The Australian Institute of Criminology’s (AIC) National Armed Robbery Monitoring Program (NARMP) has been recording and reporting on trends in armed robbery since 2003. The program was established to monitor trends in armed robbery, but specifically, trends in weapon use. The aim of the program is to identify changing trends and to provide insight into the factors that might underpin these changes.
To date, armed robbery information has been explored and results reported on an annual basis. However, this is the first report produced since the decision was taken to shift to biennial reporting and as such, it provides information on two years of armed robbery data—for the calendar years 2009 and 2010. A total of 12,005 victims were recorded as being involved in the 10,409 armed robberies taking place in 2009 and 2010, and ‘recent armed robberies’ refers to these incidents.
Long-term trends in armed robbery
Descriptive analyses of NARMP indicate that the overall number of victims reported annually and recorded in NARMP has declined since 2003. Recorded victims numbered 8,865 in 2003 compared with 5,713 in 2010; a 36 percent decrease. The number of incidents in which these victims were involved has also decreased over time, with a 24 percent decrease from the high number of in robberies seen in 2006 (n=6,640), to a low of 5,022 in 2010. This same general downward trend was observed in the rate of victimisation—a decline from 33 persons per 100,000 in 2003 to 18 per 100,000 in 2010.
While overall numbers and rates of armed robbery have declined, descriptive analyses suggest other features of armed robbery have remained constant over time:
- Each year around one-third of armed robberies took place on the street or footpath, while around one-fifth took place in unspecified retail businesses.
- Knives were the weapon most commonly used in around five or six out of every 10 armed robberies, whereas firearms were used in less than one in five (values ranged between 13% and 18% of all armed robberies depending on year).
Some findings warrant close scrutiny in the coming years. For instance, armed robberies taking place in licensed premises—although a relatively small number compared with the incidents that took place in the street or in generic retailers—increased by 20 percent from 309 in 2004, to 370 in 2010.
Victims and offenders in recent armed robberies
For the purposes of NARMP, only to those individual persons or organisations whose property was the target of the armed robbery are considered to be victims. Of those 12,005 victims in recent robberies, nearly three-quarters (or 8,580) were classified as individual or person victims. The remainder were organisations who had been victimised. Other noteworthy findings regarding armed robbery victims and those individuals who offended against them were:
- Six in 10 individuals victimised in 2009–10 were males aged from 15 to 39 years (60%). Females comprised less than one-quarter of all individual victims.
- Cases of repeat victimisation located within NARMP are likely to be an underestimate of actual numbers. Nonetheless, data suggest that organisations made up the majority (90%) of those repeat victims in recent calendar years. Repeat victims were involved in a higher proportion of firearm robberies (28% of the first of repeat attacks) when compared with all recent armed robberies in NARMP.
- A large proportion of incidents do not contain any offender information (61%; n=6,315) and therefore, offender counts could not be calculated for these incidents. Of those armed robberies containing offender detail, 65 percent (n= 2,642) listed only one attacker. Less than one-quarter (22%; n=920) listed two offenders (pairs), eight percent (n=331) had three offenders and three percent (n=124) had four offenders. Only two percent of armed robberies where offender information was available listed five or more offenders (n=77).
- The average age of all offenders linked to recent reported robberies and recorded in NARMP was 23 years whereas, on average, victims were older (aged 30 years). Less than one percent of offenders were aged 50 years or over, whereas just over one in 10 victims fell into this age group (11%).
- In line with general crime victimisation trends, older individuals were victimised at a much lower rate than younger people. For example, the rate of victimisation among those aged 65 years and over was three per 100,000 persons, compared with 56 per 100,000 for young people aged 15 to 19 years.
Physical aspects of recent armed robbery incidents
As with earlier years, the majority of recent armed robberies in 2009 and 2010 took place on the street or footpath (33%) or in unspecified retail locations (17%). Other key findings concerning the physical circumstances of recent robberies include:
- Nearly all incidents taking place on the street or footpath (97%), in recreational settings (97%), or in transport settings (99%) involved one or more individual victims. By contrast, 76 percent of bank robberies, 74 percent of service station robberies and 80 percent of armed robberies in licensed premises involved an organisational victim.
