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Urban Crime:
Its Causes and Solutions

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We will discuss the definitions of crime, the major crimes committed within America’s cities, why people commit crimes, government policies that have decreased our crime rates, root causes, negative effects of some government policies, why this is an inner-city issue, as well as some other possible solutions to help lower our crime rates.

When it comes to our cities, our urban centers here in North America, crime is as much of a problem as it is elsewhere, although our crime rates seem to be higher than is found in other westernized nations, such as Western European nations and Japan . There are always reasons for crime, these reasons can change over time, and the punishments for these crimes can also change. As urban centers learn the reasons behind different crimes, their governments purposely try to develop the means to combat them. And, as these governments try to establish laws, policies, and social programs to combat crime and its causes, it also tends to trigger controversy, as people and organizations disagree with the policies, politics, and monetary appropriations directed towards social programs meant to combat those crimes.

So, what are some of the bigger crimes at issue in our urban centers? What are the reasons behind criminal activity, and how have these reasons changed over time? What are the historical trends in crime in North America? How do we punish those who commit crimes? These questions will be answered shortly.

So, what is crime? Crime is defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary as “an act or the commission of an act that is forbidden or the omission of a duty that is commanded by a public law and that makes the offender liable to punishment by that law; especially : a gross violation of law” . A legal definition of crime would be: “a violation of a law in which there is injury to the public or a member of the public and a term in jail or prison, and/or a fine as possible penalties. There is some sentiment for excluding from the "crime" category crimes without victims, such as consensual acts, or violations in which only the perpetrator is hurt or is involved in something such as the personal use of illegal drugs.”

Major Crimes and Their Statistics

So, what are the biggest violent crimes in America’s urban areas today? What are the crimes of which Americans need to be the most cautious? They include murder, nonnegligent manslaughter, aggravated assault, rape, drug possession or selling, robbery (which includes burglary, larceny, and motor vehicle theft, and will be explained later), and arson.

So, how much crime occurs in America, particularly America’s largest metropolitan areas, which would include your own metropolitan area of choice? According to the FBI records, 1,246,248 violent crimes were committed in the year 2010, down 6% from the previous year, and 13.4% lower than 2001 levels. This is 403.6 violent crimes per 100,000 people in the United States that year. Of those violent crimes committed in 2010, 62.5% of them, or almost 2/3 of them, were aggravated assault. Further breakdown showed that 29.5% of those crimes, or almost 1/3 of them, were robbery; forcible rape was only 6.8% of that total, and murder accounted for only an estimated 1.2% of that amount. FBI statistics also show the prevalence of firearms in the use of committing many of those crimes, as 67.5% of murders, more than 2/3 of the total, were done by a firearm, as was 41.4% of robberies, and 20.6% of aggravated assaults.

As for property crimes, there were an estimated 9,082,887 property crimes committed in America, coming to 2,942 property crimes per 100,000 people, a 3.3% drop from the previous year, and a 19.6% drop since 2001. Larceny-theft (theft outside of the home) accounted for 68.1% of all property crimes in 2010, which is almost 2/3 of all property crimes. Burglary (inside the home) accounted for 23.8% of that rate, and motor vehicle theft accounted for only 8.1% of that rate. If the losses that property-owners incurred over the course of 2010 were added up, it would come to $15.7 billion.

When we look at a breakdown of crime by urbanization, we can look at the FBI data to see a comparison between metropolitan counties versus nonmetropolitan counties, that is, between an urbanized setting and a rural setting . Just by looking at the crime rates, per 100,000 people, we can tell that there is a higher crime rate in urbanized settings versus rural settings. There are 329 crimes per 100,000 people in metropolitan counties with populations of 100,000 and above, whereas there were only 197 crimes per 100,000 people in nonmetropolitan counties with populations over 25,000 people. Although the statistics usually show higher crime rates in urban areas as opposed to rural areas, we find that the opposite is sometimes true – a nonmetropolitan county with a population under 10,000 had a higher violent crime rate than a metropolitan county with a population between 25,000 and 100,000 (222 per 100,000 vs. 190 per 100,000 people). With further breakdown of statistics, you’ll discover that there is not very much difference in crime per 100,000 people when it comes to murder and nonnegligent manslaughter (between 2.5 and 4.1 per 100,000), forcible rape (usually around 20 per 100,000, except in metro counties below 25,000 and non-metro counties under 10,000, which are both over 30 per 100,000), and burglary (between 500-650 cases per 100,000). The other statistical breakdowns showed some difference between urban counties and nonurban counties, in the other five areas. The robbery rate was 86 per 100,000 for metropolitan counties over 100,000, whereas it was only 8 per 100,000 for nonmetropolitan counties under 10,000. Aggravated assault was 217 per 100,000 for metro counties over 100,000, as opposed to only 137 per 100,000 for non-metro counties between 10,000 and 25,000. Property crime as a whole, as well as larceny-theft and motor vehicle theft occurred in greater frequency per 100,000 people in metro counties versus non-metro counties.

