Explain the major differences between professional and amateur property offenders. Property offenders are either professional or amateurs. What is the difference between the two?

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The main difference between amateur and professional thieves is whether or not the person makes a living from thievery. I imagine this question is related to individual thieves as opposed to the much more impactful corporate or government thieves who are often protected under the law. It is important to...

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The main difference between amateur and professional thieves is whether or not the person makes a living from thievery. I imagine this question is related to individual thieves as opposed to the much more impactful corporate or government thieves who are often protected under the law. It is important to make this distinction of outlawed versus legalized/accepted thievery because there are many professions that rely on stealing that are, in fact, legalized and accepted by society. Example of such are the profession of policing in which police legally and forcefully steal people from their homes and loved ones, or the profession of resource extractors, such as giant rubber corporations, who steal land from indigenous people and force them to extract rubber from the lands they once called home.

Amateur thieves can be classified as folks who may consistently or inconsistently steal from businesses or private residences, and they tend to steal for themselves or for others, but not as a means of income. For example, an impoverished single mother may consistently steal food for herself and her child(ren), to supplement the amount of food she is able to buy on her limited income, but she would not be considered a professional thief. Amateur does not necessarily imply unskilled or incapable. She may be very skilled in taking the food she needs, but because she does not steal as a profession, she would still be considered an amateur.

Professional thieves make a living from thieving. For example, someone who has been kidnapped by the police and been stamped with a felony for using drugs to cope with an oppressive and harsh world, may use professional thieving as a means of income upon release from prison since bosses tend to not hire people with felony records. This person may steal large amounts of low value items from multimillion dollar companies and sell them at flea markets (such as hundreds of packs of razors from supermarkets). Or, a person may make a living by stealing small amounts of higher value items and selling them through underground networks. For example, a professional thief in this trade may steal smaller amounts of high value jewelry from businesses or wealthy private residences and then sell them via underground networks.

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Though both professional and amateur property offenders tend to gain pleasure from risk-taking behavior, they have different lifestyles and codes of ethics that lead to distinct differences in the way they operate. Amateurs tend to commit crimes in an area where they are known, and they tend to commit crimes only on occasion. Most crimes of forging, auto theft, vandalism, and shoplifting are done by amateurs, who tend to view their criminal activity as a quick solution to financial trouble or as a way to alleviate depression. Amateur property offenders are typically white collar criminals who ascribe to white collar values and are expected to conform to the standards of traditional society. They don’t view themselves as criminals, as their occasional lapse into criminal behavior clashes with their code of ethics.

Professional property offenders, on the other hand, consider crime their profession. They identify as criminals and embrace a code of ethics based on their value to their profession. They are skilled and knowledgeable about the crimes they commit, they tend to pride themselves on developing the skills of a professional, and they have the street sense that amateurs lack. Thus, they tend to avoid arrest and incarceration much more often than amateur offenders.

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The amateur property offender carries out an offense in an unplanned way and does not aim to continuously make money out of his or her crime (though they may steal something of value). They are not skilled at being a criminal, and they generally commit crimes only when the opportunity presents itself. For example, an amateur criminal may shoplift something from a store on a dare, or they may vandalize school property when hanging out with others who are doing so.

A professional property offender, on the other hand, makes crime the way they make a living. These crimes are carefully planned and often show skill, and they are committed not just because the opportunity arises. Examples include arson to collect on insurance policies or a planned bank robbery. In these cases, the perpetrator aims to make money from his or her actions. The major difference between the two types of offenders is that the amateur offender is often committing a crime to achieve something else entirely, such as social approval in his or her social group, while the professional commits crime as a way to make a living.

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The difference between the amateur and the professional property offender is rather like the difference between someone who occasionally plays a game of basketball with a few friends and a member of an NBA team.

The amateur property offender often acts on impulse. Many forms of petty larceny, such as stealing a video game from a shop, making off with an unattended bicycle, or stealing to afford a fix, are not necessarily habitual crimes but are examples of poor judgment and impulse control. In general, the overwhelming majority of such amateur petty property offenders are fairly young (teens or individuals in their early twenties) and stop as they grow older.

Professional criminals are far less common. They are distinguished by having specialties, such as the theft of art or cars, and work hard to develop skills and networks to let them succeed in their chosen areas. Unlike casual criminals, they are usually motivated by economic necessity.

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Setting aside our disgust at the disruption of our value system, there are three major differences between the professional property offender (thief) and an “amateur” thief.  First, the professional has a diminished moral capacity and multiple victims, while the amateur’s damage is much more limited.  Secondly, the professional plans ahead, has a modus operandi, and an outlet for his booty (fence).  Thirdly, the professional can only be stopped by incarceration, while the amateur will stop when his situation changes, because his theft is often a crime of sociological pressure and temporary opportunity (addiction, extreme poverty, underlying psychological problems, etc.).  In sum, the professional must be combated with all the forces of law, while the amateur needs more sociological and psychological help to get his behavior back on track.  So the law’s identifying the difference is essential to the sociological remedy. 

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