Article

Offense Specialization/Expertise

Kimberly Kempf-Leonard

in Criminology

ISBN: 9780195396607
Published online June 2011 | | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/obo/9780195396607-0104
Offense Specialization/Expertise

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The notion of a career in crime, similar to an upward trajectory along a legitimate occupational pathway, was introduced and gained popularity nearly a century ago. Characteristics of careers in crime, such as enhanced skill, specialization, and professionalism, were easily accepted. Popular fiction, media portrayals, and a large number of qualitative case studies helped firmly to establish the common image of crime specialists. However, this view has been challenged by a large number of quantitative studies comparing the offending patterns of many offenders, all of which find that switching between types of crime is what happens most often among repeat offenders. Most recently, researchers have scrutinized the ways in which crime specialization is measured, trying to reconcile the popular image of professional crime experts with the empirical evidence, in which they seldom are observed. Perhaps scientific studies have been asking the wrong question? An emerging body of works suggests that if the comparison is adjusted, there is evidence that specialization in some offenses does exist. The principal research finding is that studies do point to a small but significant likelihood of specialization, but most recurrent offending is versatile, switching between various offense types and more “cafeteria-style.” To understand the context of this overall finding, research on crime specialization can be placed within two separate initiatives. The first is the qualitative life history case-study approach that gave rise to the popular notion of professional crime experts in many fields of property and violent crime. The second is a large body of quantitative research that compares specialists and generalists, showing that versatile offending far exceeds any specialized expertise.

Article.  6281 words. 

Subjects: Criminology and Criminal Justice ; Criminal Justice ; Criminology

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