Less Crime

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.

How common is railway terrorism?

Think of a major terrorist attack. You might be thinking of a bombing in Iraq or Afghanistan, but if you’re not then you may well be thinking about an attack on public transport. Terrorists have long chosen aircraft for large-scale attacks (seemingly for good reason). Al Qaida and its affiliates in particular seem keen on this tactic: since 9/11 they have tried to destroy aircraft with explosives hidden in shoes, underwear, drinks bottles and printer cartridges, although fortunately all those devices failed to explode.

A lot has been written about terrorist attacks against aircraft, but comparatively little written about attacks on other forms of public transport. My background is in railway policing so I’m primarily interested in attacks related to railways, such as the attack on a Canadian passenger train reportedly foiled this week.