VI. Robbery Types
Scholarly work has generated a sense that robberies are not a unitary event but encompass a great variety of subtypes. Robbery types include stranger and acquaintance robberies, carjackings, home invasions, commercial robberies, bank robberies, and street robberies or muggings. Each of these types of robberies presents a different set of difficulties for those victimized as well as differing obstacles for the perpetrator. Perhaps the most useful distinction to make when considering variations in robbery is the difference between commercial and personal robberies. For example, the scholarly research indicates that robberies of convenience stores and other commercial establishments may be different in the sense that the robber is asking the victim to surrender someone else’s money. This might be easier to accomplish with less forceful action than when convincing someone to give up his or her personal money and property. The carjacking is of relatively recent consideration, but similarly presents difficulties of securing control of an automobile through force and threats.
Commercial robberies commonly include, among other targets, convenience stores and banks. Research from the 1960s and 1970s indicated that commercial robbery was often conducted by professional robbers. That is, commercial robberies were planned to maximize success in the form of monetary value and likelihood of escape. Interviews of contemporary robbers show that there is typically only minor planning of commercial robberies. Although these crimes do involve offenders whose behaviors are consistent with the concept of professional planning, most contemporary commercial robberies appear to be the work of robbers who try to capitalize on opportunities. There may be variation across convenience stores and bank robbers; however, expectations that the latter are drawn from a pool of highly professional robbers do not appear to be supported.
A. Convenience Stores
One setting of particular interest for robbery and its consequences is the convenience store. Convenience stores are, by design, created for quick transactions and generally have little more security than a clear view from the cash register and security cameras. According to UCR data compiled on robberies in 2007, the typical convenience store robbery netted only $800, which is less than all other forms of robbery recorded in the UCR.
Wellford, MacDonald, and Weiss (1997) interviewed 148 incarcerated convenience store robbers across five states, and approximately one third indicated that they planned the convenience store robbery more than 6 hours in advance, while 16% of the sample also reported abandoning a plan to rob another store. Petrosino and Brensilber (2003) interviewed 28 incarcerated convenience store robbers in Massachusetts, and they indicated a much lower level of planning with 13 robbers reporting no planning, 12 reporting 5 minutes to 4 hours of planning, and only 3 reporting a week or more of planning. An inference can be drawn that some effort goes into commercial target selection in the context of American convenience store robberies and other commercial robberies. Conklin (1972), Einstader (1969), and Feeney (1986) refer to the robbers that target businesses as “professional,” but such a distinction may not hold in samples of contemporary robbers.
The proliferation of convenience store robberies and homicides involving employees and customers in the 1980s led to a research effort focused on crime prevention through environmental design (CPTED) for these locations. Improving the way cash is handled, including limiting amounts available; making counters visible; illuminating parking lots for surveillance purposes; and staffing stores with at least two clerks were included among some of the recommendations for making convenience stores a less attractive robbery target. Some evidence has accumulated that such target-hardening strategies, which make locations less attractive for criminals, do lower risk of robbery.
B. Bank Robbery
Bank robberies, which have notoriety as being a federal offense, are often considered to be crimes committed by professional robbers. This extends from their characterization as high-value targets. Banks, however, tend to be prepared to convince robbers otherwise with a variety of measures including security cameras, alarm systems, personnel training programs, security mechanisms for tracking bills, time locks, and occasionally armed security. According to 2007 UCR data, there were 7,175 bank robberies reported in the past year in the United States, with an average net of slightly more than $4,000 (FBI, 2007). Though these robberies appeared to be lucrative, data analyzed by the FBI indicate that bank robberies were cleared (i.e., arrests were made) 58% of the time compared with a typical clearance rate of 25% for other robbery types (FBI, 2002). Data from the FBI’s Bank Crime Statistics (BCS) database, from 1996–2000, indicated that just one-third of bank robberies involved a firearm, but data from the National Incident- Based Reporting System (NIBRS) program combined with other data sources indicated slightly less than half of the recorded bank robberies in that data involved a firearm.
The two data sources show that injury in the context of bank robbery is also relatively rare. The NIBRS data indicate victim injury in about 6% of the cases analyzed, and the BCS indicates victim injury in only 2% of bank robberies. The difference in numbers most likely stems from the minimal coverage of the United States by NIBRS data, which are based on crime data reported by a fraction of police agencies, as compared with the more exhaustive data collection on incidents in the BCS data source.
