Is technology the reason many crimes are declining in prevalance?

To explain the thread title;

It’s accepted by everyone who isn’t either a) old and grumpy or b) just alarmist and sccared that in most Western countries, crime is down. Violent crime rates - murder, assault, robbery and the like - were insanely high 30, 40 years ago as compared to today.

There are a number fo common explanations for this:

  1. Better policing
  2. More criminals in prison
  3. Better economic conditions
  4. Less lead in the atmosphere makes people less violent
  5. Abortion (the Freakonomics Theory, if you will.)

Yoy might or might not agree with one or more of these things, but it occurred to me; what if it’s just information technology? Consider:

You cannot get away clean these days because of cameras. If I were to go rob a bank, the likelihood I could get away from the scene without being recorded on something is almost nil. The bank is rife with cameras. The outside is scanned by cameras. Other businesses in the area will have cameras. If I park my getaway car some distance from the bank that area might have cameras, or at least cameras will catch all or some of my escape route. Sufficiently enterprising cops will probably be able to find enough time stamped camera footage to see me or the license plate of the car I use.

There just isn’t as much cash around. Back in the day if you mugged a person who looked prosperous there was a good chance it would net you a decent score. Now many people do not carry cash at all. Credit cards can be stolen and used but they’re traceable and carry risk as compared to traceless cash.

Computers follow you. Back in the day, if you could get away, you could really get away. Creating a new identity was much easier. Hell, at one point a person barely had a confirmable legal identity; in 1870 if you got in serious crap in New York, you could flee to California, call yourself by a different name, grow (or shave off) a moustache and with even a modicum of common sense you were pretty much gone. Creating a new identity even 30-40-50 years ago was not impossible. Today, I’m not even sure you could do that at all unless you were willing to live homeless or close to it. Maybe some people have contacts who can create new identities but that’s not something your average crook could do.

Other aspects of crime are also harder because of the tracing of computers. Pawn shops, for instance, are harder places to fence your stolen goods than once they were.

Security is generally easier, so there’s more of it. Watch “Catch Me If You Can,” the fictionalized movie about famed con artist Frank Abignale Jr. He was a skilled impersonator, fast talker, and cheque forger. Now ask yourself if Abignale could do it in 2016. Not a chance, Vance. It’s harder to forge things and people just don’'t take your word for it anymore; they rely on what the computer says.

So my theory is that while IT and portable technologies of all types are creating new ways of committing crimes (e.g. 419 scams, hacks, etc.) they have contributed to eliminating other types of crimes. Thoughts?

The economy MAY have something to do with it, but not nearly as much as some people think. Otherwise the worst economic downturn in 70 years would have resulted in a noticeable spike in the crime rate. It didn’t.

There’s a couple of contributing factors that you left off your list–

  1. Guns and concealed carry permits.
    Many criminals freely admit that they are deterred from certain crimes by the mere possibility that the potential victim may be armed.
  2. An aging population.
    Young males are by far the most likely to commit almost any type of crime. Therefore, the old the population is, the less likely crimes are.

Cameras deter some people who are likely to think ahead. Many crimes are committed on the spur of the moment. The studies on the worth of cameras are decidedly mixed.

Furthermore, technology has no real bearing on certain categories of crime. Social engineering works whether it’s done by email or by phone. I have worked in places where every employee had a key card to physically get into the building, and nobody was supposed to hold the door open for anybody, regardless of the reason. Yet people held the door for others on a fairly regular basis. If you ACT like you belong somewhere, people will assume that you do.

Add to the above the prevalence of DNA evidence that should be reducing forcible rape sharply, but in this case it’s not the technology’s limitation but the budgets - with Sexual Assault Evidence kits not ever getting to the lab because there’s not enough money or manpower to process them.

All of those are factors, but IMHO, 3 is the most important.

Poverty breeds crime.

Desperate people do not always do the most rational long sighted thing.

