Violent crime and a cratering economy: not what people think

Yesterday afternoon, three women were robbed at gunpoint in broad daylight on the busiest recreation path in Boulder. This sort of thing almost never happens around here, but the incident comes on the relatively close heels of the shooting death of University of New Hampshire football player Todd Walker, who attempted to intervene in a robbery on University Hill.

Last night I overheard someone discussing yesterday’s robbery, and at the end of his soliloquy he declared that this was the kind of thing that would continue happening thanks to people defaulting on their mortgages, losing their jobs and otherwise suffering the ravages of a shitty economy. This wasn’t the first time I’d heard some version of this claim, not the second, nor even the tenth. It’s a bona fide meme, and I’ve never believed it.

Think about it: How often do you see canned CFO’s and out-of-work software consultants jailed for pulling a gun on a random person in the hope of grabbing maybe fifty or sixty bucks? People of means happily commit crimes, but do not typically indulge in such offenses as robbery, burglary, larceny and other brute-force malfeasance. Instead, they defraud banks, skim from their employers, commit identity fraud and do end runs around the IRS.

This kind of talk always seems to emerge from the mouths of people who are not themselves prone to violence, and are intelligent but for whatever reason don’t have a pot to piss in (I think the fellow I was listening to last night was homeless, and if he wasn’t he was doing a fine imitation of a transient). In any case, I have always suspected that it’s bullshit, and so I went looking for support. Sure enough, there appears to be little to no association between a poor economy and violent crime rates. (I selected the Business Pundit link from among a considerable array of sites offering similar information.)

It is rarely the case…that someone loses a job at the bank and decides to rob another bank to make ends meet. Those who lose their homes to foreclosure do not typically go out and burglarize other people’s homes for some quick cash. The decision to pursue a criminal career is largely independent of job market conditions.

Read the whole piece and the articles it links to — interesting stuff for armchair criminologists, future cops, and crooks.