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The Mancunian Candidate: Crime, Repeat Crime and Crime Science

Published onMar 21, 2024
The Mancunian Candidate: Crime, Repeat Crime and Crime Science
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Abstract

This is a short talk at the event: Three Decades of Quantitative Criminology at Manchester, University of Manchester, 20 March 2024.

Invited talk to: Three Decades of Quantitative Criminology at Manchester, University of Manchester, 20 March 2024.

My thanks to David Buil-Gil and colleagues for the invitation to speak here today. It is an honour to contribute to this celebration.

As a doctoral student at the University of Manchester in the early 1990s, it was my pleasure to experience a range of crime first-hand. While cycling home one evening in the majestic streets of Whalley Range, I was persuaded to part with my new mountain bike by a determined armed robber. A student house that I later shared in Withington was broken into while we slept. As a paid research assistant, I was that rare student with a car: it was broken into more times than I remember. My housemate Adrian was robbed at knifepoint in Victoria Park, between our house and the university, and frog-marched to the cash machine to remove his £50 maximum. The police caught the offender, and I went along to the identity parade at Longsight police station, gaining valuable experience in the field. Our Whalley Range student kitchen had a local map from the newspaper on the wall showing streets with recent shootings, stabbings, and an axing, our house in the middle proudly marked with an X. Our heroin-dependent neighbour once left me holding her new-born baby while she went to find a fix. Property crime in England and Wales reached its all-time high in 1992, and violence in 19951, so parts of south Manchester at that time could claim some of the country’s highest ever crime rates.2 The city’s night-time economy provided useful drug-related experience but also a model of good safety: we were quickly ushered out of the Haçienda nightclub after but a single gunshot on the dancefloor. What student of crime could wish for more?

Coretta Phillips (now professor at the London School of Economics) and I worked as research assistants to Ken Pease, researching repeat victimisation. This had been the topic of my undergraduate dissertation.3 When I started, Ken was completing write-ups of the Kirkholt repeat burglary prevention project.4 The timing was good, my luck was in, and to date we have published dozens of repeat victimisation studies which the evidence suggests have had some influence.5

It gradually dawned on me that Pease was the centre of many things and the intellectual driving force, along with Denise Osborne’s econometric expertise, behind the Quantitative Criminology Group at Manchester. I was not really part of the core group but went to some seminars and lectures that evolved, meeting Andromachi Tseloni along the way.6 Ken worked with many people at Manchester including Cathie Marsh, Pete Ainsworth, Jon Spencer, Bernie Gallagher, Bill Hebenton, Alan Trickett, Alan Wright, Mike Chatterton, Chris Humphrey, Dan Ellingworth, Sylvia Chenery and others, plus PhD students and practitioners. I remember how hard Ken worked to help Tim Hope return from the US, appoint him at Manchester, and guide him into studies of repeat victimisation and crime flux. If Quant crim at Manchester owes a legacy, Pease is prime candidate for the blame.

Andromachi Tseloni and I sat next to each other at our PhD graduation ceremony in Whitworth Hall, Tuesday 15th March 1994, for which Ken bought us the beautiful red and gold doctoral robes that I proudly wear whenever possible, but not today as I am on the train. Machi and I didn’t know each other well at Manchester, but a few years later both coincidentally lived in Washington D.C. then, also by chance, both lived in Nottingham where we began a collaboration on the international crime drop.7

Scientific consensus can take decades to emerge, but it is reasonable to claim that the security hypothesis has emerged as the leading explanation for the international crime drop. Thirty years of declining crime in England and Wales in Figure 18 is due to improved vehicle and household security. Property crime by adolescents declined readily as it became harder to commit. Most crime is property crime, and this brought down violence shortly afterwards.9

Figure 1: Crime drop in England and Wales by 2023.

(Source: CSEW; ONS (2024). Violence, domestic burglary and vehicle-related theft incidence rates each indexed to its peak year)

The age-crime curve shows offending peaks in adolescence, but Figure 2 shows its shape changed from high to low crime years. Adolescent offending fell 60 percent and accounts for most of the crime drop. However, years later when crime rates were low, older offenders were committing crime at 80 percent greater rates. This is because they learned to offend years before when crime was easy.10

Figure 2: Age, period and cohort effects of crime drop

(Source: Farrell et al. 2015; Dixon and Farrell 2020)

Age-period-cohort analysis clarified that this cohort effect was of central importance.11 Its interpretation is clearer in Figure 3 which adapts Moffit’s classic illustration.12 When crime opportunities were plentiful from the 1960s through the 1980s, the result was high-rate involvement adolescent cohorts. They aged into high-rate continuance cohorts, offending at high rates for their age even when crime rates were low. Conversely, when crime opportunities were increasingly scarce from the 1990s onwards, low-rate involvement adolescent cohorts emerged, and aged into low-rate continuance cohorts.

