Prof Calls for Crackdown on Crime Victims

Prof Calls for Crackdown on Crime Victims

There is so much talk about crime in the streets and the rights of the criminal that little attention is being paid to the victims of crime. But there is a current of opinion that our courts are being too soft on the victims, and many of them are going unpunished for allowing a crime to be committed against them. One man who feels strongly about this is Pro- fessor Heinrich Applebaum, a criminologist who feels that unless the police start cracking down on the victims of criminal acts, the crime rate in this country will continue to rise.

“The people who are responsible for crime in this country are the victims. If they didn’t allow themselves to be robbed, the problem of crime in this country would be solved,” Applebaum said.

“That makes sense, Professor. Why do you think the courts are soft on victims of crimes?”

“We’re living in a permissive society and anything goes,” Applebaum replied. “Victims of crimes don’t seem to be concerned about the consequences of their acts. They walk down a street after dark, or they display jewelry in their store window, or they have their cash registers right out where everyone can see them. They seem to think that they can do this in the United States and get away with it.”

“You speak as if all the legal machinery in this country was weighted in favor of the victim, instead of the person who committed the crime.”

“It is,” Applebaum said. “While everyone is worried about the victim, the poor criminal is dragged down to the police station, booked and arraigned, and if he’s lucky he’ll be let out on bail. He may lose his job if his boss hears about it and there is even a chance that if he has a police record, it may prejudice the judge when he’s sentenced.”

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be a sufficient explanation, as this tragic carjacking case demonstrates:

A father gets a call from his daughter about some good news. So he pulls over to the shoulder of the highway to safely talk on his cell phone. A parolee who had served time for attempted murder suddenly appears. “Who are you running from?” the father asks. The parolee doesn’t answer but yanks him out of the car, shoots him in the head, and speeds off in the stolen vehicle. The fugitive had just murdered a police officer and wounded another before fleeing and chancing upon the driver on his cell phone. The cop-killer is captured but the father dies. (Ruderman and Goodman, 2012)

Consider robberies as an example of the inter- play of different responses that can lead to strik- ingly different outcomes. Potential victims can learn a great deal from other people’s experiences, especially their mistakes. Successful robbers, armed or unarmed, are skilled at “target manipulation” or “victim management” (Letkemann, 1973). From a close-up, symbolic interactionist perspective within sociology, victim–offender initiatives and responses can be analyzed as a set of complemen- tary roles. Robbers are the initiators and aggres- sors; the people they are preparing to pounce

upon are usually passive, at least at the start. But the individuals who discover that they are under attack can refuse to play their assigned role, reject the script, and struggle against the scenario imposed on them. The intended prey might even gain the upper hand, switch roles, and disrupt the final act, or end it in a way dreaded by the aggressors. In other words, the incident may or may not proceed according to the offender’s game plan. When analyzed as a transaction based on instrumental coercion (applying force to accomplish a goal), a typical robbery proceeds through five stages or phases: planning, establish- ing co-presence, developing co-orientation, trans- ferring valuables, and leaving (Best and Luckenbill, 1982).

1. During the planning stage the offenders prepare to strike by choosing accomplices, weapons, sites, getaway routes—and intended targets. They look for certain favorable characteristics, such as valuable possessions, vulnerability to attack, relative powerlessness to resist, and iso- lation from potential protectors. Strangers are preferred because they will have greater diffi- culty in providing descriptions to the police and in identifying suspects from pictures or lineups.

“I guess in this country people always feel sorrier for the victim than they do for the person who committed the crime.”

“You can say that again. Do you know that in some states they are even compensating victims of crimes?”

“It’s hard to believe,” I said. “Well, it’s true. The do-gooders and the bleeding hearts

all feel that victims of crimes are misunderstood, and if they were treated better, they would stop being victims. But the statistics don’t bear this out. The easier you are on the vic- tim, the higher the crime rate becomes.”

“What is the solution, Professor?” “I say throw the book at anybody who’s been robbed. They

knew what they were getting into when they decided to be robbed, and they should pay the penalty for it. Once a person has been a victim of crime and realizes he can’t get away with it, the chances of his becoming a victim again will be slim.”

“Why do people want to become victims of crime, Professor?”

“Who knows? They’re probably looking for thrills. Boredom plays a part, but I would think the biggest factor is that victims think they can still walk around the streets of their cities and get away with it. Once they learn they can’t, you’ll see a big drop in crime statistics.”

“You make a lot of sense, Professor. Do you believe the American people are ready to listen to you?”

“They’d better be, because the criminal element is get- ting pretty fed up with all the permissive coddling of victims that is going on in this country.”

SOURCE: From “Victim Precipitation,” by Art Buchwald, copyright

© The Washington Post, February 4, 1969.


Copyright 2016 Cengage Learning. All Rights Reserved. May not be copied, scanned, or duplicated, in whole or in part. WCN 02-200-203

2. During the second phase of the interaction, the offenders establish co-presence by moving within striking distance. The robbers try not to arouse their intended prey’s suspicion or to provoke either unmanageable opposition or fright and flight. Some offenders rely on speed and stealth to approach unsuspecting indivi- duals. Others employ deceit to trick people into letting down their guard.

3. The third stage is developing co-orientation. At this stage the robbers announce their intentions to dominate the situation and exploit their advantages. They order their tar- gets to surrender valuables and they demand compliance. Their prey can either acquiesce or may contest the robbers’ bid to take charge, depending on an assessment of the aggressors’ “punitive resources” (ability to inflict injury). Robbers who fail to develop co-orientation (to secure cooperation and submission) through threats may resort to violence to intimidate or incapacitate their opponents.

4. If the robbers successfully gain and maintain the upper hand, the interaction moves into its fourth phase. Victims are searched and their valuables are seized. But the interaction is terminated prematurely (from the offenders’ point of view) if the targets uncooperatively resist, have no valuables, are unexpectedly rescued, or escape.

5. The fifth stage is the exit. It is marked by the robbers’ attempts to break off the relationship at a time and under conditions of their choosing. As they prepare to leave the scene, they may inflict injuries to prevent interference with the getaway, or they may issue threats about the dangers of pursuing them or reporting the crime to the authorities (Best and Luckenbill, 1982).

This breakdown of robbery transactions into distinct stages and discrete steps helps to anticipate possible outcomes. Targeted individuals may or may not suffer financial losses from stolen (or dam- aged) property. Robbers may or may not injure their victims at the outset or at the end. Their prey may or may not be able to resist the

aggressors’ advances and may or may not be able to prevent successful completions of the unwanted transfer of valuables. Officers on patrol may or may not become involved. And a very small pro- portion who resist may be killed in tragic incidents that escalate from robbery to homicide. When an attempted forced transfer of valuables from one person to another is deconstructed in this manner, many opportunities can arise to change the script and the sequence of events to the victim’s advan- tage. A lot can be learned from other people’s mis- takes. Suggestions from experts about how to prevent or at least survive robberies appear in Box 5.7.

Carjacking is a type of robbery that is very difficult to anticipate and defend against. There are no foolproof precautions, and drivers always must be on the alert for many different scenarios when starting or stopping and while parking. Vic- tims of this crime of opportunity sometimes are criticized for not being vigilant enough when loading or unloading packages; driving while pre- occupied with music or cell phone conversations; traveling with their car doors unlocked and win- dows open; blundering through dangerous neigh- borhoods rather than taking safer routes; or falling into a trap by stopping after being bumped into, as part of a staged accident by a vehicle full of robbers.

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