If there are no legal alternatives to poverty, many people will turn to illegal alternatives to poverty.

There will always be criminals. There will always be those who take what they did not earn.

But, in an environment where people are unable to earn what they need to survive or thrive, it does seem much more likely that they will take what they need, and once you’ve gotten over that breaking of the social contract, you might as well take what you want too.

6: Demographics. Beyond abortion, the simple ratio of people who are males 15-35YO to people who aren’t.

7: X-Box & such. Bored young men get up to all kinds of non-sense, including addictive drugs. People are more likely to stay in, binge on Netflix and play video games than they used to.

8: Better social mores generally. For example, isn’t bullying taken more seriously now than in the past? Bad habits like smoking are more likely to be regarded as dirty & dumb than cool. The movie 22 Jump street had a joke about how now the cool kids are all about caring about the environment rather than being a rebel without a cause*. Meditation is starting to be something that’s not (just) for mushy headed hippies.
*Everybody’s two-strapping! Like you’re supposed to. 21 Jump Street school scene HD - YouTube

I am intrigued by 7 and I wonder if there has been any research on this. The crime rate started declining in the mid-90’s which was around the time both the web and 3-d action videogames became popular. Over the last 20 years, cheap entertainment options likely to appeal to young men have multiplied and it is quite plausible that this has prevented a few from getting into mischief.

I am not sure poverty explains much. Crime rose rapidly in the 60’s during a great economy and continued to fall after the deep recession of 08-09.

the removal of the lead from use in the petroland so the removal of the constant exposure and the lead posioning. It is a global phenomena that shows a close correlation to the declnes in crime and the removal of the leaded fuels.

I found this which is admittedly patchy: Do violent video games actually reduce real-world crime? - Polygon

They seem to think of it as getting psychopaths in front of a screen. While that may be a factor, just getting young men not to get drunk/high in stimulants and be bored in bars/streets seems the bigger deal to me. It leads to less bad situations and bad habits.
Another small technology factor may be AC. In the link, notice how homicides and aggravated assaults peak in summer (hot temp, more people outdoors and in crowded venues) and bottom out in winter? If you want to benefit from AC in summer, you have to be indoors, preferably remaining in the same location, not out and about.

That reminds me: You know what tends to really appeal to young men and may be as much of a pull as cable/Netflix/video games?

Seeing naked ladies.

That used to require either effort or expense until the mid 90s. But no more! With smartphones and Wifi, porn is in the palm of your hand.

Another factor, especially with burglaries, is that stuff is a lot cheaper now. In the 80’s if you broke into a house and stole a TV, it probably sold for $500. Grab that $300 VCR and even if you only get 10% of the retail price you’ve made some OK money for your break-in.

Now? The biggest TVs are too awkward to carry out easily, and mid-sized ones can sell for $150. They are lighter than the old CRT models but what is the point? Oh, and if you grab that Blue-Ray DVD player, big deal. It sells new for $60 at Target.

So when something comes along that is a lot of value there might be a spike. When iPhones came out there were a bunch of thefts of them, but since so many folks have at least a cheap smartphone their theft is in decline.

A little bit of a non-sequitur, but I was watching the 1973 film Harry in Your Pocket the other day, with James Coburn as a professional pickpocket. In one scene his older partner was lamenting the rise of traceable credit cards with the concomitant decline of fat bankrolls on marks and looking forward to when this new fad would cease. Coburn’s character quite presciently ( for 1973 ) pointed out it was much more likely to go the opposite direction and cash would continue to decline as an every day medium of exchange

I don’t think it is the main factor - the ubiquity of cameras, traceability via computer and the skepticism of today’s much more fraud-aware consumers that you have pointed out I suspect are far more important. But I wouldn’t undersell it either. There is a lot less easy cash available to grab these days.

This is true. When I was a fast food manager, I would have to take several thousand dollars with me to the bank a couple times a day. It was a good neighborhood, and the bank was just around the corner, so nothing ever happened, but it made me a bit nervous.

