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Robbery may be defined as the taking away of valuable items or goods from a victim in a potentially lethal manner, for example, purse snatchings, bank holdups, and muggings when a weapon is used. The primary difference between theft and robbery is that the latter has an inherent risk of violence, while the former does not. For instance, while both involve stealing something of value, the potential threat of physical harm is absent in theft, where the criminal places emphasis on obtaining the desired object and
little else. In robbery, on the other hand, if the victim does not acquiesce to the criminal’s demands, the victim may be physically harmed, up to and including death. Thus, while both are felonies, theft is usually viewed as being less serious than robbery, with the result being a lesser prison sentence for someone convicted of grand or petit larceny.
In 2002, there were an estimated 420,637 robberies, accounting for 3.5% of the Crime Index, as well as comprising an estimated 29.5% of violent crimes. In 1994, 21% of all U.S. households were victims of various property crimes, including burglary, larceny, and motor vehicle theft, whereas the rate dropped to 13% by 2003. The Bureau of Justice Statistics reported in 2003 that over 16 million families had at least one member who was traumatized by violent and/or property victimization. In 1994, when the United States had about 14 million fewer households, over 25 million families suffered criminal victimization. In terms of violence, roughly 3.5 million households suffered a violent act in 2003, but in 1994, more than 7 million U.S. households had a member who had experienced a violent victimization.
One essential component of robbery is the use of weapons. In 2002, the Uniform Crime Report (UCR) showed that during 42% of all robberies, the offenders used firearms, while another 40% used martial arts tactics involving hands, fists, or feet. In addition, criminals used knives or cutting instruments 8.7% of the time, with the remaining weapons being clubs, sticks, and other objects.
No data exist regarding the race, gender, age, or socioeconomic status of potential robbers; however, the research clearly indicates that most robberies are committed by men. According to the FBI, 90% of all robbery arrests are male, with 61% under the age of 25. In terms of race, 54% of robbers are Black, 44% are White, and the remaining 2% are other races. Unlike victims of other assaults, robbery victims seldom know their assailant. In addition, unlike other crimes, robbery is most likely to be committed by more than one offender.
No one specific setting dominates where robberies tend to occur. For example, in 2002, almost 43% took place on a street or highway, while 15% transpired in public settings (restaurants, taverns, hotels) and almost 14% happened in private residences. Convenience stores were the location of 6.5% of robberies, service stations 2.7%, and banks 2.3%. The remaining 17.7% of robberies occurred at other venues.
Given the severity of the crime and the lengthy prison sentences if convicted, one would expect the amount of money (or the property) stolen would be significant. However, in 2002, throughout the United States, the average monetary value of property stolen during a robbery was $1,281. On the other hand, victims’ total amount lost was estimated to be $539. For commercial robbery, banks lost an average of $4,763 for each individual crime, while other public entities (e.g., supermarkets, department stores, restaurants, taverns, finance companies, hotels, motels) lost an average of $1,676 per robbery. The estimated value of losses incurred from robberies of residences averaged $1,340, and robberies on streets or highways averaged a loss of $1,045 per robbery.
Types of Robberies
Criminologists and various federal agencies have categorized robberies of institutions as commercial robbery (e.g., banks, stores) and robberies of individuals as street robbery. According to the UCR, approximately 75% of all robberies may be classified as street robberies, with the remaining 25% being commercial robberies.
In essence, commercial robbery may be defined as the taking or the attempt to take anything of value from the care or custody of a commercial or financial establishment. The most famous (due to the romanticizing of Hollywood and popular culture) is bank robbery. In the United States, this type of crime is commonly called a bank heist. The single most notorious type of bank robbery is a takeover robbery, mythologized in countless Tinseltown favorites, such as Dog Day Afternoon and The Getaway. According to UCR computation summary data, in 2001, a bank robbery occurred every 52 minutes in the United States, with a total loss of approximately $70 million. During 2001, the conviction rate for bank robbers was approximately 58%, with only murderers being charged and convicted at a higher rate (62.4%). Modern security measures, such as hidden security cameras, have made robbing banks a losing proposition for many criminals.
The United States has glorified bank robbers at various moments in its history. The glory days for this type of criminal occurred during the 19th century and ever since have become a staple of American popular culture. Countless films, books, songs, and comic books have been written, with many having the bank robber cast as an antihero, an individual both warm-hearted and icy-cold. Interestingly, other countries more lax in security have fewer robberies per capita than the United States does. Many social scientists feel that a primary reason for this is the glorification of bank robbers in American culture. In terms of the law, bank robbery is penalized as a federal crime since banks are federal institutions, with deposits of up to $100,000 insured by the federal government. Thus, robbing banks is a felony in every state, and bank robbers are more likely to receive a more severe federal punishment, such as no parole, a life sentence, or even the death penalty, when compared to other criminals.
individual or Street Robbery
The robbery of an individual, or what is called street robbery, is the most common type of robbery, and the most common place for an attack is on the street, especially when someone is walking to or from his or her car. In fact, almost half of all robberies occur on streets and in parking lots. Other locations, such as subway and train stations and indoor ATMs, make up 14% of these robberies. When a robbery of this sort occurs, approximately 60% of the time the victim will be forced to give up his or her money or other valuables due to the presence of a deadly weapon (especially firearms). Overall, street robbery can be categorized into the following: acquaintance robberies, bike-jackings, bullyboys, carjackings, dial-a-victim, domestic, home invasion, homeless, pack robbery, predatory (crude), predatory (professional), and purse snatching.
Most individual robberies occur in what are commonly called fringe areas. Fringe areas is a generic term for describing places in between where one has gone and where one is going, where robbers usually operate and where victims are more likely to be attacked. Few people view these areas as being dangerous, since normally they are not inherently hazardous. In general, fringe areas are places that people pass through on their way to something else or on their way back from something; for example, walking from a shopping mall to one’s car. From the victim’s perspective, a fringe area is transitional; hence, most individuals have their minds focused on where they are headed or on something they plan to do. Regardless of the reason, most people fail to pay close attention to this area. On the other hand, from the criminals’ perspective, a fringe area is a perfect place to sit and wait for victims, since it is a safer place for them to commit their crime. One fringe area frequented by robbers is a small parking lot, since it is dark and most stores do not have security cameras watching their parking lot. Other fringe areas include elevators or stairwells, ATMs, outside an event or location, public restrooms, and apartment laundry rooms.
Several tips can effectively help an individual keep from being robbed while entering a fringe area. First, it is important to look around and observe what the normal behavior is for people in that area. For example, in parking lots, people tend to walk or drive in and out instead of loitering. In other words, in a parking lot if someone is loitering without an immediately identifiable reason, it is not a normal behavior. Second, it is essential to measure how long would it take for help to get to you (a potential victim) if someone attacked you. It takes about 30 seconds for a mugger to commit a robbery. If you are robbed and scream for help, would or could anyone hear the cries for help?
- Federal Bureau of Investigation. (2003). Crime in the United States. Retrieved November 20, 2006, from http:// www.fbi.gov/ucr/cius_02/html/web/offreported/ 02-nrobbery05.html
- Hall, D. (1993). Survey of criminal law. Albany, NY: Delmar.
- Swierczynski, D. (2002). This here’s a stick-up: The big bad book of American bank robbery. New York: Alpha Press.
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