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8 June 2011 | PR 11/67

Security advances are the answer to record low crime figures

Technology - not changes to the criminal mindset - has had the greatest impact on halving UK crime rates over the last 15 years.

And a marked reduction in ‘debut crimes’ could be key in reducing the number of violent  and more serious offences, according to research conducted by Loughborough University Professor of Criminology Graham Farrell and colleagues at University College London and Nottingham Trent University.

Statistics from the British Crime Survey show crime has more than halved since the mid-1990s, representing around 10 million fewer crimes and 6.5 million fewer victims. Burglary has fallen 63%, theft of personal property 50%, vehicle-related theft by 72% and violence by 50%. Similar falls in crime have occurred across Europe, North America, Australia and other industrialised countries.
Professor Farrell and colleagues considered existing explanations for the rapid decline in crime, including imprisonment of offenders, better policing, demographic changes, increased abortion rates and strong economies, but concluded there is little compelling evidence to support these theories.

Instead, they argue improvements in the quantity and quality of security have played the biggest part, in particular for vehicle related theft where the automotive industry has invested heavily in advanced security systems.
“Our research explored the role of targets and the environment rather than focussing solely on offenders as many previous studies had done,” explained Professor Farrell.
“It is the nature and vulnerability of targets, not the nature of potential criminals that has changed. For example, evidence suggests car theft fell due to better central locking and immobilisers. As a result joyriding is now largely a thing of the past.”

The research team believes this approach can be developed to explain the fall in other crime types, and could be important in helping develop security policy for new technologies such as mobile phones, electronics and the internet, where related crimes are on the increase.
The fact crime has continued to fall during the economic recession also supports Farrell’s hypothesis.

“The main cause of crime seems to be opportunity and this remains true even in a recession,” added Professor Farrell.


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Amanda Overend
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Loughborough University
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E: A.J.Overend@lboro.ac.uk 

Notes for editors:

1.  Professor Farrell is Director of the Midlands Centre for Criminology and Criminal Justice based at Loughborough University.

His research was conducted with co-investigators Professor Nick Tilley of University College London and Professor Andromachi Tseloni of Nottingham Trent University. The research was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council under grant RES-000-22-2386.

Recently published papers relating to this research include:
Farrell, G., N. Tilley, A. Tseloni and J. Mailley. 2011. ‘The crime drop and the security hypothesis’ Journal of Research on Crime and Delinquency', 48(2); 147-175.

Farrell, G., Tilley, N., A. Tseloni and J. Mailley. 2010. 'Explaining and sustaining the crime drop: Clarifying the role of opportunity-related theories' Crime Prevention and Community Safety', 12(1): 24–41.

2. The ESRC is the UK’s largest organisation for funding research on economic and social issues. It supports independent, high quality research which has an impact on business, the public sector and the third sector. The ESRC’s total budget for 2010/11 is £128 million. At any one time the ESRC supports over 4,000 researchers and postgraduate students in academic institutions and independent research institutes. More at: www.esrc.ac.uk

3.  Loughborough is one of the country’s leading universities, with an international reputation for research that matters, excellence in teaching, strong links with industry, and unrivalled achievement in sport and its underpinning academic disciplines.

It was awarded the coveted Sunday Times University of the Year 2008-09 title, and is consistently ranked in the top twenty of UK universities in national newspaper league tables. In the 2010 National Student Survey, Loughborough was voted one of the top universities in the UK, and has topped the Times Higher Education league for the UK’s Best Student Experience every year since the poll's inception in 2006. In recognition of its contribution to the sector, the University has been awarded six Queen's Anniversary Prizes.

Loughborough is also the UK’s premier university for sport. It has perhaps the best integrated sports development environment in the world and is home to some of the country’s leading coaches, sports scientists and support staff. It also has the country’s largest concentration of world-class training facilities across a wide range of sports.

It is a member of the 1994 Group of 19 leading research-intensive universities. The Group was established in 1994 to promote excellence in university research and teaching. Each member undertakes diverse and high-quality research, while ensuring excellent levels of teaching and student experience.

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