Less Crime

Is metal theft committed by organized crime groups, and why does it matter?

I have a new paper in Criminology and Criminal Justice called ‘Is metal theft committed by organized crime groups, and why does it matter?’. Sadly it’s not open access, but the abstract is:

Using the example of metal theft in the United Kingdom, this study used mixed methods to evaluate the accuracy of police estimates of the involvement of organized crime groups (OCGs) in crime. Police estimate that 20-30 per cent of metal theft is committed by OCGs, but this study found that only 0.5 per cent of metal thieves had previous convictions for offences related to OCGs, that only 1.3 per cent were linked to OCGs by intelligence information, that metal thieves typically offended close to their homes and that almost no metal thefts involved sophisticated offence methods. It appears that police may over-estimate the involvement of OCGs in some types of crime. The reasons for and consequences of this over-estimation are discussed.

Concentrations of railway metal theft and the locations of scrap-metal dealers

I have a new paper published in Applied Geography with Kate Bowers called “Concentrations of railway metal theft and the locations of scrap-metal dealers”. It’s open-access thanks to funding from the EPSRC so anyone can read it online. The abstract is:

Metal theft has become a substantial crime problem in many areas. In response, several countries have introduced legislation to regulate scrap-metal recycling yards. However, at present there is little evidence to support this use of the market reduction approach (MRA) in preventing metal theft. The present study sought to test the underlying assumption of the MRA that the presence of a market for stolen property (in this case provided by scrap yards) drives thefts in a local area. This study tested for a spatial association between the locations of scrap yards and those of metal thefts. The density of industry, local burglary rate and road-accessibility of an area were controlled for. Metal thefts from railway lines in England were shown to be significantly more common in areas with more scrap-metal yards, high road accessibility and high population density. The results support the use of the MRA in relation to metal theft.

The when and where of an emerging crime type: The example of metal theft from the railway network of Great Britain

I have a new open-access paper with my PhD supervisors out in the Security Journal titled “The when and where of an emerging crime type: The example of metal theft from the railway network of Great Britain”. The article tests a number of findings from previous work on spatial and temporal patterns of crime to see if those findings hold for the new problem of metal theft from the railway network. Many common patterns in time and space were found to apply to metal theft, but some were not.

The abstract of the article is:

Metal theft has become an increasingly common crime in recent years, but lack of data has limited research into it. The present study used police-recorded crime data to study the spatial and temporal concentration of metal theft from the railway network of Great Britain. Metal theft was found to exhibit only weak seasonality, to be concentrated at night and to cluster in a few locations close to - but not in - major cities. Repeat-victimisation risk continued for longer than has been found for other crime types. These and other features appear to point to metal theft being a planned, rather than opportunistic, offence and to the role of scrap-metal dealers as facilitators.

Thanks to the UCL Library open-access team, this article is free to view online.

Copper Cable Theft: Revisiting the Price-Theft Hypothesis

Aiden Sidebottom (@Aiden_S), Shane Johnson and I have a paper out in the Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency titled “Copper Cable Theft: Revisiting the Price-Theft Hypothesis”. This research note extends previous work by Sidebottom et al looking at the relationship between changes in the frequency of metal-theft from railways and changes in the wholesale price of copper. This paper confirmed the results of the earlier work, which found that the frequency of thefts closely tracks the price of copper.

The abstract of the paper is:

Recently, against a backdrop of general reductions in acquisitive crime, increases have been observed in the frequency of metal theft offences. This is generally attributed to increases in metal prices in response to global demand exceeding supply. The main objective of this article was to examine the relationship between the price of copper and levels of copper theft, focusing specifically on copper cable theft from the British railway network. Results indicated a significant positive correlation between lagged increases in copper price and copper cable theft. No support was found for rival hypotheses concerning U.K. unemployment levels and the general popularity of theft as crime type. An ancillary aim was to explore offender modus operandi over time, which is discussed in terms of its implications for preventing copper cable theft. The authors finish with a discussion of theft of other commodities in price-volatile markets.