Center for Problem-Oriented Policing

Crime Prevention Studies, Volume 17

Understanding and Preventing Car Theft, Volume 17

Edited by Michael G. Maxfield and Ronald V. Clarke

Buy this volume from Lynne Rienner Publishers


Title and copyright pages
The U.K. Car Theft Index: An Example of Government Leverage
by Gloria Laycock

After several failed attempts to persuade the car manufacturers to reconsider the design of vehicles and build in better security, the U.K. government developed an index that ranked models of cars by their vulnerability to theft. This was a lever intended to press the manufacturers into changing their behavior. It raised the profile of car theft with the public and showed which types of vehicles were most vulnerable. It essentially turned security into a marketing issue for the manufacturers. The chapter considers the leverage used over the car manufacturers in the context of a discussion of roles and responsibilities for crime control.

Preventing Vehicle Crime in Australia through Partnerships and National Collaboration
by Ray Carroll

The National Motor Vehicle Theft Reduction Council (NMVTRC) was established in February 1999 to implement a range of strategies to reduce Australia's unacceptably high rate of vehicle theft. The NMVTRC is governed by a board that includes senior representatives from the peak national bodies of Australian police services, transport agencies, motor manufacturers, insurers, motor trades, motoring associations and governments. The NMVTRC is financed through annual grants from Australia's eight state and territory governments and the Insurance Council of Australia (ICA). This chapter describes the origins and operating principles of the NMVTRC. These are illustrated by three examples of council projects: producing better data about vehicle crime to support other initiatives, developing and implementing a secure system to identify vehicles and parts, and evaluating programs to divert youthful offenders.

Designing Out Crime through Vehicle Licensing and Registration Systems
by Barry Webb, Melissa Smith and Gloria Laycock

Designing out crime involves more than the physical design of products and environments, such as the way buses are designed or housing estates planned. It also encompasses the way in which services and administrative systems are designed and managed. The scope to reduce crime through design is therefore much wider than is often appreciated. This paper provides an example, focusing on the administrative system that controls the registration and licensing of vehicles in the U.K. The current U.K. vehicle registration and licensing system provides many ways in which the identity of vehicles and their owners can be concealed, thus allowing opportunities for a range of vehicle-related crimes. The U.K. Government is currently implementing a number of changes to the current system to make it harder for vehicle owners to conceal the identity of their vehicles from the licensing authorities. This paper outlines the background to those changes, and presents evidence of their potential impact on theft of vehicles.

Abuse of Temporary License Tags in North Carolina
by Matthew White and Charles W. Dean

The abuse of temporary license plates can be viewed as a public order issue, like "broken windows," that has broader relevance to crime control, public welfare and government effectiveness. This chapter describes the use of temporary license tags in North Carolina, demonstrating that abuse of temporary tags is a serious problem. This paper contends that the current North Carolina system contributes to a lack of safety for police officers, facilitates criminal activities, causes millions of dollars in revenue losses, and costs insurers and law-abiding citizens millions of dollars as well. An exploratory analysis shows temporary tags to be more prevalent in higher-crime areas of Charlotte, compared to adjoining areas with lower crime. Modest changes in the current system would have the potential for considerable and widespread positive impact.

The Effectiveness of Electronic Immobilization: Changing Patterns of Temporary and Permanent Vehicle Theft
by Rick Brown

Recent research has shown that electronic immobilization, compulsory on all new cars sold in the European Union since 1998, has been effective in reducing levels of vehicle theft. This is likely to have been more effective in preventing opportunistic temporary thefts, rather than permanent thefts motivated by profit This paper examines the changing age profile of stolen vehicles and concludes that, while electronic immobilization has had an impact on temporary theft, there are signs that professional thieves may have found new methods to overcome the security.

