CrimBrief The Official Blog of the AIC
Armed robbery and small businesses
Despite stereotypical Hollywood portrayals, armed robbery is not a crime unique to banks, casinos or jewellery stores. In fact, less than two percent of robberies each year in Australia have occurred in these high-profit locations. Indeed the most common armed robbery locations are the street or footpath or in small business retail locations.
‘Small businesses’ include service stations, pharmacies, newsagents, takeaway, liquor and convenience stores which hold cash on the premises. As well as being a common target for robbery generally, these businesses have also been found to be particularly vulnerable to repeat victimisation. In 2009-10, 28 percent of repeat organisational victims of armed robbery were service stations followed by unspecified retail (23%) and pharmacies, takeaway and convenience stores (each 8%).
Recent AIC research examined how armed robbery differs depending on the location. The research drew on 627 armed robbery related police narratives. This information is different from quantitative police data as it provides a summary of the crime including the sequence of events. This means researchers gain a greater insight into the nature of armed robbery as it occurs in locations like small businesses.
Unsurprisingly, an analysis of the narratives showed outlets were being robbed between the hours of 6am and midnight, which reflects the variety in operating hours between different types of small businesses. For example, newsagents are often open early in order to distribute newspapers while grocery stores may remain open later in order to cater to individuals who shop after work. Regardless of when a store was open, robberies tended to occur when there were very few people in the store or around closing time. Potentially, the decision to rob at the close of business may correspond with the time of day when cash was most accessible; for example, tills being counted or money being transported to the bank.
While many offenders committed armed robbery when there was no one around, other indicators highlight the semi-opportunistic nature this offence in small businesses. For instance, very few offenders made serious attempts to disguise themselves. While hoods and caps were common, the majority of offenders did not use any type of disguise, instead choosing to leave their faces uncovered. Further, the use of gloves (an important tool to avoid identification through fingerprinting) was rare. This lack of disguise and strategy to avoid identification indicates a low degree of planning compared to strategies employed in other locations.
CCTV picture of an armed robbery at an ACT premises (ACT Policing)
Finally, the narratives show robberies against small businesses tended not to involve violence. This was likely due to a high rate of victim cooperation, which meant offenders rarely had to escalate to physical violence to get what they wanted.
However, this does not mean that robberies against small businesses were not confronting for employees. Robberies in retail settings were characterised by high levels of aggression in the form of threats. In particular, threats to kill, maim or otherwise hurt the employee. The experience of threats can be extremely traumatic for an employee, especially if it occurs in a highly charged situation like a robbery where they already fear for their lives and weapons are being brandished. Further, in certain small businesses such as takeaway, grocery stores or fast food restaurants, the employee being threatened may be a teenager in their first job. An experience of armed robbery can severely traumatise them, potentially affecting their ability to return to work for years to come.
In short, preventing armed robbery in these businesses is not simply about increasing security although many do. For example, service stations now have screens between the customer and register. However, this type of measure may be impractical with other types of retail outlet. As small businesses can vary so drastically a one-size-fits all approach to prevention does not work.
Instead, many small businesses iminimise risk through other types of situational crime prevention measures tailored to their specific location. For example, uncluttered front windows maintains adequate natural surveillance from the street, while strict cash handling procedures limit the amount of money on the premises at any one time. More research is needed, however, to in order to determine the best practice approach in preventing armed robbery in small businesses.
By A/g Research Analyst Georgina Fuller
Drug Driving – What the research shows
The NSW government statistics on drug driving deaths released this week by NSW Police Minister Stuart Ayres revealed that in the past four years, at least 166 people died on NSW roads in crashes involving motorists with illicit drugs (cannabis, speed and/or ecstasy) in their system. That represents 11 percent of all road fatalities in NSW. In fact, Mr Ayres reported that 40 percent of drug driving offences and fatal crashes involved a drug driver under the age of 30.These statistics highlight a serious safety problem on our roads.
This correlates with previous AIC research which has shown that many offenders in police custody have a dangerous attitude when it comes to taking drugs and driving.
Our 2008 report Drug driving among police detainees in Australia authored by Kerryn Adams, Lance Smith and Natalie Hind used data from the AIC’s Drug Use Monitoring Australia program. The researchers examined the prevalence of drug driving among a sample of 1,714 police detainees in 2005 and 2006. If the levels of drug use seem particularly high, remember the people surveyed were a specific sub-set of the general population—they had been detained or arrested for offences including drug offences.