The consideration that bank robbers might be more professional was examined by the FBI and is consistent with the expectation generated by earlier research, which suggested that professional robbers, who more thoroughly plan their crimes, may be more likely to opt for such valuable targets. This research was accomplished by examining each arrested bank robber’s prior convictions for bank robbery. Of those caught, only 1 in 5 had a prior conviction for bank robbery, leading the FBI (2002) to conclude that bank robberies are largely conducted by amateur criminals. The high clearance rate also indicates that bank robbers are generally unsuccessful and thus must not be as attentive to managing the risks of apprehension as one might expect from professional criminals. Certainly, some professional robbers may operate among all bank robbers, but generally, those robbing banks are not particularly adept at successfully completing their work.
C. Personal or Street Robberies
Personal robberies could include street robberies, home invasions, carjackings, and robbery of drug dealers. These types of events have some differences in terms of the contours of the personal victimizations. The confrontation involved in a street robbery is often opportunistic predation, where a motivated offender finds a suitable target with property or money available. Wright and Decker’s (1997a) interviews with active robbers in St. Louis, for example, indicated that much of street robbery is opportunistic in fashion. Street robberies accounted for approximately 45% of the robberies recorded in the UCR during 2006. NCVS data indicate that robberies that occur on the street or in parking lots are more likely to involve strangers, whereas robberies by nonstrangers are likely to occur inside one’s home.
Such associations between stranger and nonstranger and locations make sense in the context of opportunities. Few strangers who are motivated to rob are likely to know of a particular dwelling to target, whereas robbers targeting specific persons for their property and cash are likely to find their home a convenient location in which to engage in a robbery. Zimring and Zuehl’s (1986) analysis of robbery reports in Chicago found that home invasion robberies were much more likely to result in injuries when compared to street robberies. This could stem from the fact that the robber and victim are not strangers and therefore the definition of the situation as a robbery requires demonstrable force against the occupant. Conversely, a stranger, encountered on the street, might more easily convince a victim, with less overt force, that the event is a robbery.
Carjackings have only recently received academic attention, as the motive and opportunity to conduct such a dangerous crime seem to be somewhat of a departure from the conception of the goals of a robbery. The NCVS data indicate that there were approximately 34,000 carjackings per year from 1993–2002 (Klaus, 2004). Victims in carjackings resisted the offender in two thirds of the incidents. Victim injuries in carjackings were quite high, with 32% of those in completed carjackings and 17% in attempted carjackings suffering an injury (Klaus, 2004). Imagine the car as the location for this particular type of robbery. The nature of removing someone from the vehicle, and the ability of someone to resist by speeding away, make such a transaction very risky and may help to explain why injury appears to be so prevalent in carjackings.
Finally, robberies of drug dealers and other criminals involved in illicit activity represent a subset of personal robberies that is worthy of consideration for a number of reasons. First, the victimization of criminals is unlikely to yield many official crime reports. Second, such individuals are not likely to be accurately represented in the NCVS panel sample. Thus, the extent of robbery of drug dealers is not known from typical data sources. Furthermore, such victimizations are unlikely to come to the attention of authorities unless a severe consequence such as a shooting requiring medical attention or a homicide results. By interviewing robbers, Jacobs (2000) has found that drug dealers, because of their use of large sums of cash and need to avoid law enforcement, are considered good targets for robbery. In areas where drug markets are in operation, it is likely that such victimizations and retaliatory violence are intimately linked.
Robbing drug dealers is a lucrative, if dangerous approach to robbery. Victims tend to have large amounts of valuable commodities such as drugs or cash. This makes them prime targets in terms of benefits. At the same time, the drug dealer may represent a very unwilling victim who defends his or her possessions to the death. Some ethnographers who interviewed active robbers face-to-face found that those who rob drug dealer indeed reap large rewards, but one must be cautious regarding the amount of information that exists about this relatively hidden crime. A successful drug robbery yields prized possessions, drugs, and cash while simultaneously ensuring minimal exposure to criminal justice sanctions. Some researchers surmise that much of the violence that occurs in such illicit markets, in the vacuum where police presence is unwelcome, is immune to conventional police intervention. Others argue that the nature of police efforts to disrupt drug and prostitution markets will indirectly reduce robbery, as the valuable targets are no longer concentrated in well-defined geographic areas.
It is important to think about the types of robberies as shaping, in many ways, how the event will unfold. Thus, the type of robbery is a variable that helps to understand other outcomes such as completion and injury to the victim. Personal robberies, for example, require a threat that is convincing enough to make one give up a possession. Conversely, a commercial robbery may merely require a note passed over a counter in a bank to convince a teller to give up his or her employer’s money. Considering the many different types of events helps one understand the extensive variation that fall within the scope of the definition of robbery.