Criminals and Victims

Criminals and Victims

Criminals and Victims

Criminals and Victims

Synopsis

Criminals and Victims presents an economic analysis of decisions made by criminals and victims of crime before, during, and after a crime or victimization occurs. Its main purpose is to illustrate how the application of analytical tools from economics can help us to understand the causes and consequences of criminal and victim choices, aiding efforts to deter or reduce the consequences of crime. By examining these decisions along a logical timeline over which crimes take place, we can begin to think more clearly about how policy effects change when it is targeted at specific decisions within the body of a crime.

This book differs from others by recognizing the timeline of a crime, paying particular attention to victim decisions, and examining each step in the crime cycle at the micro-level. It demonstrates that criminals plan their crimes in systematic, economically logical ways; that deterring the destruction of criminal evidence may deter crime in general; and that white-collar criminals exhibit recidivism patterns not unlike those of street criminals. It further shows that the degree of criminality in a society motivates a variety of self-protection behaviors by potential victims; that not all victim resistance makes matters worse (and some may help); and that victims who report their crimes do not receive high returns for going to the police, helping to explain why some crimes ultimately go unreported.

Excerpt

Crime represents one of society’s most worrisome and persistent problems. People who commit crime impose harm on victims in a number of significant ways: violent injury, psychological trauma, reductions of personal freedom, or losses of property. Crime also creates inherent external costs: one crime, one person’s victimization, inevitably gives pause to others in society, often engendering greater fear of crime and motivating behaviors designed to prevent crime or lessen its consequences. The creation of these spillovers makes crime as much a problem for government as for individuals. But, by the same token, our efforts at combating crime often create external benefits in their own right; for example, if one person installs a security light at his residence, it might deter someone from burglarizing that house as well as a neighbor’s house, even if the neighbor did nothing similar to protect himself. The presence of external benefits suggests that if we figure out effective ways to deter individuals from committing crime and effective ways to make people less vulnerable to crime or its consequences, we will have a chance to lessen the problems of crime and crime victimization.

Our individual and collective efforts at crime prevention may actually be working. In June 2009, on the occasion of a new release of U.S. crime statistics, FBI Director Robert Mueller pointed out several notable declines in the number of serious crimes from 2007 to 2008, including a 2.5% decline in violent crimes like murder and rape and a 1.6% decline in property crimes like burglary and larceny. These figures, in fact, reflect a recent trend, charted and discussed pointedly by Zimring (2007), toward lesser criminality in the United States. Is this pattern here to stay, or will it ultimately prove fleeting? Are governmental efforts at deterrence responsible for this? Or are victims, or at least potential victims, living their lives differently than in the past to make themselves less vulnerable? At what cost? Scholarly research on crime and victimization represents . . .

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