Once we started using credit cards, the cash I had to deal with was less than 25% of what it was. Bank trips were much less high stakes.

I think there is also less tolerance for casual violence or more specifically people using violence and it being deemed no big deal. Even in fiction non-criminal, middle class and upper class men in the 50’s and 60’s would often solve disagreements with fist fights. Behavior that today would get you lawsuits and potentially serious jail time. A man might slap a woman around and the police, if called, would not automatically take him to jail unless she was seriously injured.

The legal consequences of physical violence are a lot more serious than they used to be. Also back in the day men and boys were often expected to know or want to know how to fight, if necessary, as a practical life skill, like changing a tire. Not so much today.

The correlation between banning lead in fuel and reduction in crime is so tight I’m not aware any serious scientist disputes it, this despite literally hundreds of studies on the issue.

When I say ‘tight’ I mean in the data you can see the exact month twenty years ago when lead was banned in a given city.

Except I don’t think criminals, generally, are more likely to be caught today. And the bank robbery clearance rate has declined a lot since 1970:

That’s 15 years old but I don’t think there’s been a huge uptick since.

No one with any sense ‘robs banks’ in this century. Maybe a crack head with sawn-off table leg.

Have you guys heard of the internet, credit cards, ID fraud, email fraud, etc, etc, etc.

I know this isn’t actual data, but maybe interesting because of the sheer difficulty. As a game, my lunch companions and I tried to plan a fictitious crime and were surprised by how hard it was. We set a “goal” of putting 3 paintballs onto a prominent person (in another state) and escaping undetected. Assuming a fairly large official investigation would occur, it was almost impossible to avoid leaving a trail for determined detectives. Buying the paintball gun, traveling to the location, buying gas, avoiding cellphone tower records, avoiding or masking faces due to security cameras, etc. It was only a thought exercise, but we couldn’t come up with a foolproof way. Avoiding even the simplest detection (license plates and cameras) required other preliminary crimes (theft of plates or cars). It seemed like everything we came up with would make you look suspicious, or greatly increase your odds of being caught. We worked on this for weeks, but with all the tracking and records kept today we couldn’t find a way to conduct a significant crime without being caught.

I know there a lot of proven reasons for the decline in crime, but I think it’s now easier and simpler to just take a sucky job and buy what you want.

Note: The “person” was picked at random. We had no beef with anyone, just wanted to try puzzling through the thought exercise. We chose paintballs because we didn’t want to be overheard talking about actually shooting someone.

I suspect the fact that electronics are cheap also helps. If a burglar stole all my electronics he might get $100 at the pawn shop. Maybe $200. And since most burglaries aren’t one man jobs, it’s even harder to justify breaking into houses unless you know there’s good stuff in there, like jewelry.

It’s clear that you people were way over-thinking things. The national average is that a little over 1/3 of murders are NEVER solved.

The mere fact that you were “targeting” somebody in a different state went a long way by itself to solving your problem. I’m not going to do your thinking for you, but just in the last 30 seconds I’ve thought of potential solutions to two of the issues you mention.

Yes, we’ve all heard of e-crime. The OP specifically was talking about violent “street crime”.
Back to the OP …

Here’s a potential factor from (far) left field …

It’s an oft-quoted sound bite maybe-fact that most murder victims knew their assailant. In a great many cases it’s a “friend” or family member. Or at least an acquaintance. Said another way, if any person becomes a murderer, odds are they’ll murder somebody they’re related to or else somebody they know.

Do the much smaller modern family sizes and hence smaller extended family sizes mean would-be murderers have a smaller field to pick from? And hence are less likely to have somebody they get angry enough at to murder?

The ever-increasing atomization of society seems at first glance like it’d create more opportunities for impersonal stranger-on-stranger crime. But … that would also reduce acquaintance-on-acquaintance crime simply because so many more people have smaller circles of real live friends and acquaintances to attack.

meh - nonsense post