Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Crime 101: The Anatomy of a Mugging

Today's post is written by Atraties, and is about the difference between an amateur mugging, and a professional mugging. He, or I, will probably revisit this topic later in the week to go over some of the details, or at least examples of ways to use this in your game, but for now - and how I think all the Crime 101 posts will be done - let's just focus on the topic at hand. That being said, read on to see Atraties' debut post on the Anatomy of a Mugging.

Also, if you are interested in writing a guest post about anything related to gaming, drop me a line. There is a link with instructions on the right side of the page.

The Anatomy of a Mugging

So, while a mugging may not be the most common crime to see or deal with in a role playing game, understanding the anatomy of a basic crime like a mugging helps think about the more complex kinds of crimes. The first and most important thing to understand about muggings as with many “lower” crimes is that they come in two types. The first type is the amateur mugging which is carried out generally by a single person, the second is the professional mugging which is generally carried out by a team. The amateur versus professional distinction is very important for most types of low crime and has a huge contrast in the mugging.

Amateur Mugging:
The amateur mugging is generally carried out by a single individual. The defining feature of the amateur mugging compared to the professional is that they are based on opportunity presenting itself rather than the creation of opportunity. The chronological order of this crime goes something like this.

  • Target isolates themselves.
  • Offender recognizes that there is a target.
  • Offender confirms that the target is isolated.
  • Offender approaches the target.
  • Offender threatens the target with violence if the target doesn't comply with their demands.
      * Target complies with the Offender's demands, and the Offender departs.
      * Target does not comply with the Offender's demands.
        * Offender uses force to take the demanded resources.
        * Offender does not carry through on the threat of force.

Professional Mugging:
The professional mugging has a rather different structure. The first and most important difference is that the professional mugging is carried out by a team. The minimum size of a professional mugging team is three. The standard operating procedure is to have one observer at each corner of the block that targets will be robbed in, and have at least one person acting as the point person or striker that actually approaches the target. The optional component of this team is to have one or two enforcers who act only if the Target does not comply with the threat of force. The time line of a professional mugging goes as follows.

    • Target moves into the target area where they are isolated.
    • The observer on the side the target enters signals the prospective target.
    • The play caller for the team (usually the point person) calls the target will be hit.
    • (Optional) The Enforcer moves in behind the target to complete envelopment.
    • The point man moves in and engages the target.
    • Point man threatens the target with violence if the target doesn't comply with their demands.
      * Target complies with the point man's demands.
      * Target does not comply with the point man's demands.
        * Enforcer or observer moves in, and with the Point Man carries out the threat of violence and takes what was demanded, causing injuries as well to make a point.

Compare and Contrast:
There are a few differences between the two forms of mugging that are generally apparent. The first is the obvious of solitary rather than team execution. The second that makes a huge difference is the possibility of use of violence by the amateur rather than the surety of use of violence in the case of the professionals. The third that is very important is the planning versus the opportunistic location of a target.

The professional approach is unsurprisingly more safe for the offenders than the amateur approach is for the most part. The danger of the amateur approach is that if the amateur ends up targeting a prepared and aggressive or very alert target they can end up hurt or caught. The other major danger is that some amateurs aren't ready or able to carry out the threat of violence that they have used to attempt to get what ever they are going for, usually money.

We'll discuss the greater danger of the professional approach in a later, which is in the greater danger of exposure. We will also discuss the danger of not carrying out a threat of violence in crime in a later post.


  1. Good information, maybe a conclusion paragraph that explains how this translates to other crimes would be helpful.

    Something to the effect of "The key differences that relate to other crimes is organization and reinforcement. Here reinforcement would refer to the criminal act being reinforced by the group. The threat of force must happen because the point man is under duress by his accomplices. This would translate to other crimes like burglary or even blackmail." Maybe I got that wrong, but it was the connection that I took away from it.

    Unfortunately most GMs probably wouldn't consider the likelihood of a mugger failing to go through with a threat of force. I'm not sure how players would take it if the GM did. They may view it as unimportant that someone *sort of* got mugged. I know that's not the point but it's a consideration.

    One last and nearly unrelated point. When I first saw the article, I immediately ran through my head the effect of a mugger's choice of weapon (fists, knife, gun) and then thought of a modern day mugger producing a sword. I wonder what the victim's reaction to that would be. A sword is logically more deadly than a knife but in modern day, a sword is mostly a prop or a symbol. If the mugger is alone, I would almost expect the victim to think is was a joke. If the mugger was part of a group, I'm not sure what the victim would do. That's not what this is about but it was an interesting thought to me.

  2. The fact that most GMs wouldn't think of the idea that a mugger might not follow through, is all the more reason to point out that it is possible.

    As far as connections go, we're planning on building off of this with other entries as we go along. You do have a good point, but the threat of force is there mainly as coercion. You are effectively, when mugging someone, taking them hostage and holding them for ransom against themselves. You go through on the threat of force because if you don't, people will know and it can go bad for you.

    Burglary, by contrast (we'll go on this later, promise) shouldn't have much force. Blackmail very easily can have force, it is just a different kind of force.

    The point of the weapon is good, though I'd argue that a 2-3 foot hunk of steel in an intimidating figure's hands will still be intimidating. If not, a quick display may be all that is needed.

    There'll be a second part to this on Thursday with how you can use this in your game, or for ideas on handling players. Part 2 is also going to be written by Atraties.

  3. That's definitely a good critique (the conclusion paragraph not being there). I didn't put one in because I started to, and it ended up being another post in length. Probably mostly because I can be a bit wordy at times. It's something I want to address in later posts.

    As for the sword, while swords are thought of as props, a real sword doesn't look like the props we're used to seeing. They also don't require demonstration for people to know what they do to you as Hiro Protagonist says in Snow Crash. Also, I think that your average person who is already scared would at minimum recognize a sword as a big steel baseball bat, and they wouldn't mess with that either. That said, it's a very interesting thought experiment. I think my point of view may come from doing sword fighting.

    I look forward to seeing your reaction to the follow up post to this on Thursday where I have a few scenarios, including one where the entire point is not following through with the threat of force.

  4. I would imagine that threat of sword would be unlikely because of two possible scenerios

    1. everyone carries swords so there's a risk that the person you are mugging knows how to use it better than you do
    2. you're a freak carrying a sword out of a sheath walking around--it kinda screams "be wary of me!"

    I'd think the weapon of choice would be easier to wield and blend in with, like a dagger, or even a hunting knife under a cloak but I'm not an expert.

    I would also like to know how other crimes are comparable. Look forward to more =3

  5. I'd love to see a sociologist *ahem* do a field study on the use of inappropriate weapons (Bannana? No that's been done.) in a mugging and their effect on the victim's perception of threat. :P

    I see a doctoral paper in the works! And maybe an ignobel prize.

  6. Sounds like an experiment that could get you in a lot of trouble, especially with the police. But I bet you could convince someone to do it if you tried. would be interesting. Especially with all the stories/movie depictions of things like people doing hold ups and kidnappings with candy bars.

  7. Darn, he didn't fall for the bait.