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from stealing cars was nevertheless evident, particularly for the very young offender.

Just over half of the sample considered themselves to be car crime 'specialists' concentrating more or less exclusively on stealing cars. They were characterised by an early passion for cars; early aspirations to legal car-orienlatcd occu- pations; earlier illegal driving on the road; higher rates of offending; and longer experience of car crime.

A fifth of the sample claimed to have desisted from car crime for a reasonable length of time. They gave reasons of increased responsibility and maturity rather than the threat of custodial sentences for giving up. Nearly forly percent of the sample were potential desisters—claiming to have given up in the last few weeks; they gave similar reasons for stopping as longer-term desisters. While car parks appeared to be particularly vulnerable to car theft many offenders were not specific about where they stole cars from. Three types of cars seemed especially at risk: those which are considered easiest to steal, often older cars; familiar cars with which offenders feel comfortable; and performance/sporty cars which offenders would like to own if given the opportunity. Alarms appeared to be of some deterrent value, though otherwise vehicle security was reported as lamentably weak, with offenders easily overcoming door and ignition locks. The findings on Vehicle Watch were disappointing, endorsing the need for a full evaluation of current practice.

Despite an overwhelming view that stealing a car was wrong, most offenders did not consider it a serious offence, although there was some evidence that this was changing due to media coverage of deaths linked with car theft and to the introduction of increased penalties.

The vast majority of offenders had been chased by the police, though this was seen more as an occupational hazard than as a deterrent to theft or as likely to lead to being caught. A third did concede, however, that police chases were the worst thing about car crime; although for some chases provided a challenge and the opportunity to show off driving skills. The experience of serious accidents and fatalities appeared not to deter the car thief.

Most offenders gave little thought to the possibility of being apprehended, and did not feel they would be anyway. Asked about what punishment they might attract if they were caught, over half the sample said they did not think about this either—the figure being higher among younger interviewees. Among those who had speculated on likely penalties, the chance of a custodial sentence was grossly overestimated in terms of current sentencing practice. In contrast, the chance of being cautioned was underestimated, particularly by younger thieves. As well as cautioning being considered unlikely, so too were most other non- custodial disposals such as conditional discharge, probation and community service. And none of these sanctions was considered a deterrent. A quarter of those who expected a fine or driving ban saw this as a deterrent, though it is not

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possible to determine which penalty was the greater threat. Half of those who expected custody felt similarly, though there were indications that the idea of curtailment of liberty may be more potent than the actuality. Only one of the fourteen who had experienced custody admitted that this had made him stop.

When asked for their views on the Aggravated Vehicle-Taking Act 1992, just over half said Ihe increased penalties might deter them, though a more important function of Ihe Act may lie in changing offender perceptions as to the seriousness of car theft.

Policy implications

Perhaps the main requirement in diversionary disposals is to provide car thieves with a comparable degree of excitement and interest to that which they get from car theft itself (see below). In addition, though, diversionary disposals would seem to need a strong educational component, given that most offenders demonstrated alack of understanding of the seriousness of car theft. Probation orders for instance may be most effective if they carry the condition to attend offending groups and/or motor projects. Also worth attention is concerted effort to educate those most at risk of becoming car thieves about the seriousness and social costs of offending.

Three distinctive features surrounding car theft were identified which may have implications for prevention. First, the excitement, status and enhanced self- esteem that follow from stealing cars—any form of intervention needs to keep this clearly in focus. Well-structured motor projects are likely to incorporate a strong element of 'thrill' and these are already being developed and operated by probation services and voluntary agencies. Evaluation of such projects is under way to identify best practice and assess crime reduction potential. Secondly, the considerable degree of specialism among those involved in car theft suggests that the early identification and diversion of these car-obsessed 'specialists' would make the most substantial inroad into reducing the number of offences committed. Thirdly, the ease of progression from casual and hedonistic involvement to more organised profit-making at a very early age further underlines the value of early intervention in the apprenticeship stage. The targeting of younger offenders seems critical.

Finally, in terms of situational prevention, the results carried messages for both manufacturers and car owners. One beneficial approach would be for manufac- turers to introduce deadlocks as standard on all new cars. Some alarms seem to deter some offenders, though the relative efficiency of different makes and types need more investigation, with results made known to owners. The development of wheel protection for sought-after models would also seem helpful, as would action by the police to curtail outlets for the goods procured through car crime.

Action by manufacturers to provide better security on new cars will only benefit new owners, and some escalation of skills on the part of more determined

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