VIII. Perspectives on Robbers’ Attitudes and Lifestyles
Involvement in robbery is limited by the risk-to-reward ratio of confronting individuals face-to-face. Such encounters are fraught with difficulties. It is most likely that while a large number of individuals participate in the crime of robbery, only a select few persist and become chronic robbers. The attitude of robbers has been conceived as being one of comfort with chaos and trying to project the image of a “hardman” or tough guy. Traits of the persistent robber are likely to include a desire for establishing control over others and comfort with the possibility of using physical force to achieve one’s ends. The study of persistent robbers and their outlooks is difficult as they are, fortunately, a very small number of individuals.
With respect to the lifestyle of active robbers, it is surmised that, contrary to the rational calculator who seeks out targets to exploit, robbers are often put in a desperate situation with respect to needs requiring resources. This activates their search for an appropriate victim with minimal attention to planning the crime. Their lifestyle often includes spending money on drugs and sexual companions, in the context of a fast lifestyle, which quickly leads to the need for more money to fuel it. Such a pattern lends little opportunity for the individual to engage in systematic planning and targeting. Thus, opportunistic victimizations are thought to be most common among even persistent robbers.
A. The Myth of the Noble Robber
The FBI’s early history under J. Edgar Hoover involved a strong focus on bank robbers such as John Dillinger, Bonnie and Clyde, and Ma and Pa Barker (Burrough, 2004). Successfully apprehending these individuals was a test of fire, and of public relations management, for the bureau. Those robbers, by some accounts, represented disenchantment with the Depression-era banking system and were viewed, in some cases, sympathetically by citizens suffering in the throes of Depression-era America. The notion of the noble robber is probably best illustrated by Robin Hood of ancient English folklore. More modern-day celebration of the robber as “noble” is obvious in tales of Billy the Kid, the legendary American frontier outlaw. Thus, the crime of robbery, in some instances, is seen as a way to redress grievances with the powerful, such as the Sheriff of Nottingham in the Robin Hood tales or the railroad barons and their control of developing lands on the Western frontier during the late 19th century.
In addition to robbers gaining wide acclaim and infamy for their exploits, particular robberies similarly enjoy consideration and some admiration for the daring nature of the crime. There are many examples of robberies that have garnered public attention for their daring and the high value of the goods involved. In 1963, the Great Train Robbery netted 2.6 million pounds as a train carrying used currency was hijacked on its way to London, England. The movie Dog Day Afternoon highlighted a bank robbery that went horribly wrong in Brooklyn, New York, during the summer of 1972. Similarly, the Great Brinks Robbery of 1950, in Boston, was eventually made into a film. At that time, the robbery netted more than $1 million in cash as well as other financial instruments of even greater value. Robbers and robberies clearly make for interesting stories since by definition these crimes involve great risk and the potential for great rewards. Perhaps the bold nature of the crime lends itself to this treatment in popular literature, film, and culture.