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5 November 2012 | PR 12/194

Better car security boosts fight against crime, says Loughborough criminologist

Car immobiliser

Improved car security is one of the factors behind falling crime rates, according to Loughborough University criminologist Graham Farrell.

Professor Farrell believes car theft is an opportunistic ‘debut crime’ which can kick-start a criminal career, those stealing cars often going on to become burglars or muggers.

He points out that a stolen car is often needed by people who commit serious crimes, and the improvement in car security, thanks to things like electronic immobilisers and central locking, has led to a drop in car thefts and other crimes.

Last year 94,000 vehicles were stolen in Britain compared to 369,000 in 1997. Crime in England and Wales has halved since the peak of 19.1 million crimes per year in the mid-1990s.

There have been significant falls in countries across the industrialised world like the United States, Canada, Australia and Japan. In Canada, where car immobilisers were not made mandatory until 2007, crime started falling later than in America.

Professor Farrell, Professor of Criminology at Loughborough University and Senior Research Fellow at the Institute for Canadian Urban Research Studies at Simon Fraser University, Canada, said: “The quality and quantity of car security, particularly electronic immobilisers and central locking, has had a major impact on rates of car crime. 

“Car theft has been shown to be a 'debut crime' that offenders commit early in a criminal career. So making this crime more difficult may reduce the chances that they undertake a criminal career, or shorten its length. 

“In addition, cars are used to facilitate many other types of crime including driving to a suburban burglary, driving to a robbery, as getaway vehicles, for ram-raiding, for driving to drug markets, and transporting stolen goods.

“So stopping car crime may have positive knock-on effects upon other types of crime that are squeezed as a result. We called this the 'keystone hypothesis' because it's like taking the keystone out of an arch.”

Professor Farrell’s findings will be revealed in a new book called The International Crime Drop: New Directions in Research (Crime Prevention and Security Management) which will be published by Palgrave Macmillan on November 16.

It is a joint venture with Professor Jan van Dijk, the Pieter van Vollenhoven Professor in Victimology and Human Security at Tilburg University, the Netherlands, and Dr Andromachi Tseloni, Professor of Criminology at Nottingham Trent University.

The research was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (grant number RES-000-22-2386).

Professor Farrell had already proffered the ‘new theory’ in three journal papers with Nick Tilley of University College London (UCL).

Professor Farrell, who has published around 100 studies on repeat victimization, crime prevention, policing, and criminal justice, says it is not clear yet whether increased car security is the major factor in the drop in general crime but it has played a part.

He said: “Car security is almost certainly the biggest factor in relation to car crimes. The jury is still out in relation to other crimes, though better security at households and businesses and in other walks of life is likely to have played a significant role.

“It is also possible that lifestyle changes - youths moving indoors to online gaming, and the growth of out-of-town shopping centres - may have changed crime opportunity patterns in ways that brought crime down.”

Professor Farrell said the government should encourage other manufacturers to follow the lead of the car industry, who only responded to calls for better security following ‘threats of regulation and public shaming via the Home Office's Car Theft Index’.

He said: The implications for government is that designing-out crime should be a routine part of policy and planning for the design of consumer products as well and the urban landscape.

“For example, phone manufacturers and networks should be vigorously encouraged to develop much better measures to tackle phone theft and robberies.”


For all media enquiries contact:

Chris Goddard
Public Relations Officer
Loughborough University
T: 01509 223491
E: C.J.Goddard@lboro.ac.uk 

Notes for editors:

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 2011 National Student Survey, Loughborough was voted one of the top universities in the UK, and has topped the Times Higher Education league for the Best Student Experience in England 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 13 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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