Reasons Why People Commit Crimes

So, what are some of the main reasons for why people commit crimes? The answers are numerous, but they seem to fit into a few different general categories. They are:

  • Losing control of one’s emotions or physiology – There are many stories, very diverse from one another, all of which seem to derive from the lack of control of one’s emotions. Your girlfriend or wife wants to leave you, so you physically assault them, or even kill them in your rage. Someone is arguing with you over issues as mundane as a sporting event, and tempers fly out of control, and before you know it, a fight has broken out, and someone is left in the hospital, and someone is left dead. You don’t think you were treated right, or fairly, at your workplace, and so you decide to take matters into your own hands. Someone keeps harassing you, or bullying you, so you also take the matter into your own hands. Whatever the case may be, whether it leads to hatred, anger, impatience, revenge, ambition, pride, or other emotional states, losing control of one’s emotional state can lead to reactions that end in crime. You get extremely sexually aroused, and don’t have someone to take care of your needs, and instead of realizing that it might be better to take care of yourself, you force it on someone – you rape some woman rather than practicing self-control. Poor judgment may also be included in this category, because if you were better able to practice risk-benefit-consequence analysis, you might have better controlled your behavior.
  • Connections with drugs and alcohol – Perhaps the person is impaired because of too much alcohol, and ends up doing something that they wouldn’t have done without impaired judgment, which would have left them in a state to more clearly see consequences to their actions, and developed the mindset to fight the feeling or thought. We have, of course, heard many times the story of an abusive father and husband, who are in that state because of being an alcoholic. Or, there are the people who are addicted to hard street drugs, and don’t have any more money to pay for their next ounce of whatever it is they’re taking, so, in desperation, they rob someone at gunpoint, or rob a store, or attack someone for their money, or burglarize a house, in the hopes of getting that cash they need for that next hit, so as not to go through the pain of withdrawal. Then, of course, there are the street venders and the more powerful drug lords who, in order to maintain control of their territory, or gain control of someone else’s, decide to perform violent acts, such as murdering their competition, in order to keep their upper hand.
  • Bad influences – We find that many times a person, especially people who are habitual criminal offenders, commit crimes because that is all they know, from the environment that surrounds them, and/or because of the peer influence around them. Perhaps they’re from a bad neighborhood, and the only people they see getting ahead in life, or getting out of the misery of poverty and hopelessness, are the people who do some sort of illegal, or criminal activity. They learn the techniques for burglarizing a property, or stealing a motor vehicle, and get all the ‘encouragement’ they need to go into such endeavors from the people around them. There are also the young people that feel very threatened by their surroundings, or may have even been attacked or hurt before, maybe on many occasions, and feel they need some protection, and the only protection they seem to find is offered in street gangs, many of which go about committing a plentitude of crimes.
  • Wrong Moral Choices – A good number of the crimes committed by people who aren’t influenced by substance abuse or losing control of their emotions, particularly when it comes to property crimes like theft, larceny, and motor vehicle theft, do so, out of deliberately choosing to do that act, even though it is considered unethical and immoral. Making the wrong moral choices is closely linked to the bad influences mentioned above. In these cases, the person knows that they shouldn’t steal or perform other violent acts, but don’t care, and decide to do it anyways.
  • Mental Disorders – There is no telling how many crimes are done by people who have some kind of mental disorder, one which is difficult to control, even with proper medications or psychological treatments. We are often seeing stories in the news about people who commit violent acts because of a mental illness they have. Of course, there are different factors that confound the information, distort the numbers, don’t account for different things such as the effects of medications on those people, and substance abuse . Another study suggests that it is substance abuse, the abusing of alcohol and using of drugs that lead to much of the mental illness that we see today; this study showed that if we accounted for this substance abuse, the effects of mental illness on causing crime would be minimal.
  • Poverty and Homelessness – There are those that believe that there is a strong connection between poverty and homelessness, and the amount of crime in an area. This theory is known as strain theory, in that social strains on individuals, to achieve upward financial mobility, are causing those individuals to act out in ways that are illegal, since legal means to achieve that upward mobility are not available to them. It was this strain theory of crime that motivated the Great Society welfare programs to be developed, that eventually became policy under the presidency of Lyndon B. Johnson in the 1960’s. There seems to be some evidence to suggest that poverty is not a cause of crime, but is reflective of the kind of social behavior that also leads a person to want to commit crimes. In other words, criminal activity has more of a correlation to poverty and homelessness rather than being caused (causation) by it. More will be talked about this later.

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