The study found that two-thirds (65%) of detainees had reported driving after using drugs and/or alcohol in the previous 12 months, which is significantly higher than the incidence of drug driving in the general population.
When it comes to drug driving rates in the general population, the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare’s 2010 National Drug Strategy Household survey shows the incidence of drug driving reduced slightly from 25 percent of males surveyed in 2007 to 21 percent in 2010, and similarly for females from 14.4 to 13.2 percent. This still highlights a problematic attitude to driving under the influence of drugs.
Our 2008 report shows that in terms of the frequency of drug driving, detainees who reported driving after using heroin were most likely to report doing so at least once a week (62%). For other types of drugs, comparable figures were:
- cannabis—58 percent
- amphetamine/methyl amphetamine—50 percent
- benzodiazepines—32 percent
- alcohol—25 percent
- cocaine—15 percent
- alcohol + any of these drugs—29 percent.
The majority of detainees reported that drugs had a negative impact on their driving ability—of all drugs, benzodiazepine users rated that drug as most likely to have had a negative impact on their driving ability (85%). Consistent with past findings, detainees reported that drugs such as heroin, cocaine and alcohol also severely affected driving ability.
At the same time, there were detainees who appeared dangerously deluded about the effect of drugs on their driving abilities. Nearly three-quarters of detainees who had driven after using cocaine reported that being under the influence ‘never’ affected their driving; 68 percent of detainees who drove after using cannabis and 59 percent who drove after using amphetamine/methylamphetamine shared this view.
High rates of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs were observed, despite the fact that the majority of detainees reported that being under the influence had a negative impact on their driving ability.
While half of the amphetamine/methylamphetamine using drivers who reported an impact on their driving ability said it was ‘negative’, worryingly, 22 percent reported that it actually had a positive impact. Similarly, 15 percent of cannabis using drivers who reported an impact stated that it was positive. Alcohol was reported to have a negative impact on driving ability by 60 percent of drivers. Despite public education on the impacts of drink driving, nine percent reported an improvement in driving ability when under the influence of alcohol.
Of those detainees who had driven a vehicle in the preceding 12 months, 249 (21%) reported that they had failed to stop when requested by the police. Male detainees were more likely to report failing to stop for police than female detainees (22% vs 12%).
While only a relatively small number of detainees (95 individuals) reported being involved in a high-speed pursuit in the previous 12 months, more than one-half of these self-reported being under the influence of amphetamine/methylamphetamine (57%) at the time of the pursuit. These findings are consistent with past research, which links the effects of amphetamine/methylamphetamine and the propensity for some individuals to become involved in aggressive driving behaviour, such as police pursuits. It has been suggested that amphetamine/methylamphetamine users may be attracted to police pursuits for the same reasons they use the drugs—a desire for excitement and risk-taking behaviour. In addition, 41 percent of detainees involved in high-speed pursuits reported being under the influence of cannabis and 29 percent under the influence of alcohol at the time of the pursuit.
The AIC is again looking at drug driving attitudes using new data collected through Drug Use Monitoring Australia Program and will report findings in the new year. Other relevant information may come from the 2013 AIHW National Drug Strategy Household Survey, which is expected to be released in late 2014.
2014 Student Criminology Forum
Either the high quality of our annual student forum is becoming more recognised in the Tertiary sector, or this year’s advertised program hit the mark for many Australian criminology and law students, because over 200 students from all over Australia registered their interest.
As usual, it was a real pleasure to see so many engaged young criminologists come and ask our staff intelligent and well-judged questions during the seminars and workshops.
Presentations were tailored to not only examine crime types, but to also explore tricky issues around research.
Deputy Director (Research) Dr Rick Brown asked the presentation staff to highlight areas where methodologies and research design threw up difficulties, or where results may not be applicable to policy – and what to do then?
So students heard how we approach problem solving, and sometimes deal with results that don’t match client expectations.
Videos of some student forum presentation are now available on CriminologyTV, and here are some photos of the seminars and workshop sessions:
And if you didn’t make the short list for this year’s event, keep checking Facebook and Twitter for the announcement of the 2015 registration process, in March - April next year.