Security issue: Robbery

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Snatch theft, depicted here as done from a motor vehicle
Robbery is the crime of taking or attempting to take something of value by force, threat of force, or by instilling fear in the victim. It is used here exclusively for acts committed to individual persons. For the forceful theft from commercial venues, see raid.

Description

In the context of urban planning, robbery is most relevant if performed in the public space. This form of robbery, called 'street robbery' has the following five characteristics[1]:

  • the offender targets a victim;
  • the victim is a stranger to the offender;
  • the offender attempts or completes a theft of cash or property;
  • the offender uses force or the threat of force against the victim; and
  • the offence occurs in a public or semi-public place, such as on a street, in an alley, in a parking garage, in a public park, on or near public transportation, or in a shared apartment hallway.

Mark that a robbery need not involve the use of weapons or injuring the victim.

Several subtypes of street robbery exist, which vary in frequency depending on local circumstances. Among the better known are:

  • purse-snatching (referred to as "snatch theft")
  • robbery at automated teller machines;
  • robbery of drunken bar patrons; robbery of students (e.g., middle- and high-school students and college students);
  • robbery of passengers near public transportation systems; and
  • robbery of migrant labourers.

Contributing circumstances

Known circumstances to influence the likelihood or effect of robbery are presented in the table below:

Contributing Circumstance Influence Description
Attractive locations for robbery Increases success rate of robbery Some locations are by nature particularly suited for robbery, by the fact that they are relatively deserted, lack surveillance, have potential victims and offer many easy exits to flee the crime scene. Examples of such locations include parking lots and garages, parks, fields, playgrounds, and areas near public transportation[1] and ATMs[2].
Lack of surveillance. Decreases risk of detection. A low level of surveillance, particularly round-the-clock surveillance, decreases the perceived risk of detection for a perpetrator and thereby increases the attractiveness.
Long reaction times or inadequate action of intervention force. Decreases likelihood of apprehension Untimely or inappropriate reactions to violence lead to a perception of little control, which will increase perceived risk for the public and decrease perceived risk for the perpetrators.
High levels of robbery in the vicinity. Increases likelihood of targeting. The distance to known places where offenders live matters. On average, robbers travel 3,4 km to commit their crimes[3], and the chance of a neighbourhood to be chosen reduces with every km distance from the offender's home.
High levels of unemployment Increases likelihood of targetting High levels of unemployment are correlated with higher levels of property crime [4].
High expected levels of drug- or alcohol abuse Reduces inhibitions for crime The presence of regular abusers of alcohol or drugs has a strong correlation with the occurrence of robbery, often thought to be caused by the need for financing an addiction. Studies show that about 35% of all robbery is committed under the influence of alcohol[5].
Presence of excitement or distractions Increases vulnerability of victims A legitimate distraction enables the robber to gain contact with the victim without causing alarm. Street robbers could perceive people who are distracted (e.g., using a cell phone, drunk, and/or unfamiliar with their surroundings) as easier to approach and overpower. Distracting circumstances such as road works, which require a detour in unfamiliar surroundings, special events or holidays can also provide the distractions that aid robbers[1]. Tourists are particularly vulnerable for these circumstances.

Impacts

Social impact

Robbery in general has a profound impact on victims, it can lead to psychological distress, including fear, anger and depression[6]. Of course different kinds of robbery and the level of violence applied have a different impact. A majority of victims found street robbery to be a very frightening experience, and, as a result, fear of crime increased and many victims suffered serious psychological distress. While the effects had moderated nine months after the crime, the robberies were still having a serious and enduring effect on victims' fear, social behaviour and psychological health, particularly for women and those who possessed a less hardy personality[7]. Besides the effect of serious psychological distress, robbery may lead to physical harm, (personal) financial loss, a decrease in perceived security, an increase of feelings of personal vulnerability.

A social effect could be that victims develop avoidance behavior, for example to avoid crowded situations and just go out the door during the day time and to only visiting trusted persons. Robbery can also lead to more positive social effects. It can lead to more social cohesion and awareness within a community ranging from community watch to social control over strangers and misfits. Also social media is used to mitigate the likelihood of becoming a victim of robbery. For instance in the Netherlands the Police uses social media to warn the public against pickpockets “there are pickpockets active in this area, be extra aware of your personal belongings”. In the Netherlands apps are being developed with names like “improve your neighborhood”. Think of reporting defects of furniture and lighting, pollution, vandalism, unsafe traffic situations, but also nuisances such as dog poo. We then send, the municipality or district council keep you informed of progress. Another Dutch example is that the police has launched a service which gives citizens access to when and where it is broken in their neighborhood. With showing details of burglaries in the district hopes to persuade to take against burglaries, i.e. object hardening.

