Crime and the Economy - McGruff the Crime Dog, where are you now?

Picture from tvacres.com

By: Scott Hall
     With the costs of everyday items either going up or not costing any less than say a decade ago and the looming threat that our own Federal Government is nearing a deadlock on fixing some pretty major issues, citizen’s may begin to look ahead for the onslaught of a potential crime increase.  In order to understand whether or not crime is actually on the decline overall, the Federal Bureau of Investigation has to compile a report, more commonly known as the Uniform Crime Report, that is a general compilation of reports from police departments around the United States of crimes that have been reported, and the data is organized to reflect where the more predominant areas of crime are and how often they are occurring.  How often they are occurring is known as the Crime Clock, a formula used based on population and those same reports as well as other information that shows stats such as “a house is broke into every (blank amount of time).”  How does this relate to the economy and crime and what would McGruff think?

     Citizen’s of all cities are aware of what is happening to parts of their individual towns, that seemingly have high crime rates or places one would not go if alone or unsure of whom “owns” the streets and whether or not you are dressed with the correct garb.  What most citizens do not see or are not aware of is that the citizens within those communities, whom are no longer working may be receiving benefits of a government type and if the Federal Government defaulted on those payments, their rents, their food, and their livelihoods would also be affected. This in itself may cause one to think about stealing food, gasoline or money but are they doing it?  According to an article, published by the New York Times, (Savage, Charles, New York Times online, May 24, 2010) the overall crime rate went down in a lot of areas, in 2009. The report that was filed by the New York Times reflects the Federal Bureau of Investigations annual crime report.  In this case, McGruff would be wagging his tail with glee.

     Aren’t we in an economic slump and if so, wouldn’t one think the crime rate might go up.  In looking at the why, how or what is happening, we could apply a theory in criminology known as Strain Theory.  In this theory, one who is subjected to abnormal stressful environments that impact their individual lives, may become more likely to behave in a deviant manner in order to satisfy the immediate need or an act out of desperation.  The middle class family who has became accustomed to buying certain items while maintaining steady employment may think all is good.  What happens if they lose their job and are receiving benefits that suddenly get cut off?  While their minds may be focused somewhat on obtaining the items, their finances will not allow it and in turn may make that person a bit more deviant in acquiring the items rather than the funding.  This in itself may present a problem, as those who provide those items also need the finances to survive.  If their client cannot afford it, then they cannot afford to lose possession of it due to theft and must make provisions against the potential theft of the items, which requires funding.  Money does make the world go around and some citizens may not be able to adjust well when it is reduced or removed from them completely. McGruff’s concern levels are now refocused and should be growing on a new generation of potential criminals with a set case of “the cannot help my self’s”

     Strain Theory more indicates that individuals in particular in distressful situations may be more inclined to act out of desperation.  That does not mean that society is horrendously infected with lots of its citizens stressed over money issues, as the Strain Theory also supports that society itself is basically functional and intact.  Robert Merton (July 4, 1910 – February 23, 2003), the founding thinker in this theory, at the time it was conceived did not know that this would continue to be studied and time tested.  McGruff himself would be impressed with a lot of the information Mr. Merton put forth and may have been the reason for McGruff’s focus on the basics of prevention, and with the stresses of the world today it is needed more than ever before, remember we are supposed to point out the oddity in the area markets or stores.

  Our focus on preventing crime may have to take a new focus on the Strain Theory as this may be more likely to occur as the economy within our United States continues to slump.  While not an complete answer to all deviant acts, this theory may prove a beneficial guide in helping to understand just a section of our communities new criminal behavior and why they might commit the crimes they commit.  The economy does affect certain deviant behaviors by deterring them through indirect means and environments, and this is all monitored with the help of law enforcement in the F.B.I.’s annual crime report.   Criminologists use the information provided so that we may all do what McGruff asked us to do, “Take a bite out of crime.”

Reference and reading materials:

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