Robbery: What the Experts Recommend

Robbery: What the Experts Recommend

Police experts recommend these ways of minimizing the chances of being robbed:

1. Walk alertly and confidently, while scanning the vicinity forwards and backwards. Try not to walk alone. At night, consider taking a taxi cab even for short trips.

2. Trust your instincts and avoid uncomfortable situations, especially groups congregating and hanging out. Do not take shortcuts through unlit, sparsely traveled paths such as trails, stairwells or alleys.

3. Carry only as much cash as needed. Avoid outdoor ATMs, particularly at night and those in secluded inte- rior areas. Be alert at banks or check cashing businesses since carrying large wads of bills can attract robbers.

What to Do During a Robbery

1. Try to remain calm. Do not resist. Try not to be a hero. Take no action that would jeopardize safety. Follow the robber’s directions, but do not volunteer more than asked for. Assure the robber of full cooperation.

2. Meanwhile, make mental notes of the robber’s race, age, height, sex, clothing, complexion, hair, and eye color. Note anything unusual about the robber such as scars or tattoos. Also note the number of accomplices and how they left the scene, their direction of travel, and the type and color of their vehicle. Get the license number if it is safe to do so. Try to remember any conversations the suspects may have with one another, what the suspect’s weapon looked like, and what the suspect touched that may have left fingerprints.

3. After the robbery, go to a safe location close to the crime scene and call 9-1-1 immediately. Ask all wit- nesses to remain until the officers arrive. If a witness must leave, obtain his/her name, address, and tele- phone number. Witnesses should write down or remember their account of the suspects and their actions. Do not discuss the robbery or compare notes about the robber’s appearance with anyone. Protect the crime scene. Try not to touch anything.

SOURCE: Houston, Texas Police Department, 2014.


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(loneliness or greed), social (income or occupation), or situational ( just arrived as an immigrant; or just got paid in cash). A number of more elaborate theo- ries attempt to figure out why certain groups suffer more than others. These theories draw upon a num- ber of factors as building blocks.

From an offender’s standpoint, potential targets (individuals, homes, and cars) can be rated along several dimensions. One dimension is attractive- ness. Teenage muggers assault classmates to rob them of stylish shoes or coats or the latest electronic devices. Some people and things appear “ripe for the taking,” while others present more of a chal- lenge to the robber or burglar and raise the specter of being thwarted or even captured. Certain prizes can easily be snatched, spirited off, and cashed in (such as car airbags or smartphones), while others would take a long time and a lot of trouble to fence, and the net return might be minimal (such as used automobile tires of a specific size).

Situational factors highlight how people and their possessions are temporarily more susceptible at certain times, periods, or stages than at others. For example, muggers might lie in wait as payday approaches or when Social Security checks or pub- lic assistance allotments arrive in the mail (direct deposit eliminates this danger). Armed robbers might approach storekeepers at closing time.

Proximity describes whether the offender can get within range of the intended target, geographi- cally (by direct contact) and socially (through inter- action). Offenders might have great difficulty getting within striking distance of certain attractive targets, such as millionaires or their mansions. Proximity is a disadvantageous working condition for certain occupations such as mental health atten- dants and corrections officers who deal with dan- gerous people on a regular basis (see Garofalo, 1986; Siegel, 1998). Mental patients in hospitals for the criminally insane also endure high rates of assault and theft because of the proximity factor (see Seager, 2014). Certain individuals might be singled out simply because they are conveniently accessible, such as nonviolent inmates locked in with hardened convicts in prisons, jails, and holding cells. Similarly, elderly people trapped in high-crime housing

projects or meek students stuck in troubled high schools also suffer grave dangers because they are readily available targets.

Vulnerability is a dimension that refers to a target’s ability to resist and repel an attack, and ranges from well protected to largely undefended. For instance, at one extreme, rare coins in a museum are attractive to thieves and can be viewed up close but usually are displayed in tightly guarded settings. At the other extreme, it can be a costly mistake to leave valuables in plain sight in autos. The same vulnerability factors apply to people: Bodyguards may accompany corporate chieftains, but storekeepers walk home alone late at night.

