For a number of decades, street crime remains one of the most volatile, persistent and an undoubtedly intractable issue in our societies. Despite this imminence of the issue significance attached to it is negligible. From a superficial perspective, the problem may sound criminological but the reality is that all stakeholders have failed to keep the menace within acceptable limits despite favorable conditions been availed1.
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Every age produces its public enemy though such enemies have a habit of changing. According to Hallsworth, the street robber was the public enemy number one in the United Kingdom in 20022. Does this mean such people never existed in Britain before? The answer is a loud no. The only explanation to this is that they existed but they were never profiled with such vengeance as was the case later.
Today nobody is preoccupied with street criminals. Its anxiety has been replaced by white-collar gangs3. Does this presuppose that there has been a decline in street crime or are the concerned parties playing the politics of the ostrich? This paper attempts to bring into the perspective the phenomenon of street crime, its causes and probable measures of presentation with Australia as the reference point.
Before embarking on a journey to unearth the dynamics of street crime, it is paramount to understand the whole concept of crime. From a Marxian perspective, crime occurrence can be attributed to a set of social and economic conditions4. Therefore, the nature and extent of crime depends on the organization of the society.
As such, it follows suit that crime, and to be specific street crime, must be analyzed in the context of how it is related to the society as a whole but not in isolation5. The root cause of all crimes may be pinned down as economic deprivation6 As such, it is expected that crime rates should increase with a deterioration of economic conditions-at least from an empirical standpoint. However, this is not a blanket theory since it does not apply always.
This is because not all people who are poor or unemployed engage in crime. Some of the people who commit serious or chronic crimes are economically privileged. If these corporate or white collar criminals do not lack the basic necessities of life to warrant them an indulgence in criminal behavior, it is obvious that there are factors at stake.
Many theories have been advanced to explain the existence of crime in our society but few have contained enough thresholds to warrant a universal adaptation. Though the Marxian school of thought came close to providing a sound reasoning, it has been challenged by other theories like the feminist and the structuralism ones7.
One structuralist, Richard Quinney, in his attempt to outline a cause for the existence of crime, he identified two types of crime-crime of repression and that of resistance8. The first one represents those that are committed by the state or ruling class so as to maintain their position of influence. The last category comprises of crimes committed by lower-class persons.
As a result, inequality between classes is expected to cause an increase in predatory and personal crimes-street crime been a member of the latter group. It is crucial to therefore study the trends in street crime in the context of an opened mind putting into consideration the many factors that at play. It is only then that governments and the society at large will be in a better position to fight and bring the menace into controllable levels.
The starting point of demystifying the myths surrounding for purposes of this paper will be to examine what comprises it. Though not a standard Home Office term, street crime is usually taken to imply a combination of robbery and snatch theft. The robbery may be of either personal or commercial nature9.
This definition is important as addresses some of the popular beliefs that street crime entails those petty crimes like pick pocketing and the like while leaving out the big picture. It also busts the belief that the crime is usually linked to street children (Home Office)10.
Australia is a fairly peaceful country crime wise. However, it is characterized by such crimes like human trafficking, illegal drug trade and human smuggling. In addition, street crime has always been part of the Australian culture11. The problem is not given the significance it deserves and is usually overridden by other serious crimes like homicides with the state offering short term measure like early closure of entertainment places. As Rob White, an environmental criminologist notes, the menace cannot be curbed by instant coffee solutions but by understanding the broader cultural context in which the crimes occur12.
Australia has a track record of addressing issues through a once-and for-all mechanism. Why then has the issue of street crime eluded the government and the wider society for so long? It managed to tackle the issue of road accidents and having been leading the world in this, why are they finding it difficult to fight street crime? The problem lies with the mode of fighting. They deal with the symptoms instead of the causes. What then are these causes of street crime?
In a nutshell, the causes of street crime can be viewed as a case of the society eating its own. This is because the perpetrators of the crime come from the same society that the victims hail from. Alluding to an earlier proposition, street crime occurs against a backdrop of many factors some which are social, economical or political in nature13. Socially, there are a number of reasons that have led to a rise in street crime in Australia. One of these reasons is children neglect and abuse. Research has shown that neglected or abused children commit more crimes later in life than others. The victims of this abuse or neglect find their new home in the street and crime becomes their livelihood.
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Due to the inequalities meted out to them early in life, these people grow up with such anti-social behavior and will pass it to their offspring – if at all they happen to raise one. In reality, it becomes a vicious cycle of violence and criminals. The children find a consolation in the street- a home away from the hell-like conditions that they grew up associating with their homes14. This hardens their lives and they end up ganging up with others who have faced similar fate forming gangs15.
