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Thursday, October 10, 2013

Crime is the unintended consequence

Unintended consequence

John packed his briefcase so he could leave early. He checked the tablet computer, extra cell phone, and voice recorder, and then loaded his briefcase in the car. He filled the tank and parked the car in his driveway so his early departure wouldn’t awaken his wife.

Several Costa Mesa citizens noticed a large man riding a small bike leaving a nearby neighborhood yesterday; they didn’t report the matter to the police. “Ah, they’d never get here in time to catch him – maybe it’s his bike, anyway.” The bike was stolen, but the theft wasn't reported; “ah, they never catch ‘em anyway.”

John wasn’t awakened by the car alarm; car alarms go off from time to time in his neighborhood. A neighbor who heard it saw someone riding a bike at two in the morning, but went back to bed. “Probably just some kid coming home late.”

John’s briefcase was lost to a “grab and go,” and sold to a mobile “fence” within ten minutes. The fence Craiglisted the items and ran a software program on the tablet before he packaged it.

John’s tablet was on a UPS truck on the way to Omaha before he noticed his car was burglarized. His credit card information, extracted from the tablet, was used to purchase easily-hocked items, like watches and jewelry in Los Angeles, as he gave his report to the investigating officer. It will be a long day and a long week for John.

The guy on the stolen bike appreciated the unwatched, straight bike trail behind John’s house; it makes access and escape so fast and easy.

Didn't get involved 

That afternoon Mary was feeling guilty for skipping her morning workout two days in a row. She decided to remedy that right now. She stopped at the gym on her way home, grabbed her gym clothes from the trunk and tossed her purse in – she’d only be gone for an hour, after all.

Five people going in to the gym today noticed two youths loitering in the parking lot but said nothing to the management or the police. “I don’t want the hassle, I don't want to get involved, they've got their bikes and backpacks so they're probably students hanging out.”

A brick through Mary’s window, the trunk lid popped, and Mary’s evening took a turn for the worse.

Whose fault

Did John cause a crime? Nope, he just attracted a criminal. Did Mary? Again, no, she just didn’t notice criminals watching while she stowed her purse.

Broken window theory suggests that crime, at least most non-violent crime, directly reflects community involvement. In communities where residents care about their environment and look out for each other, crime declines and property values increase.* The opposite is true as well.

John's neighbor wasn't concerned enough to ask the police to check -- whether they caught a specific perpetrator is not the question. Their visiting that neighborhood, stopping folks who look out of place would be noted. The mobile fence would be more reluctant to pick up loot there.

People visiting Mary's gym, or a church, or a meeting hall who don't notice people loitering and ask the police to check -- help the lookouts and perpetrators succeed.

Their reluctance to get involved lead to unintended consequences.

After the criminals who perpetrated the crimes, who was next most responsible? Was it the citizens who didn't get involved or the city council that built a trail that facilitated crime?

Crime was the unintended consequence.

* More about the broken window theory: Here

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