Parking Lot Security
by Pat Mayhew and Greg Braun

Parking lots can attract a wide range of crime and disorder problems apart from thefts of and from cars ("car theft"). The thrust of research, however, has been on car theft, which is the focus of this paper. This paper starts by reviewing what we know about the vulnerability of cars in parking lots and the influence of their design, usage patterns, and siting.2^ It then looks briefly at results of some studies that have assessed the effectiveness of crime prevention interventions in parking lots. Attention is then paid to a U.K. program – The Secured Car Park Award Scheme. This offers awards to lots that meet specified security standards and allows them to "badge" themselves as award winners. Although successful, the scheme could have had greater impact, and some improvements are addressed. As part of the evaluation, some useful information was gathered from the public on what they value in parking lots. There is some coverage of these results. The paper ends by assessing various security features of lots, in relation to thefts of and from cars, and in relation to surface lots and multi-stories.

Auto Theft and Theft from Autos in Parking Lots in Chula Vista, CA: Crime Analysis for Local and Regional Action
by Nanci Plouffe and Rana Sampson

In Chula Vista, California, a border city 10 minutes from Mexico, local analysis showed enormous differences from the regional picture of auto theft. In particular, it showed that close proximity to the border contributed to theft for export as a primary motive for vehicle theft. By contrast, cities farther north in San Diego County were experiencing a joyriding or theft for transportation problem. The auto theft problem in the County of San Diego did not match overall crime rates; some cities with high crime rates had low vehicle theft rates. This supports the ideas a) that vehicle theft was a distinctive problem, and b) that the auto theft problem closest to the border was a discrete sub-problem requiring local, not just regional analysis. These findings convinced the Chula Vista Police Department (CVPD) to take a different approach from other cities in the county. Chula Vista's most effective countermeasures relied on securing high-risk parking lots. It is concluded that regional analysis may offer a broad picture of a crime problem, and may suggest regional responses. But specific differences within the region are best uncovered through analysis of local aspects of the problem. Having both local and regional analysis capabilities, and using them interactively, offer wider opportunities for comparisons of trends and formulation of hypotheses. The project's results also demonstrate the practical value of routine activity theory, rational choice theory, and crime pattern theory.

Police Intelligence and Theft of Vehicles for Export: Recent U.K. Experience
by Rick Brown and Ronald V. Clarke

Though the problem is now worldwide, little hard information exists on theft of vehicles for export. Little is known about its scale, who is involved, how it is accomplished and what are the facilitating conditions. This lack of knowledge considerably hampers policy formation and, as recent British experience demonstrates, it also impedes effective police action. This recent experience also raises questions about the adequacy of a national intelligence strategy (where information flows to a central repository and then cascades down to a local level) for dealing with this kind of crime, which may be committed by small entrepreneurial groups organized at a local level. A recent project on theft of vehicles for export, undertaken by the National Criminal Intelligence Service in the U.K. based on this strategy, found that the upward flow of intelligence was limited and that local police commanders made relatively little use of intelligence they received, preferring to set their own goals and priorities.

Publicity and Car Crime Prevention
by Emmanuel P. Barthe

Publicity campaigns are gaining in popularity in crime prevention circles. Some efforts have attempted to reduce crime by educating potential victims through increased crime prevention knowledge, while others have tried to deter offenders by advertising the legal consequences of criminal acts. While some campaigns have met more success than others have, very little is known about what characterizes a successful campaign and what crime types are most susceptible to this crime prevention technique. Drawing on a publicity campaign carried out in Jersey City, this paper seeks to (1) illustrate how publicity can be a viable tool to address car crime, and (2) identify the components of a successful campaign by adopting elements from the social market research arena.

Car Safety and Car Security: An Historical Comparison
by Graeme R. Newman

The research on the evolution of automobile safety is far more extensive than that on automobile security. In fact the latter is almost non-existent This paper outlines the major interests that contributed to the development of car safety in the U.S.A. since the inception of the automobile in 1885, and the striking effect that this had on the prevention of car-related fatalities. The historical progression of car security is examined in this context, noting similarities and differences with the history of car safety. Reasons for the dramatically different and more complex trend line of car theft since the inception of the automobile, compared to the relatively simple and monotonic decrease in auto fatalities, are offered. Recommendations for the promotion of car security are suggested in the light of the lessons learned from the struggle for car safety.