Why Does Crime Occur? Root Causes and What They Mean for You

Why Does Crime Occur? Root Causes and What They Mean for You

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. One of the truest aphorisms, and a useful approach to many problems: it’s easier and cheaper to avoid them than to fix them. We’ve talked about ways to make your house less appealing to burglars, how to avoid muggings and assaults, and other preventative measures. Today, we’re going to take a different approach to preventing undesirable incidents.

Let’s talk about what causes crime in the first place.

There’s a lot of disinformation out there. A great many folks, often well-meaning, attempt to tie crime to race, ethnicity, culture, or political affiliation. In reality, the underlying causes of crime are a bit more complex, and understanding them can help you construct your own personal safety plan.

This one stands to reason, but there are some subtleties to explore. The ups and downs of employment rates and the economic health of a nation have a measurable effect on rates of property crime—i.e., when unemployment is high and the economy in the tank, break-ins, robberies, and even muggings have a tendency to become more common. This occurs on both the local and national level, so if your neighborhood or town is going through a rough time, it might be a good idea to review your home security and family emergency plans. Interestingly enough—economic factors don’t seem to influence violent crime like homicide, at least not as clearly.

The Weather. It’s obvious when you think about it: tempers run high during extremes of weather, particularly heat waves. Chicago is is a great example-in-point; popular wisdom in the Windy City holds that murders become more common during the dog days of summer, and the statistics seem largely to bear that out. If you find yourself in an interpersonal confrontation during a heat wave, bear this in mind. Your conflict de-escalation skills are especially important in that moment.

Fair warning, this is a complex one. We’ve hinted at it above in discussing the impact of your local economy on crime—the particulars of a space can shape how crime plays out there. However, as the National Institute of Justice points out, the physical features of a neighborhood can affect its crime rate. Battered old cars, abandoned buildings, trash accumulation, and graffiti, and empty storefronts create a perception of crime that often becomes reality. And going beyond perception, some physical features draw criminal activity. Criminals tend to prefer areas that allow for easy of access: wide two-way streets, multiple routes in and out, and relatively high traffic areas. Areas with many commercial properties tend to attract crime, as do areas with blind corners and spaces not visible from public streets.

Understanding these traits serves two purposes: spotting them when you’re out and about is a red-flag that you might be moving into the proverbial danger zone—though I would stress that not all run-down neighborhoods are crime-ridden. Secondly, you can help ensure that your neighborhood/town/city/apartment complex develops and maintains itself in such a way as to avoid acquiring the traits criminals look for.

Ultimately knowledge is power. Do your research, stay informed, and practice situational awareness —these are your strongest weapons for staying (and getting) out of trouble.