Australian Institue of Criminology

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Despite changes over time in the level of detail available for NARMP data and a further decrease in the number of armed robberies for 2008, the features of armed robbery in the latest NARMP findings are generally consistent with those observed in previous years. This suggests that the major features of Australian armed robberies have not changed markedly over the six years in which the NARMP has been collecting data and reporting on analyses.

While the features of armed robbery as a whole have not changed from year to year, there were some findings from the 2008 report that are worth highlighting:

  • There has been a 28 percent decrease in the overall number of armed robbery victims since NARMP first started collecting data in 2003. However, after an initial large decrease in 2004, figures have remained at similar levels, fluctuating yearly. There was a 10 percent decrease in the number of armed robbery victims in 2008 compared with the 2007 results (6,427 in 2008 compared with 7,133 in 2007).
  • After a substantial decrease (34%) in the number of armed robbery incidents at service stations in 2007, there was a further considerable decrease in number the armed robberies at this location in 2008 (32%).
  • The number of organisational victims at residential locations (indicating some type of home business) in 2008 almost doubled from 76 in 2007 to 142 in 2008.
  • The number of armed robberies where property value was recorded as nil decreased substantially in 2008 (11% in 2008 compared with 28% in 2007), while the average dollar value of the property stolen increased ($1,662 in 2008 and $1,066 in 2007).

Why might these armed robbery characteristics have changed so dramatically in this short space of time? First, there was a 10 percent decrease in the number of armed robbery victims on top of a six percent decrease in 2007. This continuing decline can be considered indicative of most crime types in Australia in recent years (AIC 2010). Armed robbery is one of the few crime types where under-reporting is not problematic (such as with sexual assault offences); therefore, the question of increased under-reporting can probably be discounted. In addition, the decrease in 2008 was evident across all locations (except for the administrative/professional location where numbers are small each year), ruling out reductions in any one particular location as having a substantial impact. Detailed qualitative research with current and former armed robbery offenders would be ideal to determine whether armed robbery offenders are choosing to cease armed robbery attempts and if so, to identify reasons behind any possible displacement.

Second, the continuing decrease in service station armed robbery may reflect the decrease in overall armed robbery figures; however, it may also result from crime prevention strategies implemented by the industry and/or from police initiatives and operations. For example, have service stations in the usual hotspot locations been able to change practices and force decreases in armed robbery? Is one particular company responsible for the decrease? Is the decrease a result of new crime prevention strategies or police operations? If so, have police and industry initiatives been evaluated to determine if they could be effective in all types of service stations in all locations, or in other types of business settings? It is important that the details of this decrease are investigated more fully (a task that is outside the scope of NARMP) and that any crime prevention knowledge gained through monitoring and evaluation is disseminated and added to the general ‘toolkit’ of responses to armed robbery.

If the decrease over the 2007 and 2008 period is a result of a strategy implemented by the industry, it is recommended that the strategy be evaluated effectively, if it has not been done already. The NARMP will continue to monitor this particular trend and any displacement that might be occurring as a result. It should be noted, however, that there was no obvious displacement identified in the current data, with no signs of weapon displacement, location displacement, temporal displacement or even target displacement. The number of armed robberies at similar locations (eg convenience stores) has actually remained similar, if not decreased slightly, during the same time period. The only other form of displacement—crime type displacement—cannot be measured by the NARMP. For further details on displacement, see the 2006 NARMP report (Smith & Louis 2009).

The third finding was that there was an increase in organisational victims at residential locations identified in the 2008 NARMP report. While this suggests that more home businesses are being targeted for armed robbery, the cause of this increase is difficult to determine. This trend may pose a whole new area of crime prevention challenges for business owners, police and criminologists. As these commercial locations are also residences, conventional strategies (eg time delay safes and line of sight to entry and exit points) may not be relevant. To further compound this problem, the NARMP data does not examine relationship status between an organisation and an offender. This is unfortunate as when individuals are targeted at residential locations, there can sometimes be a prior relationship between the offender and victim (this is in contrast to the majority of armed robberies). Another factor that blurs the cause of this increase in armed robbery is that most of the organisational victims were targeted at night, yet most commercial locations traditionally targeted at night are businesses not likely to operate out of a residence (eg service stations and convenience stores). This area of armed robbery will be monitored by NARMP to determine if this trend continues. Consideration will also be given to the types of crime prevention strategies that might be suitable for home businesses vulnerable to armed robbery.

