You may think that crime has gone up in these dark economic times when more and more people are out of work and fewer and fewer people have money. That hasn’t been the case. Generally speaking, most types of crime have declined nationally during the past year. There are many theories about this. Not surprisingly, I have some of my own.
I think this downturn in criminality is a result of lawbreakers feeling like most of us — terribly discouraged about the economy. My guess is they have been thinking things like, “Why steal that money? It’s not really worth very much anymore.” Or, “By the time I pawn that watch, it’ll be worth less than the one I bought at Walgreen’s last year.” Or, “If I get hurt while committing a violent crime, there’s no way that my insurance company is going to pay the medical bills.” So crooks have probably determined that committing crimes right now is just not worth their trouble.
Here in California, the statewide drop in crime has been larger than the national decline. For months, we’ve been hearing the expression, “Nobody has money these days.” I think you can also say, “Nobody has money these days to buy stolen goods.” So thieves are probably just staying home and watching daytime TV rather than getting off their butts and doing what they’ve done for years. The longer they stay home without earning money, the more depressed they get. Feeling down, they are less likely to go out, and their self-esteem suffers. It’s hard to see an end to this spiral until the general economy goes up.
The only exception to the decrease in crimes has to do with small towns. Places with fewer than 10,000 residents have actually had an increase in illegal activity during this same period.
That shouldn’t be all that surprising. Sometimes it takes a while for trends to reach rural areas. If you are a student of history, you know this was the case when it came to foreign films, post-modern fiction, and the Macarena. I think that once small-time crooks learn how their big-city brothers and sisters are comporting themselves during this period, they will start staying home from “work” as well.
In the meantime, one solution for residents of small towns who want to avoid crime is to go to New York. Those new FBI statistics rate New York as the safest city among the 25 largest cities in the United States. Soon you may be seeing an ad campaign for the “Big Apple.” It may go something like this: “Tired of locking your doors after you feed the hogs? Angry about looking over your shoulder while you walk down Main Street? Afraid to walk into the General Store with more than $8 in your pocket? Come to New York where you’ll feel safer than a mare in a gelding corral.”
Nationally, the type of crime that has gone down the most (while your IRA has suffered the same fate) has been auto theft. That activity has gone down slightly more than 13 percent. As if things weren’t bad enough in the auto industry, now there’s proof that you actually can’t give cars away. Not even thieves want them.
The FBI didn’t give statistics for specific makes or models in terms of which ones are being stolen the least. However, my guess is SUVs and any big car with a huge engine aren’t on thieves’ “to steal” lists. As we head closer to that time of year when gas prices always “mysteriously soar,” car thieves will have a more and more difficult time unloading gas-guzzlers.
And maybe it’s not just about money. Maybe car thieves have evolved just like the rest of us. Perhaps they say to each other, “I don’t want my kids to be ashamed of me anymore. I’ve gone green. I only steal high-mileage vehicles.”
Lloyd Garver has written for many television shows, ranging from “Sesame Street” to “Family Ties” to “Home Improvement” to “Frasier.” He has also read many books, some of them in hardcover. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Check out his Web site at lloydgarver.com and his podcasts on iTunes.