Economic impact

Robberies lead to socio-economic costs that reach beyond the financial value of the property stolen. The direct costs of robberies can be for about 65% attributed to the result of the physical and emotional impact on direct victims, health costs, value of property stolen, and lost productivity (the costs as a consequence of crime)[8]. The rest can be attributed to costs in response to crime by public authorities (criminal justice system)[8]. Robberies occur less frequent than for example burglaries or acts of vandalism, but the average cost per event (± £7,500) is twice the amount compared to an average burglary)[8]. This is mostly the result of higher physical and emotional damage, loss of output and costs for the criminal justice system.

Robberies can also have a lasting indirect impact on society, the secondary economic impact of crime. On a more local and regional level, frequent robberies can have a negative impact on local business, social life, tourism and housing prices. Empirical research by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, for example, quantified the relationship between a reduction in crime such as robberies and homicides and the change in the prices of nearby residential real estate, concluding that intensive policing had a substantial positive effect on the property values and the inequality among residential prices[9].

Robbers, especially street robbers "are notoriously difficult to deter"[2]."They require relatively small amounts of cash to justify their risk, they have a lot of crime opportunities, they want cash immediately, and street robbery does not require much skill or planning"[10]. On top of that, robbers will adapt quickly to preventive security measures in accordance with the economics of criminal behaviour. Taxi robbers, for example, sometimes use a female accomplice to order a taxi. With the help of economic tools it is possible to overview the costs and future benefits of security measures in order to decide which types of measures are best suited for a specific urban planning situation.

Mobility impact

Robbery usually takes place at public spaces (street robbery). As for pickpocketing, the risk is higher in crowded places and at train and metro stations. One can use surveillance with camera's at high risk locations.

The perpetrator will usually use some form of transport to flee. For example, he might use a scooter or car which was put standby near the robbery location. In order to be able to flee quickly, he will prefer a location with good accessibility and no congestion.

The risk of robbery can be reduced by urban planning when the streetmap and public transportation options will not allow for easy fleeing, for example with cul-de-sacs and limitation of alternative routes to the same destination. However, this is contradictory with the general mobility objective to increase accessibility and traffic flow in an area.

The police can chase someone who convicted robbery by car or even by helicopter. A helicopter has a better overview of the streetmap and of the person fleeing and can see and go everywhere and give instructions to the police in the car on the ground.

Safety impact

Offenders attack approximately half of robbery victims and about 20 percent of these victims require medical attention[1].

Measures

Many strategies are used to reduce the risk of street robbery. Of these, most are actions that are taken just before or after specific incidents. These are therefore not suited to be integrated in to the planning of urban environment, as this generally precedes incidents by a long time. Measures that have proven to be effective against street robbery[1] and can be taken (or at least influenced) by the urban planner include:

  • Surveillance. This can be effective to prevent crime if it is highly visible.
  • Improving the intervention force by Installing emergency call stations.
  • Target removal, either by directing traffic flows, like providing safe transportation for visitors of entertainment facilities or providing safe alternative routes during construction or special festivities or removing hiding spots, increasing lighting at high-risk sites and increasing pedestrian density near risky places. Also planting vegetation can reduce risk of robbery[11].
  • Controlling disinhibitors by reducing intoxication and facilities distributing alcohol in high-risk areas.

Footnotes and references

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 Monk Khadija M., Heinonen Justin A. and Eck John E., Street Robbery, Problem-Oriented Guides for Police, Guide No. 59, April 2010
  2. 2.0 2.1 >M. Scott (2001). Robbery at Automated Teller Machines. Guide No.8. Center for Problem-Oriented Policing.
  3. Beauregarda Eric T, Proulxb Jean, D., Rossmoc Kim A., Spatial patterns of sex offenders: Theoretical, empirical, and practical issues, Aggression and Violent Behavior 10 (2005) 579–603
  4. Kepple NJ, Freisthler B., Exploring the ecological association between crime and medical marijuana dispensaries.,J Stud Alcohol Drugs. 2012 Jul;73(4):523-30
  5. Greenfeld, Lawrence A, Alcohol and crime, an analysis of national data on the prevalence of alcohol involvement in crime, U,.S. Department of Justice, Office of justice Programs, April 5-7 1998, Washington D.C.
  6. http://irv.sagepub.com/content/14/2/175
  7. The Behavioural, Emotional and Psychological Effects of Street Robbery on Victims, Julie-Anne Gale and Timothy Coupe, *University of Birmingham, UK
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 Home Office, Research, Development and Statistics Directorate (2005): The economic and social costs of crime against individuals and households 2003/04.
  9. Frischtak, C. and B.R. Mandel (2012): Crime, House Prices, and Inequality: The Effect of UPPs in Rio. Federal Reserve Bank of New York. Staff Report no.542. http://www.newyorkfed.org/research/staff_reports/sr542.pdf
  10. Wright and Decker (1997)in: M. Scott (2001): Robbery at Automated Teller Machines. Guide No.8. Center for Problem-Oriented Policing.
  11. Wolfe Mary K., Mennis Jeremy, Does vegetation encourage or suppress urban crime? Evidence from Philadelphia, PA, Landscape and Urban Planning 108 (2012) 112– 122