Crime in America: Why It Went Up, Why It's Going Down

Lizotte, Alan J.
July 1982
Business Horizons;Jul/Aug82, Vol. 25 Issue 4, p60
Academic Journal
Crime rose in the United States because of a combination of social and economic factors. With luck, those same factors may bring the crime rate down in the future. Crime rates change because of changes in industrial, social, and economic factors in the larger society. Since World War II, these factors have contributed to a significant increase in crime in the United States by providing more suitable targets, offering more motives, and lessening the number and kinds of guardians which deter crime. According to Larry Cohen and Marcus Felson[1] the presence or absence of these three elements--a suitable target, a motive, and a guardian--determine whether crimes such as robbery, assault, rape, and homicide take place. To see how these factors can converge to produce a crime, take, for example, the case of two automobiles. Let's park your Mercedes 450 SL on the street in the central business district of a large city, and leave the keys in the ignition while you eat lunch five blocks away. Then let's park my 1964 VW in the same section of the same city. But this time we will put it in a parking garage, and we'll tip the attendant two dollars, explaining that the car is a family heirloom. You, unfortunately, have a suitable target, lots of motivated offenders, and no guardians, whereas I have a piece of junk, no motivated offenders, and a guardian. Your car will probably be stolen; mine probably won't. Of course, it is important to note the difference between the number of crimes which take place and the number that are reported; we worry about real crime, but we measure only reported crime. As a result, changes in people's willingness to report crimes and in the technological ability of the society to gather and record these reports also affect the crime rate. We can explain the increase in the crime rate of the past few decades by looking at these factors; we should also be able to predict something about the future.


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