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Property Crime Drop: The Offenders View

Media release

11 February 2015

Criminologists and criminals are in general agreement about the reasons for the big drop in property crime over the past decade according to a new Australian Institute of Criminology (AIC) report.

Property crime has declined significantly in Australia since 2001 - motor vehicle theft by 57%, burglary by 49% and “other theft” such as bag snatching and shop-theft by 32%. The decline continued between 2010-13, with further reductions of 3% in motor vehicle theft and 6% in burglary (but with a 4% uptick in other theft).

Almost 470 police detainees, of which there were a substantial number of admitted thieves (23%), provided answers on this crime decline when asked by the AIC: Can you think of any reasons why property crime has decreased over the last 10 years? Many of their answers coincided with prominent criminological analyses.

“Surprisingly, answers correlated with criminological theories on this international trend,” Deputy Director (Research) Dr Rick Brown said.
Police detainees most frequently cited:

  • Improvements in security (31%)
  • Better policing (20%)
  • Increased community affluence over the last decade (11%) reducing the need to steal.
  • Increased imprisonment (10%)
  • Use of CCTV (6%) and
  • Improved community crime prevention responses (8%) with the most frequent reason given under this category related to members of the community having a greater awareness of crime prevention

Criminologists have variously found that reductions in property crime were associated with increases in arrests and imprisonment, and with reductions in heroin use. However, the strongest effect on reducing property crime was associated with increases in community members’ income.

Improvements in security have also been suggested as a possible explanation for the reduction in property crime in Australia, and where motor vehicle theft is concerned, the start of the reduction coincided with the introduction of mandatory installation of electronic immobilisers on new vehicles (from 2001 onwards).

“The most striking finding to emerge from this study is the strength of opinion regarding the role played by improvements in security, not only from the significant number of detainees who cited that particular reason, but also from those who noted the improved level of crime prevention awareness in the community. This has made people more security conscious and made it more difficult to steal successfully,” Dr Brown said.

This paper is based on the analysis of data collected in the second quarter of 2012 as part of the AIC’s Drug Use Monitoring Australia (DUMA) program which is a face-to-face survey that involves interviewing individuals arrested and detained in police watch houses, about their substance misuse and offending behaviour. The report can be found here: Explaining the property crime drop: The offender perspective

For comment: Colin Campbell 02 6260 9244 or 0418 159 525