Market reduction approach

Market reduction approach

In 1796, the London magistrate Patrick Colquhoun[1] observed that "It rarely happens that thieves go upon the highway, or commit burglaries, until the money they have previously acquired is exhausted," and that "...without a safe and ready market he [the thief] is undone." Recognizing the key role played by dealers in stolen goods in facilitating profit from theft and motivation for offenders to steal and with an aim to influence harsher legislation and sentencing of profession fences, the American jurisprudentialist Jerome Hall[2] emphasised the role of the professional fence in the marketing of stolen goods and created a typology that distinguished between professional fences, part-time dealers and those who knowingly buy stolen goods for their own consumption. A number of ethnographic studies (e.g. Klockars 1974;[3] Henry 1977[4] and Steffensmeir 1986[5]) hinted at the influence of the market for stolen goods upon levels of theft of certain goods. However, the first systematic study of the various ways that stolen goods are stored, sold and bought - going beyond the previous focus upon the guilty mind and level of involvement of dealers and consumers - was conducted by Mike Sutton (criminologist), who created a fivefold market typology based on his in-depth interviews with expert prolific thieves, inexperienced thieves, fences, drug dealers and stolen goods consumers. In 1998, the UK Home Office published Sutton's report[6] proposing a systematic framework for researching and tackling local stolen goods markets.

The Market reduction approach (MRA) has its origins in a 1995 British Journal of Criminology paper: Supply by Theft[7] that was followed by a 1998 United Kingdom Government Home Office research study entitled Handling Stolen Goods and Theft: A Market Reduction Approach[8] both were written by Mike Sutton (criminologist)[9] Further work on implementing and process evaluation of the MRA was conducted by Schneider.[10]

Described by Marcus Felson as "...a simple idea in an an important article",[11] and as classic research.[12] Sutton's MRA has had a significant influence upon theory and practice regarding stolen goods markets and markets for other illicit commodities. Influential criminologists have incorporated Sutton’s work on stolen goods markets to explain the issue of offenders’ capacity to commit crimes.[13] The general MRA principles outlined by Sutton have influenced work beyond research into markets for theft of high volume consumer goods, since the MRA is described as underpinning recent research into illicit markets for cultural artefacts[14][15] and as a useful method for tackling the trade in endangered species.[16][17]

Dr Mike Sutton's 1998 stolen goods Handling Report is based on the most comprehensive research ever undertaken into stolen goods markets. It includes findings from the nationally representative British Crime Survey (1994), revealing that 11 percent of the population bought stolen goods in the past five years and, incredibly, that 70 percent believed that some of their neighbours had stolen goods in their homes. The Handling Report was followed by a more comprehensive MRA policing guide to stolen goods markets.[18]

Kent constabulary were the first to experiment with the MRA in Operation Radium.[19] This experiment at systematically tackling stolen goods markets, along with another MRA initiative by Greater Manchester Police,[20] as routine policing (rather than merely cracking down from time to time) was independently evaluated by criminologists from The University of Kent.[21] The evaluation found that while the MRA theory remains sound that the police forces experienced organisational difficulties implementing it correctly.

Based on Situational crime prevention (SCP) “rational choice, opportunity reduction” principles, and employing philosophy from routine activities theory (RAT) the MRA is designed to reduce theft through reducing the demand for stolen goods that motivated thieves to steal. In addition it seeks to make Handling stolen goods at least as difficult as it is to steal them and to increase the risks of detection for all those selling and buying stolen goods. And so the MRA answered a long standing academic criticism that SCP and RAT did not take account of offender motivation. MRA principles are now firmly established within both SCP,[22] RAT[23] and Problem Oriented Policing (POP) key texts.[24]

The MRA has been implemented in the UK by Kent Constabulary,[25] West Mercia Constabulary,[26] Derby City Constabulary,[27] Nottinghamshire Constabulary[28] and Greater Manchester Police[29] It is recommended crime reduction practice by the UK Government;[30] US Government[31] and Australian Government.[32] The New Zealand Ministry of Justice conducted a review of research focused on the MRA and identified eight areas of good practice in using it to tackle property crime.[33]

Primary research papers on more recent Crime and Criminal Justice Survey research into stolen goods, along with the MRA studies with prolific thieves in Derby, Mansfield and Nottingham can be found in the Internet journal of criminology

Sutton's MRA fired the imagination of top journalist Adam Raphael who wrote about it in The Economist in 1998[34]:

The black market in crime is thought to be worth £1.5 billion ($2.4billion) annually to those who steal and handle stolen goods. But how does this most entrepreneurial of markets work? A new Home Office study casts a long overdue light on what happens to stolen goods. Its author, Mike Sutton, who interviewed thieves and fences, says the market is hierarchical but complex.