- Recent armed robberies were predominantly night-time events; two-thirds of all recent incidents (n=6,932; 67%) took place between the hours of 6:00 pm and 5:59 am.
- Relative to times during the week, a disproportionate number of recent armed robberies occurred between midnight and 5:59 am on Saturdays and Sundays (n=1,027).
Weapons and property stolen in recent armed robberies
In 2009 and 2010, knives were used against the largest proportion of victims (50%). A quarter of victims were attacked with some ‘other weapon’ (25%); 16 percent were robbed with a firearm, with a small number (2%) threatened with a syringe.
As more than one victim could be involved in an incident, percentage weapon use was therefore slightly different when considering armed robbery events. The most serious weapon in 56 percent of incidents was a knife, in 17 percent of incidents it was a firearm, in 24 percent of incidents it was an ‘other weapon’ and in three percent of incidents it was a syringe. Other points of note:
- Weapon use varied with location. Incidents in high volume, opportunistic locations such as the street and footpath primarily involved knives (59%; n=1,843) or other weapons (32%; n=979), with only eight percent of incidents involving a firearm (n=253). Conversely, robberies in licensed premises and banking and financial locations involved firearms in four in 10 incidents (42%; n=274) and six in 10 incidents respectively (60%; n=60).
- Weapon use did not vary widely as a result of the number of offenders involved in recent robberies. The percentage of robberies in which a knife was the most serious weapon employed was reasonably constant across offender numbers (around 1 in every 2 incidents).
- Limited data about weapon combinations suggest that most armed robbery incidents in 2009 and 2010 involved only a single type of reported weapon; 49 percent involved a single knife, 22 percent one single ‘other weapon’, 13 percent a single firearm and three percent a single syringe.
Stolen property variables do not accurately describe all the property taken in all recent robberies. Data do suggest, however, that cash was the type of property most commonly listed as stolen in recent armed robberies (listed as stolen at least once in 2,243 incidents, or 59% of those with property information). Electrical equipment, which includes personal electrical items like laptops and mobile phones, was the next most commonly stolen item (listed at least once in 1,552 or 41% of armed robberies).
The average value of property stolen per incident was much higher for armed robberies involving firearms ($4,630) compared with knives ($1,371). When considering location and weapon type in combination, the most ‘lucrative’ incidents on average involved firearms in unspecified retailers ($6,335), banking and financial locations ($6,917), and licensed premises ($7,362). Almost six in 10 recent armed robberies for which both offender and property value information were available (57%) resulted in victim losses of less than $500. Only four percent of armed robberies resulted in losses over $10,000. Even the most ‘lucrative’ of the recent armed robberies, on average, resulted in returns that were generally small, given the risks inherent to committing armed robbery.
Armed robbery in Australia
Despite declines in the reported number and rate of armed robbery victimisations since 2006, a sizeable number of individuals and organisations in 2009–10 were still subject to the immediate and potential longer term effects of the offence. Some features of Australian armed robbery appear constant over time. For instance, since the inception of NARMP, the ‘typical’ armed robbery has been carried out by a young man, armed with a knife and committing the robbery on the street or footpath against another previously unknown young man who was robbed of his cash or his phone.
However, detailed analyses indicate the existence of qualitatively different types of armed robbery; for example, street robberies perpetrated by young offenders compared with those carried out by lone, older offenders against commercial premises. Although only small in number, there is also a suggestion that armed robbery by female offenders may differ in certain respects to that carried out by men, or by women in the company of male offenders. When acting without male accomplices, female offenders may be more opportunistic and take fewer risks than their male counterparts. They appear to target female victims in higher proportions, target softer, less secure locations relatively more often, use more opportunistic weapons like syringes and proportionally fewer firearms, which can bring greater risks to the user. When co-offending with males, characteristics of the victim and incident more closely resemble that seen in male offending.
Currently, there is very little publically available research focused on armed robbery in Australia. The NARMP report, while relying on an imperfect dataset, provides the only national perspective on armed robbery in Australia. It provides an analysis of the nature of armed robbery over time and serves to flag what appear to be various subtypes of armed robbery, which in turn can direct complementary research to enhance understandings of this crime. This, coupled with an emphasis on focused crime prevention strategies to protect victims and deter offenders, may assist in continuing the decrease in armed robbery in Australia that has been evident since the inception of NARMP in 2003.