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thieves to surmount new devices cannot be ruled out. Owners of older cars-for whom greater risks might ensue as newer cars become better protected-have little option but to augment their existing car security and take heed of crime prevention advice as regards risky parking locations, and leaving valuables on display for instance.

1 Introduction

Amidsi the overall increase in property crime recorded in England and Wales during ihc late 1980s and early 1990s there has been a particularly sharp rise in I heft of and from cars. Added to this has been concern over disturbances in places such as Blackbird Leys, Oxford and the Meadow Well estate, North Shields in the summer of 1991 involving cars illegally taken, often by very young thieves, for 'hotting' or display driving. Media coverage of these events and some well-publicised fatal accidents involving young people in stolen vehicles has brought car crime sharply into public focus. New offences with increased penalties were introduced and 1992 was designated Car Crime Prevention Year, wilh a £5 million publicity campaign—'a war against the hooligans on wheels' as the then Home Secretary put it. At the time of writing (July 1992), disorder in Hartcliffe, Bristol triggered by the deaths of two young men riding a stolen police motorcycle, and reports in the press of young people killed in police pursuits, further underlined the need for effective policies to deal wilh car crime.

Although the problem is clearly not new—indeed the literature points to a long- standing relationship between young people and car crime throughout Western Europe and North America—there has been a relative scarcity of significant work on the subject notwithstanding some recent overviews (Home Office, 1988; Houghton, 1992; Webb and Laycock, 1992) and discussions of preventive options (Southall and Ekblom, 1985; Clarke, 1991). The present research was undertaken as a further contribution to policy debate, its principal focus being the behaviour of car thieves themselves.

Aims of the present study

A certain amount is now known about the demographics of the offender, and we know something of the cars they target and how they break in. But there are still quite large gaps in our knowledge. The most obvious is that of the car crime career—what are the circumstances surrounding offenders' initial involvement in car crime, what maintains it, do they grow out of it, is it related to and does it lead on to other types of offending? We need to know in more detail, too, about the general characteristics and social background of car offenders—are these typical young offenders or merely bored young people without much other criminal experience? Further, little is known about offenders' perception of the


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