The combination of the two factors of proxim- ity and vulnerability can turn deadly, as this tragic case shows:

A young woman moves from a small farming com- munity to a tough neighborhood in a sprawling big city. Her motivation is to help drug abusers kick their habits by becoming devoutly religious. Soon after making contacts and inviting addicts over to discuss religious teachings, she is found slain in her apart- ment. (McShane and Emerka, 2011)

Taking these factors into account leads to an explanation of how entire groups might face height- ened risks. Tourists often are preyed upon because of the confluence of a number of factors: exposure, attractiveness, proximity, situational vulnerability, and hot spots. Robbers, pickpockets, sneak-thieves, hustlers, and other swindlers gravitate to sites where tourists congregate as hot spots for crime because they figure that they can take advantage of the high population turnover and the anonymity of crowds to move into striking distance, while their prey will be readily identifiable (sporting backpacks, cameras, and maps and driving rental cars). Their attractive targets also will be carrying large sums of money and valuables, while being unusually vulner- able: relaxed and off-guard, distracted, careless, adventuresome, even reckless, unfamiliar with signs of danger, naïve about notorious scams avoided by knowledgeable locals, perhaps disinhibited from drinking too much, and often cut off from potential guardians by language barriers. The offenders also

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know from experience that tourists are not inclined to waste precious time filling out forms in police stations, looking at mug shots of potential suspects, and staying around to take part in drawn-out court proceedings. To discourage offenders from damaging the lucrative tourist trade that is so vital to the local economy, some prime travel destinations have orga- nized special police units to protect and serve visitors as well as special prosecutorial units (to fly in crucial eyewitnesses to testify in behalf of the state, or at least to use videoconferencing to facilitate their pressing charges and securing convictions) (Glensor and Peak, 2004).

Routine activities theory stresses the interac- tions of three key variables: the existence of moti- vated criminals (for example, drug addicts desperate for cash), the availability of suitable targets (people or their possessions), and the presence or absence of capable guardians. These guardians can be gadgets (motion detectors, burglar alarms, gates and fences, bright lights, safes) or people (such as alert parents, watchful neighbors, or police officers on patrol) or even animals (barking dogs). Would-be offenders seize opportunities to strike whenever attractive tar- gets are not well protected. If one of the three ele- ments is absent, a successful completion of a direct contact predatory crime won’t take place. Conse- quently, concerned individuals should take preven- tive steps to make themselves and their possessions less vulnerable to attack by anticipating how, where, and when offenders might probe and test their defenses. Everyday living arrangements that can affect victimization risks include patterns of commuting, shopping, attending school, going to work, and pursing hobbies.

Daily activities govern the social ecology of victimization: the kinds of people who will be harmed and the manner, time, and location of the incidents. For example, in recent decades, the vul- nerability of women to robbery and murder increased, according to routine activities theory, because they go far away from home to work and experience more interactions with nonfamily mem- bers. Those who spend most of their time at home (like the elderly) are not in much danger of being murdered by strangers; if they do meet a violent

end, it is likely to be at the hands of family members or close friends (Cohen and Felson, 1979; Messner and Tardiff, 1985; Maxfield, 1987; Burke, 2009; and Felson and Boba, 2010).

The routine activities explanation for differen- tial risks links several major themes within criminol- ogy and victimology. One is that social conditions continuously generate criminally inclined indivi- duals. Another is that opportunities for committing thefts and robberies multiply as possessions prolifer- ate. A third theme is that preventive measures can be more effective if they rest on “collective effi- cacy” derived from unofficial guardianship and informal mechanisms of social control (such as when nosy neighbors assume some responsibility for the well-being of others). The fourth theme is that certain activities and circumstances expose peo- ple and their possessions to heightened dangers (see Cohen and Felson, 1979; Cohen, Kluegal, and Land, 1981; Felson, 1994; Finkelhor and Asdigian, 1996; and Siegel, 1998).

