CAR THEFT: THE OFFENDER'S PERSPECTIVE
the police to trace stolen wheels more easily. Evidence suggests that factory marking of components is successful in reducing thefts of car parts, but manufacturers are said to be hostile to the idea, mainly on grounds of cost (Clarke, 1991).
Linked to this is the need to curtail the numerous outlets for the proceeds of car crime, from both casual (radio/cassette players etc) and more 'professional' pursuits (either whole cars or their parts). Unfortunately, the demand for such merchandise is so great that this is likely to be very difficult. Foster (1990) describes the activities of one such outlet in South-East London in detail, where stolen car radios can be sold all day, and on average two stolen cars per week and the parts of several are dealt with. This said, sustained effort to increase control over second-hand car and car parts trading and scrap-yard dealing must have some pay-off.
The study suggests that Vehicle Watch has failed as yet to have any significant impact on car crime offenders in this study,though future success would not be ruled out by these results. At present, implementation is patchy and inconsi- stent; for instance, in some areas stickers are free, in others they have to be paid for. Some degree of national coordination might result in wider take-up and better sharing of good practice. Vehicle Watch also needs to be evaluated properly.
Car parks and street parking
This and olher studies have suggested that cars parked in car parks and those parked overnight in the street are frequently targeted by thieves, though without an accurate'baseline' of number of cars parked in different locations at different times, this can only be a rough guide. The risks of on-streel residential parking could be reduced by longer-term measures to improve street lighting and to incorporate secure parking provision in housing design. The more immediate option—which has been incorporated into the publicity initiatives mounted in Car Crime Prevention Year—is to encourage those with access to garages or off-street parking to make regular use of it and to promote busy rather than quiet parking sites where possible.
The subject of car park vulnerability has been extensively covered in a recent Home Office study (Webb et al., 1992). Our offenders' accounts endorse the recommendations made there for better security and car park management. There may well be added benefits in terms of reducing other crime, and for lessening the sense of insecurity which certain types of public car parks induce, particularly among women.
Implementing preventive measures
Crime prevention messages have been directed primarily at manufacturers and owners—manufacturers being encouraged to make more effort, owners to take more care.
According to the offenders interviewed, car security is lamentably weak. The study confirms the ease with which offenders are able to enter and start vehicles. The results here suggest that most cars can be stolen using a few simple tools, with door and ignition/steering locks offering little resistance. Action by manufacturers seems long overdue. Several areas of improvement have already been mentioned (eg locks, alarms, immobilisers, and wheel protection); and others have been singled out elsewhere (eg boot security, and laminated side windows, Southall and Ekblom, 1985).
Motor manufacturers have traditionally been reluctant to improve car security—arguing that customers are resistant to the cost and that crime prevention is the job of the police. However, the 1988 British Crime Survey found that 64 per cent of car buyers would be willing to pay for extra security (Clarke, 1991) and manufacturers are now coming under increasing pressure- both from central government and insurance companies—to accept responsi- bility for enhanced car security. This, together with anticipation of EC regulations and customer concern about car crime, all appear to be making manufacturers reconsider their position. There are signs that better security is now being incorporated into car design. Material on risks and good security practice has featured in many of the publicity initiatives mounted during Car Crime Prevention Year, though continuing efforts will no doubt be needed to influence drivers' behaviour.
How far improved security will lead to spiralling levels of sophistication between thieves and manufacturers remains to be seen. Professional thieves are likely to pose the biggest 'displacement' threat, but the evidence of this study suggests that other offenders might be outwitted. Only simple tools were used by the interviewees and none reported using 'slim jims' or universal key sets, let alone electronic gadgetry such as 'code grabbers' that open central locking systems and override alarms. This leaves aside, however, the question of displacement to other less well-protected vehicles. If better security of newer cars ensues, this will need to be monitored, for instance through examining changes in the age of vehicles stolen.
Although purchasers of new vehicles may well benefit from better levels of protection against car theft, it will be some years before offenders are faced with only'harder' targets. For instance, by 1996, roughly 40 per cent of cars on the road will have been manufactured in 1992 or later, which will still leave