Title: The Carjacker's Perspective: A Qualitative Study of Urban Violence
Name: Richard Wright, Bruce Jacobs, and Volkan Topalli
surfer@umsl.edu (Richard Wright)
Year: 2000
Type: Research Grant

With the exception of homicide, perhaps no offense is more symbolic of contemporary urban violence than carjacking. Carjacking, the taking of a motor vehicle by force or threat of force, has attained almost mythical status in the annals of urban violence and has played a substantial role in fueling the fear of crime that keeps people off of their own streets. But for all of the media attention carjacking has received in the United States, Europe, and elsewhere, it remains a poorly understood and under-researched crime. In an attempt to rectify this situation, we conducted a field-based study of the decision making of active carjackers in real-life settings and circumstances, focusing on, among other things, the subjective foreground conditions that move such offenders from an unmotivated state to one in which they are determined to attack a specific vehicle and/or driver. Drawing from semi-structured ethnographic interviews with 28 active carjackers recruited from the streets of St. Louis, Missouri, we found that while the decision to commit any given carjacking stems most directly from a situated interaction between particular sorts of perceived opportunities and particular sorts of perceived needs and desires, this decision is activated, mediated, and shaped by on-going participation in urban street culture.

Bibliography: Jacobs, B., Topalli, V. and Wright, R. (in press) Carjacking, Streetlife, and Offender Motivation, British Journal of Criminology, Vol. 43, No. 4.
Topalli, V. and Wright, R. (in press) Dubs and Dees, Beats and Rims. In Dabney, D., Criminal Behavior: A Text Reader, Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.