been involved with the police, in the context of the generally large number of offences claimed to have been committed, risks for particular incidents of theft seemed remote.
In any event, a high proportion (89%) said that the risk of apprehension did not deter them. Within this number 12 per cent thought that even if the police did get on to them that they would be able to get away; seven per cent claimed that the risk of being caught made things more exciting for them.
The risk of being caught
For a number of reasons, the actual chance of being caught and sanctioned can only be roughly estimated from official statistics on recorded crime and offenders proceeded against. For one, a proportion of offenders will come to the attention of the police, but will fall out of the tally of persons 'proceeded against1 in that they will be informally cautioned, or be subject to a police decision to take no further formal action. Table 5.1 nonetheless gives a rough indication of risks of sanction based on 1990 figures. The shift should be noted between offences (Row A), and offenders (Row B onwards). Since there is no
Table 5.1 Number of offenders dealt with for theft and unauthorised taking of motor vehicles, 1990 (1)
A. Offences recorded by the police (2) (3) B. Offenders informally cautioned or no further action taken
494,000 unknown 10,000
C. Offenders cautioned 1. % offenders cautioned of offences cleared
2. % offenders cautioned of recorded offences D. Offenders found guilty 1. % offenders found guilty of offences cleared 2. % offenders found guilty of recorded offences
E. Offenders cautioned and found guilty (4) 1. % offenders of offences cleared 2. % offenders of recorded offences
Figures rounded to nearest 1,000. Percentages based on more precise numbers.
These offences cover both triable either way offences of theft of a motor vehicle, as well as the summary offence of 'unauthorised taking of a conveyance'. The vast majority of 'motor vehicles' will be cars. So too will 'conveyances', though the term also covers non-motorised vehicles (eg, trailers, farming conveyances, etc).
The number of offences recorded by the police is not an exact tally of offences committed since some offences will fail to enter police records because they are not reported by victims. In the case of theft of cars the number not reported is likely to be small.
There will also be a number of offenders who are taken to court but not found guilty, or whose cases are discharged; others will be informally cautioned by the police.
accurate count of the number of offences each offender is responsible for, the percentages given of those who are proceeded against are only suggestive of the 'likelihood of sanction'.
On the face of it, about six per cent (one in sixteen) of all offences committed result in an offender being either formally cautioned or convicted. This figure will give pause for thought in any debate about the certainty of sanction, though it probably underestimates the risk of sanction in a given year. Some offenders dealt with will have more than one offence set against them; and a number of others may be subject lo some police action (eg, an informal caution), but not enter the formal count.
Of parlicular concern in the policing of car theft are chases involving stolen vehicles and the danger they pose to offenders, the police and the public. Almost all the interviewees (91%) reported that they had been chased by the police, 72 per cent more than once. It is hard to say whether there was an element of exaggeration here.
Thirty-one per cent of the sample (n = 95) reported that getting caught or chased by the police was the worst thing about their experience of car crime (though being chased and getting away was the best experience for 14%). This challenges the view that offenders like to be chased, as does the fact that less than 10 per cent said they deliberately provoked the police into chasing them, just 'for the buzz':
It was just like a game—me and the old bill, getting them to chase you and things like that.
When the adrenalin starts flowing, that's it, there's no stopping. When you're being chased by the police and they've got their blue light flashing behind you, and you're going 80 miles an hour through a little street—I mean there's nothing that compares with it.
For many, being chased involved a mixture of fear and excitement:
When you get chased by the police, it's very, very scary. Everyone says 'Oh I beat the police' and all that, but you actually get in a car with someone who's being chased and they're unbelievably scared. A lot of them are close to being physically sick. The stereo gets turned off, everyone sits and looks tense and nervous, no one says anything. Once you've got away from the police its 'Ah, yeah—great!' Its hard to think that five minutes ago they were almost being sick with fear.
You notice they're behind you and you think 'shit'. The boys in the car start wondering what's going to happen, then I put my foot down and shoot off like that. The buzz that you get is unreal because you think you're on a good buzz, but you are also on a bad buzz because you're thinking 'Am 1 going to get caught?'.