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The Rise in Crime

It seems like every day now we hear of a tragic crime occurring and we are left to wonder why there has been such an uptick in criminal behavior lately. Already this year, there have been high-profile shootings such as the recent shooting by a “drifter” during a screening of Amy Schumer’s popular movie, Trainwreck and a horrific shooting at a Bible study held in a historic black church in Charleston, South Carolina. People are left to question what is happening to the world and what has led to this trend of criminality.
Some crimes have been attributed to racism or anger at the American political system but all too often crimes seem to happen for no reason at all. These crimes don’t always occur in areas where illicit behavior is a frequent occurrence and can happen at any time in any place in the United States or in overseas locations. Sometimes I feel like this is all I hear about lately on the news and it saddens me when I hear about tragedies that should never have occurred in the first place.
The parents of criminals are left to question whether they did something wrong and why their child would commit such heinous acts. Some may wonder whether they should have their own lawyers defend their child’s actions or allow the child to be defended in court by public defenders or court-appointed defense attorneys. I cannot even fathom how these parents feel when they see that their child has made headlines not for doing something great but for doing something terrible.
What factors contribute to a rise in crime? Is it the location that attracts criminals? Does something psychologically wrong with the criminal influence their desire to commit crimes? Some factors that influence criminal behavior include:
• High Population/Population Density—According to a report by the FBI entitled “Crime in the United States”, areas with large populations and high population density tend to have higher crime rates. Most of the crimes that occur in these areas are residential crimes such as burglaries, car thefts, larceny, and domestic violence.
• Commercial/Business Districts—Areas that have dense commercial areas tend to have more “business-related” crimes occur such as shoplifting, commercial burglaries, forgery, larceny, muggings, and thefts of bikes, cars, and personal objects left in cars.
• Economic Conditions—The United States has been in a terrible recession since the stock market crash in 2007-2008 and poor economic conditions according to a 2002 study by Bruce Weinburg at Ohio State University have a significant impact on crime rates. Weinburg and his colleagues studied crime rates between 1979 and 1997 and found that increases in crime during that period could be attributed to declining wages and increased unemployment. Weinburg held that crime increased with declining wages because there was a greater payoff for criminal activity.
• Climate—In 1984 John Rotton, a psychologist with Florida International University, conducted a study based on 858 cities in the United States and found that hot, dry climates was a significant factor in predicting crime and was as significant a factor as the state of the economy or population density. He found that rapes, robberies, and murders were more likely to occur on warmer days than on colder or rainier days. The FBI’s 2007 “Crime in the United States” report concurred with this by indicating that climate was an influential factor in crime rates.
• Distressed Neighborhoods—Neighborhoods that appear to be neglected and are run-down, covered with graffiti, and disorderly tend to have more crime than more orderly neighborhoods. This is supported by a theory devised in 1982 by two social scientists, George L. Kelling of Rutgers University and James Q. Wilson of Harvard University, referred to as the “broken windows” theory. In essence, the theory holds that when one window of a building is broken and remains broken, eventually all the other windows of the building will become broken. The first broken window symbolizes to citizens that no one cares about the broken window or any of the other broken windows. The remaining unbroken windows become targets of petty crimes which spread in a variety of ways through apathetic neighborhoods. Many studies have confirmed the validity of this theory including a 2008 study by K. Keizer and S. Lindenberg of the University of Groningen.
• Variations in age of the population particularly a large youth concentration
• Stability of the population with regards to ease of residential mobility and commutes
• Available modes of transportation and highway systems
• Cultural factors and academic, poverty level, and job availability
• Conditions of the family including whether there has been divorce in the family and the cohesiveness of the family
• Strength of law enforcement agencies
• Focuses of law enforcement officials in the area
Harold Pollack, the co-director of the University of Chicago Crime Lab, remarked on this current upwards trend of criminality when he said, “It’s a little bit like the stock market. These statistics go up and down. It’s like asking why did the stock market go up 75 points today.”
Pollack believes that larger police departments with more officers patrolling the streets contribute to a decrease in crime. What could also impact a decline in crime is the quality of policing and management of the police department. However, what has been documented lately is tensions between police officers and members of particular communities. There have been high-profile cases of police officers killing unarmed black men and it has become a political talking point on whether police reform is needed or whether there is a need for more aggressive policing.
Pollack stated, “Public safety is a joint product of the police and the community, and each side has to trust each other, and when that trust breaks down, it’s very hard for police to do its job and for the community to do its part as well.
Will we one day see a decline in violent crime? In some cities there certainly has been a decline in violent crimes and there is hope that residents of crime-plagued cities will one day be able to sleep peacefully knowing that they are safe and not at risk of being hurt.

