Technology forces career change on burglars

Posted by Emma Woollacott

It's a common complaint that new technology has drastically altered many job descriptions.

But the problem affects more people than you might think, according to a British criminologist, who suggests that we should perhaps spare a thought for good old traditional burglars.

The increasing minaturisation and commoditisation of technology has meant a fundamental shift away from burglary and towards mugging, says James Treadwell of the University of Leicester's Department of Criminology.

Globalisation, and particularly cheaper electronic goods from China and the Far East, has altered behaviour among Britain's housebreakers - essentially making them redundant.

"If we look back to the 1980s and 1990s, the type of staple crimes would be, for example, very often burglary and car crime, and those crimes worked because they followed a business model and it was possible to break into a house and steal a video recorder and sell that at a profit," he says.

"Cheap labour in China has had an impact on the type of crime that's committed in the UK and the type of goods that are stolen today. Gradually, the prices of such goods has fallen so low that they almost have no resale value. If you can buy a DVD player for £19.99, it's simply not worth stealing."

It's now expensive, personal items which are the most attractive as they're easier to sell on, leading the more enterprising criminals to reskill.

"While we might have seen a decline in some types of crime, we have seen a rise in other forms of criminal activity, particularly young people who seem to be mugging one another," says Treadwell.

"While DVD players for example, got cheaper, certain consumer items became smaller and were very, very expensive and sought after and so the latest mobile phone, or the latest ipod, which people carry about them, have become targets for robbers."

Treadwell will present his findings to the British Society of Criminology in July.