Does a depressed economy lead to an increase in crime?
On Sept. 19, the Federal Bureau of Investigation released its annual report “Crime in the United States,” which punched a hole in the theory that as the economy goes down, crime rates go up.
According to the report, crime across the nation decreased once again for the fourth year in a row for violent crimes — 6 percent, and for the eighth consecutive year for property crimes — 2.7 percent.
Total crime in Washington, D.C., also reflects the national average for the year 2010, with an overall seven percent decrease.
But theorists in the District can still stand firmly behind their argument, with a 5 percent increase for total non-violent crimes, including burglary, theft, theft from an automobile, stolen auto and arson from the beginning of the year to Oct. 1. Thefts for the year are up 12 percent.
Sally Simpson, chair and professor in the Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice at University of Maryland, said,“12 percent is not a huge variation and by the end of the year, it may drop again.”
Complexity of crimes
Simpson said trying to link crime, whether an increase or decrease, to just the economy is problematic because criminology is a lot more complicated then a sudden spike in activity.
“Why now? If it’s economic conditions, we should have seen that increase in 2008 or 2009,” Smith said.
Variables, including who’s committing the crimes, what types of crimes they are committing and who the victims are, are among the key factors taken into consideration by criminologists when analyzing a trend.
“People think of crime as being kind of unrealistic and make the mistake of too closely relating the two,” said Robert D. McCrie, professor of Urban Crime and Standards Security Management at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York.
Little correlation is evident
McCrie said crime was down during the last century, including during the 1920s, when bank robberies were problematic.
“The average law-abiding citizen is not going to turn to crime,” Simpson said.
She also noted that there is a cultural argument in which some people think some neighborhoods adopt the mentality of survival by any means necessary, resorting to crime.
With all of the theories and what-ifs, Simpson said most arguments in criminology would not support any of these theories.