Rates of Participation in Burglary and Motor Vehicle Theft


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Release date: 1 September, 2009

The NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research has published the first-ever estimates of size of the burglar (BESD) and motor vehicle thief (MVT) populations in NSW.

According to the Bureau, during the period 2006-2007 approximately 32,000 people in NSW committed at least one burglary while approximately 23,000 committed at least one motor vehicle theft. The conviction rates amongst these groups of offenders were much higher than the clear up rate for these offences would suggest. This is possible because the clear-up rate measures the proportion of offences resulting in an arrest (or criminal proceedings), not the proportion of offenders who are apprehended in some designated period of time.

In the case of BES, 5,374 offenders were caught and convicted out of a total estimated population of 32,395; which suggests that over the two-year period, 16.6 per cent of the active BES population was caught and convicted. This is 3.45 times higher than the 90-day police clear up rate for burglary would suggest.

In the case of MVT, 3,096 offenders were captured and convicted out of a total estimated population of 22,878, which suggests that over the two-year period, 13.5 per cent were caught and convicted. This is 3.3 times higher than the MVT clear-up rate would suggest.

According to the Bureau, there are two distinct groups of offenders - one offending at a very high rate and the other at a much lower rate.

The vast majority of high rate offenders (62 per cent for BESD; 63 per cent for MVT) were convicted at least once during the two-year observation period. In fact, 25 per cent of the high rate burglars and nearly 27 per cent of high rate motor vehicle thieves were convicted two or more times.

The vast majority of low rate offenders (87 per cent of low rate BESD offenders, 89 per cent of low rate MVT offenders), on the other hand, were not convicted at all over the two-year observation period.

Commenting on the findings, the Director of the Bureau, Dr Don Weatherburn, said that they highlighted the need for a two-pronged approach to the control of burglary and motor vehicle theft.

"The fact that more than sixty per cent of high rate burglars and motor vehicle thieves are apprehended and convicted within two years provides justification for the considerable police resources devoted to apprehending and prosecuting recidivist property offenders.

"It also provides justification for efforts to reduce recidivism amongst convicted property offenders even though they only represent only a small percentage of the total offender population".

"The utility of criminal justice system as a crime control tool is, however, limited by the fact that vast majority of low rate burglary and motor vehicle theft offenders are unlikely ever to get caught".

"The best way to reduce offending by these people is to block the opportunities and incentives for involvement in crime".

Further enquiries: Dr Don Weatherburn: 9231-9190 or 0419-494-408


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1 This is possible because the clear-up rate measures the proportion of offences resulting in an arrest (or criminal proceedings), not the proportion of offenders who are apprehended in some designated period of time.