Recently, the MRA has been applied to research focused upon tackling markets for endangered species.[35]

The MRA and problem oriented policing

Introducing a sixth market type - e-fencing- Sutton's MRA and guide to identifying and tackling stolen goods markets is used by the North American Government's U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Community Oriented policing Services, to combat crime with the Problem Oriented approach to Policing.[36]


  1. ^ Colquhoun, P. (a Magistrate) (1796) A Treatise on The Police of the Metropolis. Third edition. London. C. Dilly
  2. ^ Hall, J. (1952) Theft, Law and Society. Second Edition. Indianapolis. Bobbs_Merril Co
  3. ^ Klockars, C. (1974) The Professional Fence. New York. Free Press
  4. ^ Henry, S. (1976) Fencing With Accounts: The Language of Moral Bridging. British Journal of Law and Society. 3: 91-100
  5. ^ Steffensmeier, D. J. (1986) The Fence: In the Shadow of Two Worlds. New Jersey: Rowman and Littlefield
  6. ^ Sutton, M. (1998) Handling Stolen Goods and Theft: A Market Reduction Approach. Home Office Research Study 178. Home Office. London. (Peer reviewed national government research report). UK National Archives:
  7. ^
  8. ^
  9. ^
  10. ^ Schneider, J. L. (2005) Stolen Goods Markets: Methods of Disposal. British Journal of Criminology.. 45 (2) 129-140
  11. ^ Felson, M. (1998)Crime and Everyday Life. Second Edition. Thousand Oakes. Pine Forge Press.(see page 38).
  12. ^ Felson, M. Crime and Everyday Life. Vol 4. Thousand Oakes. Sage (see Page 88)
  13. ^ Maguire, M. Morgan, R, Reiner, R. (2007) Oxford Handbook of Criminology. Oxford. Oxford University Press. (See: page 357)
  14. ^ Mackenzie, S. (2007) Dealing in cultural objects: a new criminal law for the UK. Amicus Curiae. Issue 71.
  15. ^ Mackenzie, S. and Green, P. (2003) Criminalising the Market in Illicit Antiquities: An Evaluation of the Dealing in Cultural Objects (Offences) Act.
  16. ^ Schneider JL. (2008) ‘Reducing the Illicit Trade in Wildlife: The Market Reduction Approach’. Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice 24:274–95
  17. ^ Lemieux, A. M. and Clarke, R. V. (2009)The International Ban on Ivory Sales and its Effects on Elephant Poaching in Africa British Journal of Criminology July 1, 2009 49: 451-471
  18. ^ Sutton, M., Schneider, J.L. and Hetherington, (2001) Tackling theft with the market reduction approach. Home Office Crime Reduction Research Series Paper 8. (Peer reviewed national government research report)
  19. ^
  20. ^
  21. ^
  22. ^ Clarke, R.V. ( 1999 ) Hot Products. London. Police Research paper 112. Home Office
  23. ^
  24. ^
  25. ^ Joint Report from: Kent County Council Trading Standards; Medway Council Trading Standards and Kent Police. The Kent Acts: A Case For National Legislation. (2001) Report to the Secretary of State.
  26. ^ Schneider, J. (2005) Stolen Goods Markets: Methods of Disposal. British Journal of Criminology. 45. 129-140
  27. ^ Sutton, M. (2004) How Burglars and Shoplifters Sell Stolen Goods in Derby: DESCRIBING AND UNDERSTANDING THE LOCAL ILLICIT MARKETS. A Dynamics of Offending Report for Derby Community Safety Partnership. Internet Journal of Criminology.
  28. ^ Nottinghamshire Constabulary South Nottinghamshire Crime & Disorder Reduction Partnership, Partnership Strategic Plan (2008 - 2011).
  29. ^
  30. ^ Burglary Toolkit: Developing Local Solutions for Local Problems. Home Office UK Publications. Acquisitive Crime Resources Library online. Burglary Toolkit:
  31. ^
  32. ^
  33. ^ New Zealand Ministry of Justice (2005). 6 Property Focused Initiatives.
  34. ^
  35. ^
  36. ^ Sutton, M. (2010) Stolen Goods Markets. Problem Oriented Policing Guide No. 57. US National Institute of Justice COPS Programme. (Peer reviewed international policing guide.)

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