Therefore, the social fabric is a very crucial social factor as far as provision of criminal opportunity is concerned. Family conflicts force the youth to take desperate steps in their lives as well as join bad peer groups who initiate them into criminal activities and before they know it, they are so deep into it that the prospect of leaving the practice is brushed aside as an almost impossible16.
Another factor that has led to the insurgent of street crime in Australia is unemployment. The rate of unemployment stood at 5.1% by July 2011.As from 1978 to 2010, the rate had been averaging at 7.11% reaching an historical crest of 10.90% in December 1992 and a record low of 4.00% in February 200817. Though these statistics may seem optimistic, unemployment still remains the most persistent and devastating economic ills in Australia over the centuries.
This is because its effects surpass material depravation to touch on issues to do with crime, poverty and family breakdown. Although Australia has been prosperous, unemployment among the youth has remained high. In 1993, Australia was ranked fifth in youth unemployment rate among thirteen OECD countries Muir K, Maguire A, Slack-Smith D & Murray M18.
The trend is explained by a number of factors. One of them is the shrinking job market brought. Since 1995, there as being a 6.9% decrease in full-time jobs available for the youth19. This trend has forced many youths to look for casual or part-time positions20. In this regard, is there any interplay between youth unemployment and crime or more precisely, street crime? Indeed studies have shown that there exists two links between the two.
One of them links ennui and other situational factors to unemployment and therefore increasing avenues for engagement in crime. The other link is that if one cannot meet his or her wants and needs legitimately, it follows suit that they will be bound to seek illegitimate means to meet them. This apparently has been the case with Australian youth who engage in street crime to earn a living.
When people think of crime, the catch word that rings into their minds is poverty. In that case, it will be scholarly unfair if this paper does not pay attention to this social factor for street crime. Australia is not a poor country per se but experiences relative poverty.
The phenomenon is found mostly with unemployed people, single parent families, and disabled people, indigenous Australians as well as immigrants and refugees.
Around one in every eight children in Australia lives in poverty21. This a very high rate compared with other industrialized countries. The effects of poverty are unfathomable. They range from homelessness to poor health, malnutrition and crime22.
As such, poverty may be viewed as the denominator against which most of the vices are rest. Unemployment stems from it because parents who cannot afford to take their children to school are forced to stay at home with their children and thus becoming illiterate. This leaves the victims with no option but to turn to the world of crime to meet their personal needs.
The causes of street crime can be seen as labyrinth of economic and social disparities that exist not only in Australia but also in any society.23 Failure to address these disparities will mean that the problem will linger around as long as humankind continues to exist. In its part, what is Australia doing to curb street crime? What are some of the measure it has deployed to bring the trend into manageable levels?
As earlier hinted, the fight against street crime will not be won by instant coffee solutions. It requires a long term dedication to review the systems at stake as well as an overhaul of the whole social stratum. Below are some of the policies and programs that the Australian government is using to curb the menace.
In its endeavor to prevent crime, the Australian government has resorted to a number of approaches. Though some of them have not worked, its efforts have not been altogether futile. One of these policies is the crime prevention through environmental design strategy.
The strategy recognizes the need for designing and managing public and private space in ways discouraging criminal activity and thus encouraging community perceptions of their safety24. CPTED mainly puts into consideration the designers of particular areas, how the areas are defined in terms of border, maintenance and ownership as well as how well the design of the area is an encouragement to its intended function.
Some of the key concepts given prominence in CPTED are lighting, safe routes, landscaping, sightlines, escape routes, entrapment spots, signage and movement predictors. In Australia, this program began in the cities of Norwood Payne ham, St. Peters and Campbell town in 199825.
In 2003, the cities of Burnside Town of Walkersville and Prospect joined the program. Given the financial implications of this approach to crime prevention, it proves to be an expensive method and thus limited in application26. In Australia, it has only been limited to the above mentioned cities Eastern region due to a lack of funding27
Another opportunity reduction or situational approach that the Australian government has used in its fight against street crime is its introduction of methods limiting access to cash especially in Victoria. This initiative was aimed at deterring prospective robbers by rendering the TABS in betting shops less attractive targets. Time-locking cash boxes were introduced and a cash limit of 500 US Dollars set in each selling TABS drawer.
The efforts saw a decline in crime between 20% and 48% when compared to other big commercial targets like banks. Elsewhere in New South Wales, criminal justice agencies introduced initiatives to reduce mort vehicle theft in Sydney, ‘the car theft capital of the world’. The program incorporated a strategic assessment, planning and cooperation with private and public agencies as well as a publicity campaign.
The aim of this policy was to educate the general public to make their cars more secure. It also aimed at luring insures to get rid of incentives for insurance hoax. After a year following the introduction of these measures, motor vehicle theft declined by more than 25% in New South Wales (Australian Government’s Attorney Department28.
