Dynamics of Street Robbery in Britain

The article, “The Foreground Dynamics of Street Robbery in Britain” by Richard Wright, Fiona Brookman and Trevor Bennett, essentially aims to investigate the thought processes of individuals involved in street crime. It tries to answer one major question: what are the motivations of street robbers that lead them to commit these offences, and what methods do they employ? The research theorize that the thought processes of street offenders are much more complex than proposed by the rational choice theorists, who say that the decision to offend is based on a conscious consideration of the pros and cons of their proposed actions.

According to Wright et al, the rational choice theorists fail to consider the “cultural commitments and pursuits” that are responsible for narrowing the choices available to offenders for fulfilling their needs. The authors conclude that street offenders are motivated by the need to maintain their self-gratifying life-styles. Their motivations include the need for fast cash, good times, keeping up appearances, excitement, desire to fight, and informal justice.

These are all short-term goals and therefore their offences do not require excessive planning. This research is mainly qualitative, with a small sample of 27 sentence-serving offenders being interviewed to gather the bulk of information. These interviews are made the main focus of the research, and there is virtually no statistical analysis involved. The results of these interviews are compared with and supplemented by findings from other reports carried out in the USA which used much larger samples.

Critique

The foundation of the research was laid on the interviews of inmates from five prisons who had been involved in street offences. These interviews were semi-structured, i. e. the interviewees were allowed to say whatever they wanted and divulge any information they wished. The unrestrained nature of these interviews poses a possible ethical dilemma. Given that the prisoners are not suggested to be discrete when it came to discussing their experiences, they might reveal some of their prior offences that the authorities might not be aware of.

If this does happen, then the interviewer finds himself in an awkward position: he might feel obliged to inform the authorities about these criminal offences but at the same time he is also obliged to keep quiet because of his agreement of confidentiality with the interviewee. It would be better to perform these interviews in such a manner that this situation is avoided from the start. The intended scope of the research is proposed to be street crime all over Britain as suggested by the title of the article, yet the research is actually based on prisons in South Wales and south-west of England, specifically Bristol and Cardiff.

Since these two areas account for the test subjects, the title is misleading. It generalizes the issue when the findings are based on a particular area of Britain. The article should perhaps have included the names of these areas as a subtitle. Making generalizations about a national issue based on information form a smaller region is a dangerous ploy when it comes to research based articles. As mentioned in the article, Cardiff and Bristol are areas that have a high rate of street offences, therefore using them as examples for Britain as a whole is detrimental to the purposes of the research.

The authors’ thesis claims that the motivations of street offenders are dependant on the sociological construct of the society to which they belong. The sociological make-up of Bristol or Cardiff is not similar to that of London or Newcastle and therefore the motivations of a street offender in Bristol cannot be applied to one in London. For example, the article claims that one motivation for street offenders is the need for maintaining “status and one’s place in the street hierarchy”. Offenders affirm their toughness among their peers by being involved in violent street crime.

Can this theory––applicable to Bristol due to its high street crime rate––be applied to London, where the number of street offenders is relatively small and thus there is less need for offenders to prove themselves to others? Although the scope of the research site is limited to street offenders from Cardiff and Bristol, the research sites (prisons) are not restricted to a small number. The researchers were able to gather information from five prisons that were willing to be part of the research.

Even though these research sites were restricted to those that were a reasonable distance from the research base, they still afforded the researchers a large spectrum of test subjects. Thus they were able to filter out inmates who were not relevant to the study and were still left with a reasonable number of subjects. The article does not go into detail about the specific criteria on which the selection of the subjects was based, except that they had to be street offenders. The sample is surprisingly small for research of such a large scale––after all, it is supposed to encompass the whole of Britain.

This fact is especially prominent since the article mentions other similar research reports based in the USA that use relatively large samples. As mentioned before, the research concentrates specifically on inmates from Bristol and Cardiff; therefore it is acceptable that only 27 subjects are chosen to represent theses areas. The research makes up for the small sample size by carrying out extensive interviews, which not only focus on the motivations behind the crimes but also the personal histories of the subjects.

The research is designed in such a way that the article focuses on the interviews of the inmates. The transcripts of the inmates’ interviews make up a majority of the article, but there isn’t sufficient analysis of these interviews. The major part of the article is divided into entitled sections that mention the motivations of the offenders. The authors describe a motivation, support it by inserting a portion of an interview, and then cite a source that re-affirms their finding.

Some sections (for example anger/desire to fight), are just made up of interview transcripts with little or no analysis or corroborating research. These then seem more like personal opinion than academic research. The sampling method is carefully planned with close attention being paid to the nature of the crimes the research subjects are involved in. The main criterion is that the subjects have to be involved in some sort of street crime leading involving robbery. Their gender and ethnic background is secondary and of little consequence. Of the 27 subjects, only two were female.

This aspect of the research feels a bit weak because the researchers ignore the fact the nature of a street crime is not independent of the gender of the offender. Presumably, a woman is as likely to be involved in a violent street crime as a man. The question the article tries to answer is how and why would-be robbers are motivated to commit robbery, yet it doesn’t satisfactorily answer the how part of the question. Of all the interviews that are presented in the article, none of them mention any pre-planning on the part of the offender.

How they carry out the offense is based on their mental state at the moment and their level of desperation. Is it then safe to assume then street offenders never plan their offense, and that it is always a “spur-of the-moment” thins? The article reiterates on many occasions that drugs are important part of the lives of these offenders. Most of them carry out their offenses while under the influence of some drug or alcohol. According to the article, the manner in which they carry out the offense is based on their level of intoxication.

This is the basis of the argument that street offenders are different from burglars because their actions are not the result of rational thinking. This is an important issue that the article fails to draw much needed attention to. If street offenses are the result of mental states that are different from those of rational thinking burglars, then should they be tried by law in the same light? This article has the potential to shed light on an aspect of the law that is possibly being ignored. Alternative research

The main weakness of the research in this article is the small sample size that is supposed to provide an example of street criminals all over Britain. The first and foremost change that needs to be made is to get a larger sample from different areas of Britain with different street crime rates. Next, this sample needs to be divided based on gender. The interviews need to be administered in a much more controlled environment. This will prevent the researchers from being faced with the ethical issues discussed earlier. Below is the outline of the proposed research study.