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Street Robbers Want More Than Money

November 2006 - New research funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) reveals complex motivations behind street robbery in the UK. Rather than being simply an acquisitive crime, it commonly reflects a damaged sense of self in the perpetrator resulting in a need for violence or revenge, or to increase status among peers.

A qualitative study of the role of violence in street crime throws new light on an under-researched and escalating phenomenon. The report by Professor Trevor Bennett, Director of the Centre for Criminology, University of Glamorgan and Dr. Fiona Brookman is based on interviews with 120 people serving custodial sentences for violent offences. With an average age of 26, approximately 25 per cent were female, 10 per cent were black and 12 per cent of mixed race. The great majority (92 per cent) had a history of illegal drug use. One third reported at least 50 arrests prior to the current sentence. A similar proportion acknowledged gang membership or involvement in criminal groups. Approximately 60 per cent were armed, either with a firearm (over 25 per cent), the remainder usually with a knife.

The authors set violent street crime in the cultural context of the perpetrators' lives. While offences can be motivated by a desire for drugs or material acquisition, they are also associated with enhanced status, excitement, a sense of power, anger or injustice. Some illustrative quotations from interviewees support the report's findings:

  • "I went back to my house to let things cool down before I went back to the pub. Partied the money away and the next day I got arrested."
  • "After we done a few armed robberies I bought a brand new car. It's like showing off, really."
  • "It weren't even for money. It was just... I had money; it was more like the buzz you get from doing things. I was more addicted to robbing than I was to drugs. Just get a funny feeling when I go out robbing."
  • "It's for the fun.'Cos the point of street robbery is to get them to fight back, innit. I'd give him a couple of slaps and tell him to fight back, yeah. If he won't fight back, we just give him a kick and go."
  • "I picked a fight with someone on the street. They were the first people I come across. I started hitting one of them and calling him names and said, 'What are you looking at' and stuff like that. Then I can't remember how but I started hitting him and then I just jumped on him. Punched him, turned him over, went through his pockets."
  • "I was walking down the street and I saw this boy and girl walking along, like. I grabbed her handbag and grabbed his phone off him and run off. I was desperate for crack."

Professor Bennett commented:

"The decision to commit street robbery can be explained in part by particular characteristics of the street culture. This finding is important because British research has tended to explain robbery in terms of rational choice and to focus instead on the role of cost-reward calculations. Our research suggests that any explanation must primarily take into account cultural factors associated with life on the street."



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