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Carjacking, Streetlife and Offender Motivation

NCJ Number
British Journal of Criminology Volume: 43 Issue: 4 Dated: Autumn 2003 Pages: 673-688
Bruce A. Jacobs; Volkan Topalli; Richard Wright
Date Published
16 pages
Based on interviews with 28 active "carjackers" recruited from the streets of St. Louis, MO, this study focused on the subjective conditions associated with the offenders' transition from an unmotivated state to one in which they were determined to commit a carjacking.
"Active" carjackers were defined as individuals who had committed two or more carjackings in the previous year. Other than the fact that all of the carjackers interviewed were African-American, the sample was diverse in including 3 females and 25 males, ages 16 to 45, with a mean age of 25.3. The interviews were semistructured and informal, allowing offenders to speak freely in their own words. Offenders were asked to describe in detail their most recent carjacking. In the course of the description, they were asked about their motivation, target selection, and feelings in the process of committing the crime. The findings from the interviews indicate that the decision to engage in carjacking comes from being swept up in street culture pressures, emergent opportunism, offender networks, and perceived attributes of drivers and vehicles. The sample of active carjackers had been conditioned by urban street culture, which emphasizes spontaneity, hedonism, the ostentatious display of wealth, and the maintenance of honor. In such a context, seemingly minor frustrations can erupt in criminal behavior with little assessment of the consequences of such behavior. Opportunistic carjackings involve little advance planning or casing of targets. The would-be offender responds quickly to observations that suggest opportunity and provide motivation for attacking a particular driver or stealing a specific car. Cues that spark motivation to go after a certain vehicle include high-performance engines, booming stereos, and fancy gold or silver-spoked wheels manufactured by Datun Corporation. These features command a good price on the streets. Offender networks and the demand generated for certain types of cars motivate the carjacker to engage in carjacking for money they believe will be offered for the car and some of its components. Specific drivers may be targeted because they may have shown some perceived disrespect for the would-be carjacker. Overall, the motivation to engage in carjacking stems from the values and behaviors conditioned by urban street life and the acquisitive priorities set by offender market networks. 43 references


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