The fourth finding highlighted in this report relates to the value of property stolen during armed robbery incidents. The number of armed robberies that were unsuccessful in 2008 (ie where no property of any value was stolen) decreased from 28% in 2007 to 11% in 2008. Therefore, in 2008, nine out of every 10 armed robbers—at least those where property value information was available—were successful in obtaining some property of value (however, this does not mean they were not arrested at some later stage). Not only were armed robbers more likely to obtain property of some value, they were also more likely to obtain property of greater value than what was recorded in 2007. In 2008, the average value of property stolen in an armed robbery was $1,662 compared with $1,066 in 2007. This suggests that while there were fewer armed robberies in 2008, the overall levels of ‘success’ were higher. Crime prevention strategies designed to minimise the attractiveness of a target to armed robbers (eg effective cash handling procedures so only minimal amounts are kept in the till) may have to be re-evaluated in some instances, as it appears offenders are becoming more effective at obtaining valuable property. This and other key findings from the 2008 NARMP report ideally require further research to determine their causes. However, the NARMP will continue to monitor patterns in these aspects of armed robbery to identify changes over time.

Finally, transport-related armed robberies were targeted for more detailed analysis in this report. In general, transport location offenders were typically identified as young males, using easy to obtain weapons such as knives, suggesting they may be likely to be amateur offenders. Few transport-related armed robberies occurred on actual conveyances, with the majority taking place at the terminals or in car parks.

Given that these offences appear to be typically committed by amateur offenders, evidence-based crime prevention strategies may be effective at reducing armed robbery in transport-related settings. Crime reduction measures such as closed circuit television (CCTV), improved lighting, distress alarms at terminals etc have already been adopted in Australian public transport settings. However, the effectiveness of such measures has been questioned, with recent systematic reviews of crime prevention measures implemented in overseas jurisdictions producing mixed results. For instance, evaluations of CCTV placed in public transport settings have shown positive, negligible and undesirable effects on crime. CCTV placement in car parks has shown a more consistent positive crime reduction benefit, although issues associated with the design of the reviewed evaluations makes it difficult to explain observed effects. The review notes that the factors behind successful CCTV schemes include their integration with other situational crime prevention measures, focusing crime prevention packages only on particular crime types (such as vehicle theft in car parks, and high public support for CCTV schemes; see Welsh & Farrington 2007a). More definitive statements can be made about improved lighting in a variety of settings. Welsh and Farrington (2007b: 8) concluded that ‘especially if well targeted to a high-crime area, improved street lighting can be a feasible, inexpensive, and effective method of reducing crime’, although again, the mechanism behind the observed effects could not be isolated because of issues with evaluation design.

Armed robbery interventions can also be linked to interventions to address broader concerns of violence in and around public transport settings, which have been a matter of recent public interest in Australia (eg ‘Public transport top priority for Victoria Police’ Herald Sun 11 January 2011; ‘CCTV cameras ‘not enough’ to stop train station crime’ Brisbane Times 17 August 2010). This has given rise to a range of responses, such as the planned deployment of police protective services officers to patrol railway stations in Victoria (Baillieu 2010). Safety on public transport is also of concern internationally. For instance, city authorities in London recently launched a strategy to improve the safety—as well as the level of public confidence in the safety—of travelling in the city. This strategy includes large-scale measures such as high-visibility policing at strategic transport hubs and dedicated police resources to focus on organised criminal gangs who profit from theft on public transport. Other measures include CCTV, lighting, appropriate signage and visible and engaged staff at transport locations (Mayor of London 2010). Importantly, the strategy includes quantifiable objectives against which performance will be monitored, which should provide some indication of success of the strategy and lessons that may be learned by other jurisdictions confronting similar problems.