the skills of the trade. There is some evidence that the novice is given more minor roles, such as lookout, and may well not drive immediately. Overall, the indications are that generally recognised adolescent experiences such as being bored, wanting to be one of the group, and needing excitement, are primary motivating factors in initial involvement in car crime. Factors such as wanting to feel important, wanting to show off driving skills, having a means of transport, and—interestingly—a way of making money, were quite far down the list.
Previous studies have not focused as specifically on the area of initial involvement as the present one, but their findings have not been dissimilar. Briggs (1991) in Newcastle, Foster (1990) in South East London, McCullough and Schmidt (1990) in Belfast, and Smyth (1990) in Manchester have noted the importance of peer group acceptance and the search for excitement as central to involvement in car crime. These studies also noted the rather bleak existence of many young car thieves.
When interviewed, the current sample of thieves had generally had an extensive career in car crime and had been very active at the peak of their careers—a large proportion claiming to have been involved in the theft of several hundred cars (Chapter 2). How had their career progressed from its early stages, and did they
persist in car crime for the same reasons they had started? Eighty-three interviewees answered questions about how, if at all
activities had changed since they first got involved in car crime. While six, who had been offending for a relatively short time (6 to 12 months), said there had been no change, for the others it was apparent that as careers progressed skills improved, and incentives and motivations in relation to car crime shifted. A changing role for peers was also apparent.
Changes in skills
A third of the sample (most having offended for at least a year; and three- quarters of them aged 18 to 24) said that they had become more skilled in the process of stealing cars, in terms of technique and speed:
When I first started it didn't matter how I'd do it—I'd break a window if I I had to get in. I'd rip the dash to pieces. Then I learnt there's a lot easier way to do i t . . . through the locks with a screwdriver.
I can do it faster. I can do it better. I still go to the same places. It takes me eight seconds to get into a car.
I used to put the window in, now I use screwdrivers.
Back then, we used to smash a quarterlight using a scaffy bar . . . but now I like do the door locks with a screwdriver and rip the alarms off . . . use a
wrench. One lime if there was an alarm I used to leave it, now it's no problem.
An improvement in driving skills was also claimed by many, though previous studies (Briggs, 1991; Gow & Peggrem, 1991; McCullough et al., 1990) emphasised the tendency of offenders to overestimate their driving skills and to have little knowledge of the Highway Code.
The role of the peer group
As noted earlier, llie role of peers began as teachers and rapidly progressed to Iliat of co-offender—who were now needed as lookouts, for moral support and to increase enjoyment. An elementary division of labour was apparent:
You need at least Ihree people to go out. . . like someone's behind you. If I was black boxing1 it or scaffing it, somebody's behind my back in case someone tried to jump on me. There'd be two people at one end of the sireet and one at the other end just keeping toot.
We probably all knew different things . . . one was a better driver, one was better at gelling in, one knew ihe area better.
It's a bit scary on your own. It's like if you are with someone, you know you arc both doing it togeiher—1 mean you don't want to get caught on your own.
A small minority of the sample (9%) said it was important that they worked on their own usually because it was seen as reducing the risk of being caught.
Ten per cent of the sample said that they progressed to selling cars to receivers for profit, and this issue—progression to what could be termed 'professional' car theft—is dealt with below.
Incentives to car crime
The interviews underlined the fact that car crime careers continue for a number of reasons, which can be termed either 'expressive' or 'instrumental'. The former encompasses car crime engaged in for the thrill of it, for status, etc; the latter refers to car crime with a further purpose in mind—financial gain, through selling cars or their parts—which if developed sufficiently, may be termed 'professional' car crime. The two categories should not be seen as discrete and offenders may commit offences from either or both motivations. Nevertheless, this classification is useful when considering whether incentives to car crime change with age and experience, particularly in relation to the types of offending behaviour considered here: 'joyriding'; performance driving; theft from cars; progression to 'professional' theft; and ratnraiding.
1 'Black boxing' consisted of removing the plastic casing around (he steering column, followed by the ignition/sieering lock, to expose Ihe starter molor switch (or black box).