"Jockeys and joyriders" revisited: young offenders' involvement in motor vehicle thefts in the province of Quebec.

Author:Tremblay, Pierre

Come on get high with us

Come on and ride with us

Ja Rule ("Smokin and Ridin")

Variations in rates of unrecovered stolen vehicles measure differences in levels of chopping, retagging (also known as "body-switching," "revinning," or "cloning"), and other related fencing activities. Adult offenders are customarily viewed as the principal agents in such activities. Changes in rates of recovered stolen vehicles, on the other hand, capture variations of joyriding and short-term transportation offences. Such malicious activities are generally viewed as typically belonging to the domain of juvenile offences. In 2002, the proportion of permanent retention vehicle thefts was 44% in Montreal, but 24% in Halifax, 25% in Toronto, 9% in Vancouver, 5% in Winnipeg, 3% in Regina (Wallace 2004). Rates of unrecovered stolen vehicles in 2002 were 3.54 per 1,000 population in Montreal, 1.51 in Halifax, 0.97 in Toronto, 0.84 in Vancouver, 0.69 in Winnipeg, 0.40 in Regina; on the other hand, rates of recovered stolen vehicles per 1,000 persons were 2.5, 3.3, and 3.2 in Toronto, Montreal, and Halifax, respectively, but 10.9,13.4, and 13.9 in Vancouver, Winnipeg, and Regina, respectively. High rates of malicious joyriding offences are a major concern in the western provinces. High rates of organized car thefts are an issue mainly in the central and eastern provinces. Given these figures, we would expect juvenile offenders' involvement in market-driven car thefts to be higher in Quebec and Halifax than in other Canadian metropolitan areas.

In this article, we examine the spillover effect of criminal market opportunities on the behaviour of young offenders. To the extent that illicit, occupationally driven innovations have spread across automobile work places (Tremblay, Talon, and Hurley 2001) and that any increase in the pay-off from a given offence type (e.g., auto thefts) elevates its prestige, we would expect young offenders to become more involved in purposeful theft-for-resale motor vehicle offences: the higher the rate of unrecovered vehicle thefts in a given jurisdictional setting, the higher the expected participation of juvenile offenders in such thefts and the more extensive their integration in age-graded cliques of offenders. It is not simply that adults will maximize their self-interest by searching for cheap labour (juveniles may ask less for the cars they steal; and even if arrested, their arrest may be less consequential than for adults). Juveniles may well realize that they will reap significant benefits from searching for adult partners who are motivated to "buy" the cars they steal. To the extent that juvenile offenders are significantly involved in purposeful activities, we would expect more self-control in car theft activities. As car owners and car manufacturers make it more difficult to steal cars and surveillance of roads becomes more intensive, we would also expect not only a target-hardening displacement effect (inexperienced young offenders restricting their search to the remaining pool of unprotected vehicles) but also a depletion effect (a significant proportion of amateur juvenile delinquents being simply driven out of car theft and channelled into other, less demanding, property offences).

Whereas a large proportion of those arrested for motor vehicle theft are young offenders (41% in the year 2000, for Canada as a whole, and 61% for Regina), this proportion drops to 22% for the province of Quebec in 2002. One should note, however, that, in this particular province, the clearance rate for motor vehicle thefts is only 10% (Ouimet 2005). It is difficult to assess whether juveniles are equally underrepresented in the large pool of unidentified motor vehicle thefts. It could well be that juveniles involved in theft-for-resale motor vehicle offences are more experienced in apprehension avoidance techniques and that their involvement in motor vehicle offences is higher than the official reported prevalence figure of 22%. In short, one cannot exclude the possibility that young offenders have given a purposeful orientation to their natural attraction to cars and are much more involved in market-oriented car thefts than is suggested by police arrest statistics.

Findings are presented in four sections. Section 1 discusses the relevance of distinguishing between jockeys (juveniles stealing cars for the purpose of selling them) and joyriders (juveniles stealing cars for the ride). Section 2 describes patterns in co-offending between joyriders and jockeys. Section 3 focuses on achievement (earnings from motor vehicle thefts, smart offending indicators) and provides a rough cost-benefit portrait of serious juvenile car thieves. Section 4 moves away from foreground parameters and describes the occupational background of respondents' fathers.


We interviewed 13 incarcerated young offenders (the inmate sample) and 34 juvenile offenders (the street sample). All 47 subjects had been involved in car thefts (1) and most lived in Montreal or in the Montreal region because we concentrated, as a matter of convenience, on juvenile institutions located in the Montreal area and defined as eligible subjects to be interviewed "on the street" those who lived in Montreal or its immediate surroundings. This may not be an important sampling bias, since previous research in Quebec suggests that the stable increase in permanent retention thefts in the 1980s and the 1990s has been shown to follow, like other market offences, a hierarchical diffusion process (Rengert 1996) spreading from large centres down the urban hierarchy (Tremblay et al. 2001:563-4).

Initial interviews were conducted in three different correctional juvenile institutions located in and around Montreal. Interviews were conducted mainly between September 2003 and April 2004. Staff identified inmates "known" for their current or past involvement in car thefts and asked them, on our behalf, to participate in the survey. As a screening device, we asked, at the onset of the interview, whether they had been involved in car thefts, whether they had been convicted for such offences, and whether they were currently doing time for a motor vehicle offence. In our inmate sample, 7 subjects had been convicted for car thefts; 3 were not currently convicted for a car theft offence but had a prior conviction for motor vehicle offences. Three others had never been convicted for car thefts but had nonetheless been involved in such offences. Because most subjects were doing "time" for a relatively long period (a year or more), 3 subjects were 18 years or older at the time of the interview. Two subjects were in the process of being paroled at the time of the interviews and interviews were conducted in a university office rather than in correctional facilities. The number of institutionalized youth we interviewed was limited because officials running juvenile correctional institutions were not very supportive of the research.

To increase our sample size, we turned to entrepreneurial undergraduate students who, as a requirement for a course on successful offenders, were asked to use their personal friendship networks to locate juvenile car thieves. Six subjects were contacted by these students and four agreed to participate. They were compensated for their participation by a payment of $15 per interview for juvenile inmates and $30 for street juveniles. The subjects were also given an additional $30.00 for each referral who agreed to be interviewed to a maximum of four referrals. We discouraged referrals of subjects who were intimate co-offenders in car thefts. Age of eligible referrals was restricted to 18 years old or younger, and each was asked to provide us with proof of age. This snowball sampling strategy is generally labelled a...

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