Key theme 3: The need for early intervention and diverse, multi-agency approaches to tackling property crime
As explained in Chapters 3 and 12, the early life of many property crime offenders is characterised by neglect, abuse, and substance misuse. These early life experiences can push an individual down an anti-social pathway, leading them to lose opportunities to develop alternative, pro-social coping strategies and behaviours (thereby increasing the risk of engaging in crime, including property offending). For example, s/he demonstrates aggressive/violent behaviour that results in being rejected by pro-social peers; s/he may be excluded from school, leading to a lack of academic qualifications and subsequent difficulties in finding employment; and s/he may accrue convictions and develop substance misuse problems (Moffitt, 1993). The path into property crime for many offenders, therefore, begins in childhood, and that person emerges into adulthood lacking the skills, abilities, and resources needed to lead a pro-social life, which subsequently places them at a significantly increased risk of offending and with increasingly limited options to escape an anti-social lifestyle.
As such, many property crime offenders experience considerable and varied challenges, including (but not necessarily limited to) poverty, substance misuse issues, mental health diagnoses, difficulties obtaining employment, and a lack of safe and secure housing. It’s clear, then, that the approach to tackling property crime cannot involve a single agency (e.g. the police) but instead must involve multiple agencies working together (e.g. police, probation, social services, local authority housing agencies, charities, healthcare, etc.). Furthermore, the earlier one can intervene in the lifecourse, the more likely it is that an individual can be diverted away from an anti-social pathway (as discussed in Chapter 12). It is, therefore, clear that not only does the successful investigation and prosecution of property crime offenders require broad-ranging expertise (including psychologists, criminologists, geographers, legal professionals, police and forensic science practitioners; see Chapters 6-11), but the prevention of property crime in the long term needs a coordinated early intervention approach from multiple agencies.
Key theme 4: A two-pronged approach to preventing property crime
In addition to early intervention and multi-agency approaches, the prevention of property crime requires a two-pronged approach. The first prong requires intervention at an individual offender level. However, as explained in Chapter 14, there is a surprising lack of research examining treatment interventions specifically for property crime offenders (see also Stewart & Usher, 2017), and, within the research that has been conducted, there is limited evidence that existing treatment approaches have any positive effect on property crime offenders (e.g. in terms of reducing their risk of reconviction; e.g., see McDougall, Perry,
Ciarbour, Bowles, & Worthy, 2009; Travers, Mann, & Hollin, 2014). Thus, while interventions are needed to address individual risk factors within property crime offenders, there is a lack of research on these factors and a lack of interventions that have been shown to work.
The prevention of property crime should not, however, be solely focused on addressing risk factors within the individual offender. As explained in Chapter 13, property crime can be significantly reduced by changing the built environment. Indeed, approaches based on the principles of Situational Crime Prevention (SCP) and Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) have shown significant success in reducing crime (see Chapter 13 for examples). The second prong to preventing property crime, therefore, places its focus on adapting the offending environment/situation so that it is more difficult to commit property crime and so that offenders perceive offending to be more risky/dangerous and less profitable/rewarding.
A roadmap for future research on property crime
Within the above themes, a number of important directions for future research become clear. We will end the book by presenting a roadmap for future research that would allow at least some of these important issues to be addressed.
- 1. Capitalising on novel methodological approaches that can yield a more fine-grained understanding of property crime offending Historically, research into the crime scene behaviour of property crime offenders has relied on either police recorded crime data and/or interviews with offenders. While such approaches can (and indeed have) yielded significant insights into offender behaviour (e.g. Wright & Decker, 1994, 1997), such data are prone to error, distortion, and omission (Bradburn, Rips, & Shevell, 1987; Elffers, 2010), particularly since much offender decisionmaking occurs automatically (e.g. Kahneman, 2011; van Gelder, 2013) and thus is not available for retrieval from memory during an interview. However, the development of virtual reality (VR) technology (as discussed in Chapter 4) provides a unique opportunity to study the behaviour of property crime offenders as they commit their offences in real time. VR technology, therefore, has the potential to transform the way that crime, offender behaviour, and decision-making are researched, leading to more reliable and accurate data that significantly advances our scientific understanding of and ability to prevent property crime. We look forward with excitement to the insights that these novel methods can offer and encourage future researchers to utilise these methods where possible.
- 2. Developing robust, evidence-based offender behaviour programmes for property crime offenders
Property crime offenders demonstrate the highest rate of reconviction following release from prison, with 88% of property offenders reoffending within 9 years post-release from prison (Alper & Durose, 2018). Addressing the lack of effective offender behaviour programmes for property crime offenders is, therefore, an important aim for future research. Given that many property crime offenders serve short-term prison sentences, interventions either need to be of a short-term nature, allowing them to be completed within the time available in prison, or, perhaps more fruitfully, there needs to be greater continuity between rehabilitation efforts within prison and those delivered within the community (e.g. that would allow an individual to begin rehabilitation in prison and then continue this when they are released). Without this, property crime offenders will continue to be released from prison without having received any rehabilitative input. This ultimately decreases the likelihood that they can break the cycle of reoffending. Another potential approach is to move away from the current focus on sentencing property crime offenders to short custodial sentences towards more communitybased sentences (of course, this requires community-based interventions to be appropriately resourced). There is also a need for more research into the underpinning factors that lead to property crime offending, which will help to ensure that future interventions have a sufficient theoretical and empirical evidence base. Given the various motivational factors and complex needs of property crime offenders (as discussed above), it’s clear that a suite of interventions is required that can be tailored to meet the individual needs of each offender.
3. Research into emerging property crime offences
With individuals and businesses moving increasingly towards online, digitally-enabled practices (e.g. to buy and sell products, to manage their finances, to store important information, etc.), the opportunities for property crime increase. Indeed, there is evidence to suggest that cybercrime is at its highest recorded levels, with 272,980 such offences committed in the year ending September 2017 (Office for National Statistics, 2018). Future research is clearly important to understand how these offences are committed, who is committing these crimes, what their motivations are, and how such offences can be best prevented. This will involve multidisciplinary collaboration, including social scientists, computer scientists, and legal experts.