The Rise in Crime

It seems like every day now we hear of a tragic crime occurring and we are left to wonder why there has been such an uptick in criminal behavior lately. Already this year, there have been high-profile shootings such as the recent shooting by a “drifter” during a screening of Amy Schumer’s popular movie, Trainwreck and a horrific shooting at a Bible study held in a historic black church in Charleston, South Carolina. People are left to question what is happening to the world and what has led to this trend of criminality.
Some crimes have been attributed to racism or anger at the American political system but all too often crimes seem to happen for no reason at all. These crimes don’t always occur in areas where illicit behavior is a frequent occurrence and can happen at any time in any place in the United States or in overseas locations. Sometimes I feel like this is all I hear about lately on the news and it saddens me when I hear about tragedies that should never have occurred in the first place.
The parents of criminals are left to question whether they did something wrong and why their child would commit such heinous acts. Some may wonder whether they should have their own lawyers defend their child’s actions or allow the child to be defended in court by public defenders or court-appointed defense attorneys. I cannot even fathom how these parents feel when they see that their child has made headlines not for doing something great but for doing something terrible.
What factors contribute to a rise in crime? Is it the location that attracts criminals? Does something psychologically wrong with the criminal influence their desire to commit crimes? Some factors that influence criminal behavior include:
• High Population/Population Density—According to a report by the FBI entitled “Crime in the United States”, areas with large populations and high population density tend to have higher crime rates. Most of the crimes that occur in these areas are residential crimes such as burglaries, car thefts, larceny, and domestic violence.
• Commercial/Business Districts—Areas that have dense commercial areas tend to have more “business-related” crimes occur such as shoplifting, commercial burglaries, forgery, larceny, muggings, and thefts of bikes, cars, and personal objects left in cars.
• Economic Conditions—The United States has been in a terrible recession since the stock market crash in 2007-2008 and poor economic conditions according to a 2002 study by Bruce Weinburg at Ohio State University have a significant impact on crime rates. Weinburg and his colleagues studied crime rates between 1979 and 1997 and found that increases in crime during that period could be attributed to declining wages and increased unemployment. Weinburg held that crime increased with declining wages because there was a greater payoff for criminal activity.
• Climate—In 1984 John Rotton, a psychologist with Florida International University, conducted a study based on 858 cities in the United States and found that hot, dry climates was a significant factor in predicting crime and was as significant a factor as the state of the economy or population density. He found that rapes, robberies, and murders were more likely to occur on warmer days than on colder or rainier days. The FBI’s 2007 “Crime in the United States” report concurred with this by indicating that climate was an influential factor in crime rates.
• Distressed Neighborhoods—Neighborhoods that appear to be neglected and are run-down, covered with graffiti, and disorderly tend to have more crime than more orderly neighborhoods. This is supported by a theory devised in 1982 by two social scientists, George L. Kelling of Rutgers University and James Q. Wilson of Harvard University, referred to as the “broken windows” theory. In essence, the theory holds that when one window of a building is broken and remains broken, eventually all the other windows of the building will become broken. The first broken window symbolizes to citizens that no one cares about the broken window or any of the other broken windows. The remaining unbroken windows become targets of petty crimes which spread in a variety of ways through apathetic neighborhoods. Many studies have confirmed the validity of this theory including a 2008 study by K. Keizer and S. Lindenberg of the University of Groningen.
• Variations in age of the population particularly a large youth concentration
• Stability of the population with regards to ease of residential mobility and commutes
• Available modes of transportation and highway systems
• Cultural factors and academic, poverty level, and job availability
• Conditions of the family including whether there has been divorce in the family and the cohesiveness of the family
• Strength of law enforcement agencies
• Focuses of law enforcement officials in the area
Harold Pollack, the co-director of the University of Chicago Crime Lab, remarked on this current upwards trend of criminality when he said, “It’s a little bit like the stock market. These statistics go up and down. It’s like asking why did the stock market go up 75 points today.”
Pollack believes that larger police departments with more officers patrolling the streets contribute to a decrease in crime. What could also impact a decline in crime is the quality of policing and management of the police department. However, what has been documented lately is tensions between police officers and members of particular communities. There have been high-profile cases of police officers killing unarmed black men and it has become a political talking point on whether police reform is needed or whether there is a need for more aggressive policing.
Pollack stated, “Public safety is a joint product of the police and the community, and each side has to trust each other, and when that trust breaks down, it’s very hard for police to do its job and for the community to do its part as well.
Will we one day see a decline in violent crime? In some cities there certainly has been a decline in violent crimes and there is hope that residents of crime-plagued cities will one day be able to sleep peacefully knowing that they are safe and not at risk of being hurt.

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