Given the interplay of these factors (offender motivation, guardianship, and target suitability), how people actually behave can account to some degree for their observed differences in susceptibil- ity to violence and theft. The sociological term lifestyle refers to attitudes and behaviors that gov- ern how people spend their time and money at work and at leisure, and the social roles they play (such as traveler, parent, student, or homemaker). Lifestyle theory stresses the importance of three aspects of exposure: to high-risk persons; at high-risk locations; and during time periods of high-risk. Associating with high-risk persons in high-risk locations during dangerous times doesn’t guarantee that tragedy will strike, but it sure raises the mathematical probability of a person suffering a misfortune (Hindelang et al., 1978). Lifestyles that place people in jeopardy may appear to be freely chosen (such as pursuing thrill-seeking forms of entertainment) but also are strongly influ- enced by culturally shaped role expectations (such as how teenagers “ought” to spend Saturday evenings) as well as structural constraints (like the financial necessity of depending upon public trans- portation late at night).


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To further illustrate the significance of life- styles, consider the NCVS findings presented in Table 4.4 earlier, which indicated that single young men and women were robbed at much higher rates than their married counterparts. Surely muggers don’t feel guilty about preying upon people sporting wedding bands. It could be the willingness of young singles to venture out alone at night to seek the company of acquaintances and even strangers that accounts for much of the difference in the dangers they face. The relatively low rates of robbery, rape, and assault by strangers for young married men and women with small children can also be understood as a function of lifestyle. In their interactions with relatives and friends, leisure activities, and family-centered obli- gations, young mothers and fathers are less exposed to dangerous people and hotspots for criminal activ- ity than their counterparts without spouses or sons or daughters (Skogan, 1981a; Felson, 1994; Finkelhor and Asdigian, 1996; and Siegel, 1998). In contrast, the pursuit by single people of certain forms of late- night amusements such as cruising around, congre- gating in parks, drinking and partying with complete strangers, and frequenting bars and clubs near closing time inject elements of uncertainty and volatility. Seeking excitement from daring and edgy activities boosts risk levels too.

Engaging in unconventional deviant lifestyles greatly heighten risks. For example, prostitutes working the streets seem particularly prone to hold- ups, rapes, beatings, and on rare occasion violent deaths (especially by serial killers). These young women are easy targets because they operate in the shadows, are willing to accompany complete strangers to isolated or desolate locations, and often abuse alcohol or other drugs that loosen their inhibitions, increase their desperation for money, and impair their judgment. Crimes com- mitted against them often are not taken very seri- ously by the public or the authorities, and witnesses on their behalf (usually other prostitutes, pimps, drivers from escort services, or johns) are often dis- reputable, unreliable, or uncooperative with the authorities and therefore ineffective protectors (see Boyer and James, 1983). This case, although

unusual according to the SHRs, dramatizes the pos- sible perils of pursuing a deviant lifestyle:

A prostitute who advertises her services on an Internet website is dropped off by her driver, but soon runs out of the customer’s house, terrified, and disappears into some nearby woods at night. A police dog sent out to track her down instead unearths the remains of several people along a deserted stretch of a highway near a popular beach. Further searching and digging with heavy machinery over the course of a year eventually turns up her corpse, plus the remains of 9 victims. Some of them had been reported missing, several were dismem- bered, and others could not be positively identified. The police theorize that they were all linked to the sex trade, and were dispatched by one or more serial killers over a number of years. (AP, 2011b; Mueller, 2014)

A related concept, the deviant place factor, calls attention to exact locations rather than the general lifestyle of particular individuals. Certain settings attract predators on the prowl and trouble- makers looking for some action. Hot spots for crime tend to be concentrated in urban settings (Sherman, Gartin, and Buerger, 1989) and include crowded public spaces that serve as crossroads for a wide range of people (like downtown bus or train terminals), desolate areas where the police rarely patrol, or hangouts where heavy drinking and drug consumption regularly take place (perhaps seedy clubs or empty parking lots). Those who fre- quent these locations by necessity or choice expose themselves to greater risks.

In sum, lifestyles (including congregating at hot spots and spending time at deviant places) largely determine the quantity and quality of the contacts between potential targets and crimi- nally inclined individuals. Differences in lifestyles lead to variations in exposure to risks. In the long run, exposure is the primary determinant of a group’s victimization rate (for example, compare teenagers to senior citizens) (see Hindelang, Gottfredson, and Garofalo, 1978; Garofalo, 1986; Jensen and Brownfield, 1986; Mustaine and Tewksbury, 1998b).

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