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The BBC's Jon Silverman
"High levels of crime has led to police targeting"
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Tuesday, 17 October, 2000, 13:33 GMT 14:33 UK
Fighting the 'fashions' of crime

Many crimes still go unreported to police
Figures from the British Crime Survey show burglary and car crime have fallen. BBC News Online's Julie Cramer investigates whether some crimes are simply becoming less "fashionable".

Figures from the British Crime Survey - published on Tuesday - show burglary dropped by 21% to its lowest level since 1982, while robbery was up by a significant 14%.

Current crime strategies, the general state of the economy and what is happening on TV soaps such as Brookside, it would appear, all have a bearing on how crimes are shifting and whether they are being reported.

The Home Office would be keen to point out its various crime initiatives are having an impact on crime statistics, while leading criminologists have their own theories on what influences crime "trends".

'Global phenomenon'

Professor Jock Young, head of criminology at Middlesex University, says the level of crime is going down in most advanced industrial countries, not just in the UK.

The professor believes shifting trends are far more likely to be linked to the general health of the economy, rather than to any specific government crime strategy.

New York City
Is a drop in crime related to a booming economy?
He told BBC News Online: "It's all related to the level of discontent that people have. If they feel things are getting a bit better they won't go in for crime as much.

"It's not a scientific thing. It's about human beings taking cogniscence of what's going on in the world."

So what about New York's success in banishing violent crime and sleaze from Manhattan? Far more likely to be linked to a booming US economy than a particular mayor's stance on crime fighting, according to Prof Young.

Coveted goods

Certain crime trends, of course, can simply be explained by current fashions or the coveted consumer products of the moment.

Cyber-crime will no doubt continue to rise because more people are gaining access to computers and becoming savvy in how to manipulate them.

Mobile phone thefts are now a common occurrence on the streets of Britain, because they have a high desirability factor and are easy to snatch, says Prof Young.

A lot of crime takes place simply because it is easy to commit

Martin Gill
Martin Gill, director of the Scarman Centre at Leicester University and author of Commercial Robbery, agrees.

He told BBC News Online: "There is certainly a fashion for some crimes, which is usually linked to the latest subculture".

Car stereos might once have been the most desirable item for car thieves, but Mr Gill says people should watch out for a new trend coming from the US - stealing car airbags, which have a high street value.

But while it is easy to ponder on the fashionable, scientific or sociological reasons for crime, Mr Gill is also keen to point out: "A lot of crime takes place simply because it is easy to commit".

Reading the statistics

Neither should we read too much into the statistics, says Prof Young, who says the make-up of crime statistics is complicated and can be easily manipulated one way or another.

"The only crime figures that are really reliable are those relating to homicide - because we are dealing with dead people," he said.

The latest British Crime Survey, which is based on 19,000 interviews with British householders, deals with people's experiences of crime rather than actual reported statistics.

Scene from TV soap Brookside
TV soaps like Brookside help put the problem of crime up for discussion
Prof Young says a door-to-door survey might well throw up realistic statistics on burglary - in this case that they are down by 21% - but will not shed much light on violent crime.

"People will admit to having been victims of burglary in a household survey - but they're not going to admit they are being beaten by a husband for instance," he said.

Power of the media

It is here the power of television appears to exert an influence.

"TV plays a big part - when big issues such as domestic violence are discussed on soaps such as Brookside they are talked about more and people's tolerance of that crime goes down," he said.

The trend towards televising crime, with programmes such as the the BBC's Crimewatch UK, has also served to encourage more people to report crime.

But at the same time, suggests the professor, they could be serving to help make crime into part of the entertainment industry - which has become a trend in itself in recent years.

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17 Oct 00 | UK
Crime figures drop 10%
13 Oct 98 | UK
Turning the corner on crime
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