Apart from the target hardening programs, the Australian government has also used other approaches in its fight to street crime. These include the social or developmental approach. In Queensland, the government began the Peace Builders program with an aim to reduce bullying, violence and other anti-social behavior via a school-based involvement.
The program endeavored to increase children’s resilience as well as reinforcing positive behavior. The strategy drew its participants from a school in the south-eastern Queensland community characterized by high levels of family breakdown, unemployment and inner-cultural tension Australian Government’s Attorney Department29.
It addressed risk factors linked to anti-social behaviour at individual, school and community level. In the second of the introduction of the programme, anti-social behavior fell, parent and student satisfaction increased while police call-outs decreased from 25 to 4. 30
Once again, Queensland is home to another social approach to the fight against crime through community justice groups. These are Kowanyama and Palm Island community justice groups31. Before the inception of these community development programs, family violence, drug abuse and property crime were highly prevalent.
The groups consist of members of the indigenous population with the support of a community development officer as well community consultation32. They provide a mechanism in which the communities can deal social and justice issues with respect to customary laws and practices using conflict resolution, sanctioning and link between criminal justice agencies and the community.
After its initiation, the program saw a reduction of personal and property crime, decline in juvenile criminal activity as well as effectiveness in sanctioning anti-social conduct and resolving family rows33.
In addition to the above proactive means of fighting street crime the Australian has tried to bring the menace down by deploying a number of reactive measures like gun control. This was particularly intensified after an incident on 26th April 1996 in which a disturbed young man armed with a gun shot dead 35 citizens in Tasmania34. This necessitated the stalled gun reform process35. Since the incident, there has been considerable support from the public and politicians to restrict gun availability. The government also embarked on a campaign to buy back licensed weapons and to grant amnesty on unlicensed firearms.
In conclusion, the menace of street crime in Australia will remain battle yet to be won. This is because as mentioned earlier, most of the tactics the government is using to bring the issue into manageable rates are not fool-proof. There is need for focus on fighting the causes not the symptoms.
Proactive measures will only prove futile in the long run as the criminal will always benchmark themselves against any new strategy that the policy makers adopt. That is why in the meantime, the battles against street crime in Australia is a wait-and see matter as the menace will remain as inescapable as death.
Australian Government’s Attorney Department. Crime Prevention, November 2004. Web.
Barry G. Youth in crisis: Gangs, territoriality and violence. Oxon: Routledge, 2011.jpg 18.
Home Office. ‘Crime reduction’. Street crime. Web.
Indermaur D. Crime Research Center, University of Western Australia. Situational Prevention of violent crime: Theory and practice in Australia, 1999. Web.
Muir K., Maguire A., Slack-Smith D. & Murray M. Youth unemployment in Australia: a contextual, governmental and organisational perspective, November 2003. Web.
Scheingold S. A. The politics of street crime: Criminal process and cultural obsession. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1991.
Schwartz M. D. & Hatty S. E. Controversies in critical criminal. Cincinnati, OH: Anderson Publishing Co., 2003.
White R. & Cuneen C. Social Class, youth crime and justice, 2006. Web.
11. M. D. Schwartz & S. E. Hatty. Controversies in critical criminal. Cincinnati, OH: Anderson Publishing Co., 2003. Pg 12
2 M. D. Schwartz & S. E. Hatty pg 10.
7 S. A. Scheingold. The politics of street crime: Criminal process and cultural obsession. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1991.
8 R. White & C Cuneen. Social Class, youth crime and justice, 2006.
9 Home Office. Crime reduction. Street crime.
11 G. Barry. Youth in crisis: Gangs, territoriality and violence. Oxon: Routledge, 2011.pg 183
12 R. White & C Cuneen. Social Class, youth crime and justice, 2006.
13 R. White & C Cuneen. pg 12
14 R. White pg 14.
15 G. Barry. Youth in crisis: Gangs, territoriality and violence. Oxon: Routledge, 2011.pg 183
17 Muir K., Maguire A., Slack-Smith D. & Murray M. Youth unemployment in Australia: a contextual, governmental and organisational perspective, November 2003.
19 K. Muir, A. Maguire Slack-Smith & M. Murray. Youth unemployment in Australia: a Contextual, governmental and organizational perspective, November 2003.
22 White R. & Cuneen C. pg 16
24 D. Indermaur. Crime Research Center, University of Western Australia. Situational prevention of violent crime: Theory and practice in Australia, 1999.
26 D Indermaur- pg 24
28 Australian Government’s Attorney Department. Crime Prevention, November 2004.
30 Australian Government’s Attorney Department -pg 7
33 Australian Government’s Attorney Department pg 9.
34 Australian Government’s Attorney Department pg 12.