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6 Discussion

The final chapter considers the implications of the research findings for four aspects of the response to car crime: first, the scope for curbing car crime through deterrent sentences; secondly, reducing the 'criminality' of those involved in car crime; thirdly, preventive measures aimed to reduce the opportunity for car crime—referred to here as siluational prevention; and fourthly, the implementation of situational prevention methods.

Sentencing and the criminal justice system

It is often suggested that one possibility for reducing car crime might be for the courts to pass tougher sentences on offenders. However, both our research and earlier work on deterrent sentencing (Beyleveld, 1980; Brody, 1976) suggests that there is only limited scope here. This study helps throw some light on the reasons for this.

Increasing the risks of getting caught

The offenders in this sample were not asked to estimate the likelihood of their getting caught for any specific act of car theft (and their perceptions would have varied anyway depending on the particular circumstances of the theft). But, in estimating their 'career risk' generally, just over a fifth (22%) felt that they would be caught in the end, with the remainder either thinking they would escape detection altogether, or closing their mind to the issue.

Research suggests that one of the most important constraints on potential offenders is the belief that they will be caught (Walker, 1991; 1985). Most of the offenders in the study considered the prospect of being caught for stealing cars as highly unlikely—if they considered it at all. The admittedly rough estimate of a six per cent 'actual' chance of being sanctioned for an individual offence (ie, the proportion of recorded offences ending in a conviction or a caution) does little to belie offenders' optimism about escaping legal sanction.

How can the chances of apprehension be improved? Clarke (1991) describes various measures such as informant hotlines, sting operations, 'gotcha cars' and vehicle tracking devices. The present research can offer little in the way of comment on these initiatives, though Clarke concludes that while each may meet with some measure of success 'the scope for increasing the risks of detection and arrest is small'. As certain locations and types of car were

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identified as being at high risk of car theft it may be that policing can be better targeted and also, as offenders appeared confident that the police were unlikely lo apprehend a sensibly driven stolen vehicle, officers given training in what to look for in identifying a vehicle as possibly stolen.

Penalties for car crime

Offenders were asked about the penalties they expected to receive if caught and how they saw these in terms of deterrence. For the half who did not think about how they would be punished if caught, penalties seemed of little consequence as a factor influencing offending. Of the remainder, 50 per cent said they were deterred by custody, and 25 per cent by fines/driving bans. None reported being deterred by probation, community service or cautions.

What offenders say and what they do may be very different things, of course. It is far from clear that greater use of custody would achieve any deterrent impact, as offenders already seem to overestimate the risks of a custodial sentence. On the other hand, offenders' apparent disregard of community penalties may reflect their ignorance about what is involved and the effect it may have on them.

Offenders' attitude to car theft

Most of the offenders interviewed considered it wrong to steal cars, but few felt the offences to be serious. Among their peers little or no stigma attached to their behaviour, indeed quite the opposite—status and respect rather than censure were apparent. A few offenders expressed the view that attitudes to car crime were hardening. This was based on increased media reporting of 'joyriding' deaths and the stiffer penalties introduced by the Aggravated Vehicle-Taking Act. This indicates that efforts to bring home to offenders the serious nature of the offences—through education and publicity—may be worth pursuing. It should include mundane details of the harm suffered by victims of car crime, as well as reports of shocking incidents involving stolen cars.

Such a policy may help to build a changing climate of offender opinion on the seriousness of car theft—a long-term educative effect of the type which has, for example, produced promising results in reducing drink-driving offences (see Riley, 1991). The significance of legislation such as the Aggravated Vehicle- Taking Act, aside from retribution or 'just deserts', may He not so much in any deterrent pay-off, but in the longer term shifts in attitudes that it helps to achieve.

When interviewees were asked why they had given up car crime, or why other people might give up, increased maturity and responsibility were given much greater prominence in their answers than the effect of penal sanctions. Linking this with the group nature of much car theft, the influence of peers in starting off the car crime career, and the young age of first involvement, underlines the

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