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Short Fiction: “Petty Criminal”

There I was, just standing there, when what I wanted to do was forbidden. I had the option to potentially commit a felony or go home and I decided to commit the felony. What were my friends and I going to do? We were going to attempt to shoplift from Rodgers, the major department store that we deemed easy to steal from as what we planned to steal was considered not particularly difficult to take.
One of my friends, Ella, would be the lookout while I went with my other friend, Jessica, to track down the items that we wanted to take. I did feel a pang of guilt when I thought of what my mother would think if we were caught. She would be so ashamed and disappointed and wonder how she could have raised a petty criminal. The thrill was so enticing though so I put aside those underlying feelings of guilt and went all in.
I slipped some earrings into my purse first before grabbing some necklaces and bracelets while Jessica stuffed a bra into her pocket book before we furtively exited the store. No alarms went off and Ella, Jessica, and I hopped into Ella’s Lexus before speeding away from the scene of the crime.
We thought we were home free until later on when blurry pictures of Jessica and I surfaced online with a message requesting help to track down the brazen thieves who had stolen expensive jewelry and other items from Rodgers. Jessica and I had to figure out what to do with what we had taken and we decided to dump the items in a wooded area by the local high school. Ella got us latex gloves from her dad’s stash and we put them on before grabbing what we’d taken and setting off deep into the woods. We dug a hole and buried the items before quickly leaving out of the woods.
I was really anxious that we’d still be caught and sure enough we were that night when the cops came to my house. My mom was horrified and tearfully asked me if I had actually done what the cops had accused me of doing. I couldn’t lie to her and confessed my guilt.
“Where is the stolen merchandise?” Officer Thompson asked me sharply.
“My friend, Jessica, and I buried them in the woods by the high school.” I replied truthfully.
“How could you do something like this?” my mom asked, “Did we do something wrong when we raised you? We always taught you that nothing in life is free and that you needed to pay your way through life. I think you need help and I’m not just going to stand by and let you continue down a path of crime.”
She let Office Thompson arrest me for shoplifting and I was taken away in the police car. I was terrified wondering what was going to happen to me and I was placed in a holding cell in the local jail. Jessica was eventually escorted in and gave me a sad smile. I knew that now my life was in the hands of the police and I regretted committing the crime in the first place.
Jessica and I were kept apart from one another and I knew that my mom was not going to bail me out of jail. I was led to my own cell later on and on the hard bed I put my head in my hands and began crying hysterically. All my life I had always tried to do the right thing and now I was in jail for something so stupid. I was so ashamed of myself as I had always envisioned myself having a bright future. Now this felony could jeopardize any chance I had for a good career and stable life for myself.
My trial was held a week later and my mom begrudgingly had her lawyer defend me. I guess she wanted me to have a fair chance at a good defense. I was guilt-ridden and hung my head in shame when I saw the expression on my mom’s face in the courtroom. She could barely even look at me and I wondered what kind of sentence I would receive as a first-time offender.
My lawyer spoke to me and I told her that I wanted to plead guilty and be subject to whatever sentence the jury deemed was suitable for me. She wasn’t thrilled with that but knew it was the best decision in the long run. After my lawyer defended me and requested clemency since I was a first-time offender the jury deliberated and finally sentenced me to six months in jail since the value of the items I had stolen was under $200.
I was escorted out of the courtroom in handcuffs and when we arrived back at the jail I was placed in the same isolated cell I’d been in before. My reputation was tarnished now and it would take time to redeem myself to my family. While I hadn’t committed a violent crime I still had done something that was worthy of imprisonment and felt numb thinking of the future I had destroyed with one major lapse in judgment.
There was very little to do in my jail cell as there was only a small TV with a limited number of channels and a bookcase that contained old magazines and books. I wondered what I would do for the next six months and whether my family would even consider visiting me in prison. Why would they though now that they realized I was a criminal?
I contemplated suicide as a means to an end as I felt that I couldn’t possibly handle such a long time in jail. Six months was almost an entire year and I thought of all the family events I’d be missing out on and the time I could’ve spent with my friends engaged in fun social pursuits. All of that was out the window now and I knew that I was a lost cause.