Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Why crimes are going down in USA?

Today the FBI reported that in 2010 the Uniform Crime Report (UCR) documents another year of decline in crime across the nation; violent crime down by 5.5%, property crime by 4.9%, and robbery by 8.1%. (The violent crime index comprises homicide, forcible rape, robbery and assault. The property crime index consists of burglary, larceny/theft, motor vehicle theft, and arson. ) (“US crime rate is down: six key reasons,” Christian Science Monitor, May 24, 2011)

UCR Report: Jan. – Dec. 2011

Police agencies: 13,007
Population: 264,046,159
Violent crime: -5.5
Murder: -4.4
Forcibly rape: -4.2
Robbery: -9.5
Aggravated Assault: -3.6
Property Crime -2.8
Burglary: -1.1
Larceny-theft: -2.8
Motor vehicle theft: - 7.2
Arson: -.83


The decrease in crime has been going down for more than a decade.

Crime Rates in the US: 1960 to 2009

Crime Rate[6][10]
1960 1961 1963 1965 1967 1969 1971 1973 1975 1977 1979 1981 1983 1985 1987 1989 1991 1993 1995 1997 1999 2001 2003 2005 2007 2009
Violent crime rate 160.9 158.1 168.2 200.2 253.2 328.7 396.0 417.4 487.8 475.9 548.9 594.3 537.7 556.6 609.7 663.1 758.2 747.1 684.5 611.0 523.0 504.5 475.8 469.0 472.0 429.4
Homicide rate 5.1 4.8 4.6 5.1 6.2 7.3 8.6 9.4 9.6 8.8 9.8 9.8 8.3 8.0 8.3 8.7 9.8 9.5 8.2 6.8 5.7 5.6 5.7 5.6 5.7 5.0
Property crime rate 1,726 1,747 2,012 2,249 2,736 3,351 3,769 3,737 4,811 4,602 5,017 5,264 4,637 4,650 4,940 5,078 5,140 4,740 4,591 4,316 3,744 3,658 3,591 3,432 3,277 3,036
Crimes per 100,000 population
SOURCES: US Bureau of Justice Statistics (2004),[6] Federal Bureau of Investigation, (2009)

The citizens are elated. The police are quick to congratulate themselves. The criminologists are more perplexed than ever: some suggest that it has to do with effective punishment, others think it is due to proactive police work, still others believe it resulted from change of demographics.

While I think all these factors do play a part (large or small – the verdict is not in, and will not be soon), my colleagues might have been missing the most important reason.

My colleagues might have made the wrong assumption, and in turn failed to ask the right question.


All my colleagues assume that the crimes have gone down. I do not.

I think crimes have not declined in the US, they have just changed in nature and manifestation. Since FBI – UCR measures traditional street crime, they are not measuring, as effectively, cybercrime.

In order for a crime to happen people must confront each other in person, e.g., with violent crime people must meet face to face to get angry, to kill. With property crime, offender must be tempted, then steal from a victim, in his/her presence.

In theoretical terms, and according to "routine activities theory", a crime happens, with the convergence of three factor, namely a motivated offender, an available opportunity and lack of guardian. In the Internet age, the offender - opportunity - guardianship structure is reoriented.

In this day and age, people communicate with each other by e-mail and connect with each other by face book. Such non-personal relationship, relationship makes personal crime unlikely to happen.

First, netizens rarely get mad over a cold media.

Second, if and when people get mad, they can start saying nasty things to each other, and ultimately cut the other party off. They cannot hit each other.

Third, even when one want to get even, more likely than not, they cannot find the person with ease. Alternatively, the person you want to get even with might be miles away.

Fourth, Internet provides a cooling off period when you want to get even.

Fifth, if you contemplate to get even electronically, that is not going to hurt people as in street crime.

Finally, when one decided to transfer their anger/motive to real life, he can be tracked down by the cyber police. This is an effective deterrence against all kinds of crime.

This is not to say that people do not have relationship problems. It is just that angry management is much more easier on the net.

What about rape? Since Internet makes x-rated materials freely available, should that not increase sexual offending. This issue was deal with by the Meese Report (1986). Reading it in its totality, the findings about linkage between x-rated materials and sexual offender is at best inconclusive, at worse unsubstantiated.

There are contrary evidences from Europe to show that x-rated materials do not contribute to sex crime, and might have reduced such incidents. (Kutchinsky, B. The effect of easy availability of pornography on the incidence of sex crimes: The Danish experience. Journal of Social Issues, 1973, 29:163-181. Abstract: Cites the Danish liberalization of legal prostitution and of laws concerning pornography and the ensuing high availability of such materials as a unique opportunity to test hypotheses concerning the relationship between pornography and sex offenses. It is shown that, concurrent with the increasing availability of pornography, there was a significant decrease in the number of sex offenses registered by the police in Copenhagen. On the basis of various investigations, including a survey of public attitudes and studies of the police, it was established that at least in 1 type of offense (child molestation) the decrease represents a real reduction in the number of offenses committed. Various factors suggest that the availability of pornography was the direct cause of this decrease. )

As to more instrumental property crime, the Internet offers many ways to get rich, illegally, or at least dishonestly. Internet crimes are the least reported and hardest to investigate offense. Internet crimes are intellectual crime. They are mind contest with no one getting hurt. Cybercrimes are usually not reported for fear of diluting good will.

Finally, the Internet also reduces crime in a very unique way. Most of street crimes – personal or property – are committed by juveniles and young people. Since juveniles and young people are spending more and more time on the Internet, gaming, surfing and networking, they have little time to commit crime.

In 1969, Professor Hirschi asked an interesting question, why do people not commit crime, instead of why people commit crime. He concluded that people do not commit crime because they are bonded to society in four ways, i.e., through in commitment, attachment, involvement, and beliefs. If Hirschi was correct, then the young people who are crazy about the Internet and spend hours and hours on it to learn gaming or do networking are not likely to be in the street causing trouble.

More simply, being hooked on the Internet, the young people have a purpose and meaning in life. The “commitment” and “involvement” with the Internet (activities and community) takes them away from street crime. Each hour the young people are glued to the computer means an hour less for committing crime or causing trouble in the street. This is not to say that the young people would not commit crime in Internet, but most of them are not reported as street crime.

The Internet has made our street safer by engaging our kids in senseless to parents, useless (perhaps) to society, but meaningful activities (for sure) to the young people!!!

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