Figure 3: Effect of prevailing level of crime opportunities upon offender cohorts

So what? This is large-scale evidence that levels of offending in cohorts reflect the prevailing level of crime opportunities during their adolescence.13 This must apply at the individual level too, with crime opportunities largely determining offender motivation. It means opportunity really does cause the thief. It means crime opportunity also causes the violent offender. It means predisposition has less relevance than often assumed. It means reducing crime opportunities is the best way to reduce both criminality and crime.

Thank you for listening.

Notes

[1] CSEW property crime peaked in 1993 but did not cover 1992 which is when it peaked for recorded crimes.  

[2] George, T. 2023. Finish him: How Cheetham Hill, Doddington, Gooch and Salford Gangs waged war in Greater Manchester’s pubs and clubs, Manchester Evening News, 21 May 2023.

[3] The dissertation ‘Multivictimisation’ (University of Surrey, 1990) drew on a placement year at the Home Office Crime Prevention Unit (led by Gloria Laycock) working with Alice Sampson, and informed my first sole-authored study in 1992: Multiple victimisation: its extent and significance, Int. Rev. Victimology, 2(2): 85-102.

[3] Pease, Ken. 1991. The Kirkholt Project: preventing burglary on a British public housing estate, Security Journal, 2(2):  73-77. 411-414.

[4] Laycock, G. 2001. Hypothesis-based research: The repeat victimisation story, Criminology and Criminal Justice, 1(1); 59-82; Farrell, G. and K. Pease. (2017) ‘Preventing repeat and near repeat crime concentrations’ in N. Tilley and A. Sidebottom (Eds.) Handbook of Crime Prevention and Community Safety. Routledge.

[6] I shared an office in the Dover Street building with newly appointed economics lecturer Kenny Clark.

[7] The dozens of studies include: Tseloni, A., J. Mailley, G. Farrell and N. Tilley. 2010. ‘Exploring the international decline in crime rates’, European Journal of Criminology, 7(5); 375-394; Farrell, G., A. Tseloni and J. Mailley, and N. Tilley. 2011. The crime drop and the security hypothesis, Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, 48(2); 147-175; Farrell, G., N. Tilley and A. Tseloni. 2014. Why the crime drop? in M. Tonry (Ed.) Why Crime Rates Fall and Why They Don’t, volume 43 of Crime and Justice: A Review of Research. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. (pp. 421-490); Tseloni, A., R. Thompson, L. Grove, N. Tilley and G. Farrell. 2017. The effectiveness of burglary security devices, Security Journal, 30(2); 646-664.

[8] Office for National Statistics (ONS). 2024. Crime in England and Wales: Year ending September 2023 (Appendix Tables). 25 January 2024.

[9] Farrell, G., A. Tseloni and N. Chenevoy. 2018. ‘Did violence fall after property crime?’ in G. Farrell and A. Sidebottom (Eds). (2018). Realistic Evaluation for Crime Science. London: Taylor and Francis.(pp. 141-155).

[10] Farrell, G., G. Laycock and N. Tilley. 2015. ‘Debuts and legacies: The crime drop and the role of adolescence-limited and persistent offending’ Crime Science, 4(16); 1-10.

[11] Dixon, A. and G. Farrell. 2020. Age-period-cohort effects for half a century of motor vehicle theft in the United States, Crime Science, 9(11); 1-17.

[12] Figure 3 is an adaptation of that in Moffitt, TE. 1993. Adolescence-limited and life-course persistent anti-social behavior: A developmental taxonomy Psychological Review, 100(4); 674-701.

[13] Farrell, G. 2022. A crime opportunity theory of adolescent involvement and continuance in offending, presentation to the International Symposium on Environmental Criminology and Crime Analysis, Harrogate 21 June 2022; Farrell, G. 2022. The American Crime Decline and the Security Hypothesis,  American Society of Criminology, Atlanta, November.

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