and so on (Borzycki 2003). Recent evidence also points to a correlation between robbery and theft incidents and heroin use (Donnelly, Weatherburn & Chilvers, 2004). Falls in heroin availability since early 2001 which coincide with similar falls in the incidence of armed robbery indicate the significance of this pattern for the specific crime of armed robbery. As will be discussed later, a further trend observed in armed robbery is that traditional career robbers may be turning to other, more easily obtained sources of illicit income, such as through the armed robbery of hotels and clubs.

Understanding the decision making processes of both imprisoned and active offenders is one important way to reduce risk to victims, especially in terms of harm done and the likelihood of being a victim. Importantly, understanding what motivates offenders to commit crime can help in devising effective prevention measures. This paper outlines what is known of armed robbery, mostly gleaned from interviews with prisoners. While research based on interviews with active armed robbers can offer a different offender perspective, few such studies have been undertaken. Much of what is outlined in this paper, particularly the discussion around offender decision making processes, is drawn from material that is now 10 or more years old. This suggests that new research is needed in this area, especially in view of advancements in security technology and possible changes in the armed robber offender profile.

Who commits armed robberies?

The careers of armed robbers can be seen as a progressive scale, with particular characteristics varying as more robbery offences are committed over time. Beginning as amateurs, offenders tend to be younger and less experienced (that is, they do not have extensive prior records) and tend to rob individuals. A large proportion of amateur armed robbers are not likely to go on to become regular robbery offenders. Those who do continue committing robbery offences will become more professional as their career continues. They will be older, become more likely to rob commercial establishments and have more extensive prior criminal records. Committing more offences as their career continues, offenders become more likely to commit more robberies, engage in better planning and be motivated by life's needs, rather than drugs (Gill 2001 ; Matthews 2002; Mouzos & Borzycki 2003). …