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result of a more rational series of decisions to offend, beginning away from the scene of the crime, and ending as a response to learned cues at the crime silc about the likelihood of success (see Cornish and Clarke, 1986, for a more detailed discussion of the 'rational criminal').

Car thieves are clearly not indiscriminate in their choice of targets either, and engage in some forward thinking. Also, their accounts suggest thai plentiful opportunities and the ease of acting upon them are undoubtedly big spurs to offending—perhaps more so than in relation to some other crimes. At the same time, their accounts paint a picture of quickly falling prey to the heightened emotional 'buzz' of thieving and driving at speed. The combination of whal is perceived as unlimited opportunity and personal graiificaiion, seems lo lead lo a degree of offending that may be described as more compulsive in nature than is the case with other acquisitive crimes:

I used to (be worried about it) when 1 used to do it all the time. That's when 1 started taking Ma's (car) out because I used to sit in the house and Ilie keys used to be on the table and the car used to be just outside and 1 couldn't stop myself.

It is important to proceed with caution in any discussion of 'compulsive' behaviour and crime. It is unlikely from subjects' accounts that any were exhibiting what could be called a true compulsion in the clinical sense. (The suggestion that car theft constitutes compulsive or addictive behaviour is certainly often made more casually than any existing research evidence suggests.) McCulIough et al (1990) noted that, like any other adolescent behaviour, car crime can be engaged in with great 'ferocity and commitment', but saw it as closer to any other adolescent infatuation than to addiction. Forty- one per cent (n = 94) of the sample did feel that being 'hooked on' cars was a possibility, either because they had experienced an overwhelming need them- selves or had witnessed it in others.1 A further indication of this came about when asked if anything else felt as good as stealing cars (n = 69). Forty-four subjects said that nothing felt as good and a further 12 said that only the effect of drugs was comparable. This said, it is not helpful for present purposes to 'diagnose the condition1, but to acknowledge the role of excitement and other 'psychological' rewards in car crime in comparison to other crimes. The implications of this for preventive policy are addressed in Chapter 6.

Substance misuse and car theft

In the context of heightened emotion in car crime, it was important to find out to what extent, if any, alcohol and drugs were implicated on the occasions of theft. Fifty-eight per cent (spread equally across age groups) said that they did not use drugs or alcohol in connection with car theft. About a third of the

1 There was no relationship here wilh substance misuse—about hal f of those who felt it was possible lo become 'hooked on1 cars used drugs, half did not.


sample (32%) regularly used drugs (14% in combination with alcohol), most commonly before stealing the car and then continuing while driving around. Unfortunately, there are no figures regarding drug use among the general population wilh which to compare these figures, but, in any event, they suggest a potentially treacherous combination of inexperienced driving, impaired ability, and increased confidence. Only six respondents claimed to use alcohol alone before and during stealing cars, though this figure should be treated with caution given (hat an estimated six percent of 'normal' males aged 17-24 drive while over the legal limit on a regular basis (Goddard, 1991).

One in ten of Ihe sample admitted to using cannabis on its own when they were stealing cars, and a raiher larger proportion (14%) lo combinations of cannabis alcohol and glue. Drug and alcohol was common across all age groups, though cannabis use was most concentrated amongst the 15-20 year olds. Those from the Midlands (15 out of 21) were less likely and those from the South-West (10 out of 22) slightly more likely to use drugs and alcohol in conjunction with car crime. Though questions about general drug use were not asked, four subjects mentioned that they did use drugs, but not in connection with stealing cars:

(I'd use) not very strong stuff, just cannabis. A lot of my mates take acid and would be driving around while they're tripping, but I was too scared of the drug.

Experience of other crime

An issue of particular interest in relation to career progress is whether or not the present sample of thieves specialised in car crime, or were involved in a mixture of other offences. Thirty-two subjects had no experience of other crime. The rest, including those who now specialised in car crime (see next section), had mostly committed a mixture of crimes, the most common being burglary (n = 35), or ramraiding (n = 20—though 11 ramraiders had done nothing else but car theft). Eleven subjects had committed other thefts, mostly comprising of shoplifting and a further 11 were not specific about their other crimes. On occasions, a car was stolen for other purposes, particularly by more experienced offenders. Nearly half the sample admitted to having stolen a vehicle to commit other offences, most often burglary.

Car crime specialists?

Respondents (n = 97) were asked if they had specialised in car crime to the exclusion of other crimes and just over half (n = 53) said that they had. This is not to say that specialists denied other offending entirely—though 10 of the 53 made mention only of ramraiding (arguably simply a developed form of car crime—which is certainly how most of the ramraiders saw it). Apart from ramraiding, only a quarter (n=13) of the specialists admitted to having experimented with other crime, usually burglary. Nearly all of this group said they experimented after their car crime career had begun, though car theft was more attractive to them and they had reverted to it:


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