III. Robbery Consequences: Death, Injury, and Losses
A potential consequence of a robbery is the killing of the victim or, in rare cases, the killing of the offender in a thwarted robbery. More commonly, injuries occur in the context of robberies as offenders are frustrated by the victim’s response and use force to, as Wright and Decker (1997b) observed, establish “the illusion of impending death.” Consideration of the number and rate of homicides that result from robberies is possible by examining data from the Supplemental Homicide Reports (SHR). These reports provide data on the number of homicides that take place in the context of robberies. SHRs are submitted to the FBI from local law enforcement, and they establish data about age, sex, race of offenders and victims, as well as weapons used and the circumstances under which the homicide occurred. One circumstance code denotes homicides that emanate from robberies, and thus the SHR data are used to determine the numbers and rates of homicides that occur in the context of robberies. The SHR data collection dates to 1976, and an examination of long-term trends in robbery-homicides indicates they are relatively less frequent than in the past. During the late 1970s and the early 1990s, there were more than 2,000 robbery-homicides recorded yearly in the SHR. More recently, the number of robbery-homicides had dropped to below 1,000 per year by the mid-2000s.
It is probably most useful to consider the robbery-homicide relative to the number of robberies recorded in any particular year. Such an examination would help in understanding if robbery is becoming more lethally violent over time. In examining the proportion of robberies that become homicides, clearly such a situation is relatively rare. In the late 1970s, when at the peak of the rate, there were about 4.5 robbery-homicides for every 1,000 robberies recorded in the UCR data. In contrast, by the beginning of the millennium, the number had declined to approximately 2.6 robbery-homicides for every 1,000 robberies. Thus, the long-term trend is for decreasing lethal violence both in raw numbers as well as in the rate of robbery-homicides.
Zimring and Zuehl (1986) studied a sample of robberies from Chicago, Illinois, and coded data from police reports in that city. Their research indicated that evidence at the scene of homicides is not always clear regarding the temporal order of events. More precisely, it is likely that some apparent robberies are, in fact, thefts that occur after the homicide event. Similarly, Loftin (1986) studied a sample of homicides in Baltimore, Maryland, and used several trained coders to check on the coding of homicide circumstances in official records. That analysis, with explicit attention to robbery, indicated that there is a substantial amount of error in how codes are assigned in the SHR. Nevertheless, the SHR data still must be considered unique in their ability to speak to the robbery-homicide phenomenon on a national level.
Much more common than robbery-homicide is the likelihood of a physical injury that can result from a robbery event. The prevalence and nature of injuries have been captured in interviews with robbery victims in the NCVS since 1973. The most recent data on robbery victims and their injuries, obtained from the NCVS in 2006, indicate slightly more than 1 in 3 of the victims of a robbery suffered an injury. Closer examination of that data indicates about 7% of the victims had their injuries cared for at a hospital. Black victims, female victims, and victims acquainted with the robber were more likely to suffer an injury during the victimization and to seek care at a hospital for injuries.
Potential for psychological consequences of victimization from the robbery confrontation is understandably great. Victims of robbery can often have a great sense of violation and helplessness. Newspapers have documented evidence of victims being unable to return to work after robberies in the workplace due to overwhelming fear. The systematic study of the consequences of victimization, however, has received limited attention. As a personal crime that involves monetary loss, threats of harm, and actual physical harm, the consequences are likely to have a wide variation based on how the robbery was completed as well as individual victims’ predispositions and psychological responses to such stress. More simply, the variation in consequences of crimes of robbery is likely to be extremely wide ranging.
The amount or value of goods lost in a robbery is heavily dependent on the type of robbery that is being considered. According to FBI statistics compiled in 2007, bank robberies were clearly the most lucrative for the offender, as the typical robbery results in $4,000 in losses. The least lucrative robbery target was convenience stores, where the average amount of reported losses totaled approximately $800 per event. Considering that individuals are the target of street or highway robberies, the totals associated with loss from that crime were surprisingly high at slightly more than $1,300. It should be noted that some criminologists argue that as the U.S. economy moves toward more credit and debit card usage, robbery will become more concentrated among the poorest citizens, who typically are more likely to deal in cash transactions. Similarly, the cash associated with drug markets and prostitution also makes illicit targets attractive to those seeking to commit robberies.