Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Grinches

Holiday Surge in Online Shopping a Boon for Thieves:

There is a lot of temptation for criminals this time of year. Packages are dropped off at eye-popping speed: UPS delivers about 300 packages per second the week before Christmas. During its busy season, the company says, volume increases by about 10 million packages a day, offering easy pickings to criminals, who can quickly sell the goods on the black market.

Boxes have been disappearing from homes across the country in recent weeks, putting a damper on the holiday season as thieves help themselves to treasures sitting unattended on doorsteps. Some thieves follow delivery trucks to learn which houses have packages. Often, they leave bulky boxes behind and make off with the contents.

You have to wonder, though, how pervasive this might actually be. Assuming they didn't pull the contents out of the box, leaving the obviously pilfered cardboard behind, how in the world would the customer/homeowner know the package was stolen? Most would simply call or email the retailer wondering why the package never arrived and demand shipment (re-shipment) of their package.

Like all things when it comes to crime rates (and coming on the good news of yesterday), we should always remember that "reported crime" is just that: reported. Most victims of crimes, particularly property crimes, never report it. Thus, while the UCR may be indicating "crime is down," in fact, only reported crime is down.

Another reason why I urge caution is this little fun fact, from a recent update of the National Longitudinal Youth Survey: Almost one-third of Americans are arrested by the age of 23:

By age 23, almost a third of Americans have been arrested for a crime, according to a new study that researchers say is a measure of growing exposure to the criminal justice system in everyday life.

The study, the first since the 1960s to look at the arrest histories of a national sample of adolescents and young adults over time, found that 30.2 percent of the 23-year-olds who participated reported having been arrested for an offense other than a minor traffic violation.

This is why I'm never amazed to see the number of hands that go up in class when I ask "is anyone in here on probation?" It's not 1/3, but it's definitely a hand-full every semester, and these are predominantly upper-middle class white kids we're talking about.

So what's causing this upsurge (30% v. 22% in 1965)?

The researchers found that the probability of a first arrest accelerated in late adolescence and early adulthood — at 18, 15.9 percent of the participants reported having been arrested — and then began to flatten out as the youths entered their 20s.

The increase may be a reflection of the justice system becoming more punitive and more aggressive in its reach during the last half-century, the researchers said. Arrests for drug-related offenses, for example, have become far more common, as have zero-tolerance policies in schools.

The study did not look at racial or regional differences, but other research has found higher arrest rates for black men and for youths living in poor urban areas.

In other words, the legacy of the "get tough" mania of the 80's and 90's is still with us. From zero-sense policies in our schools, to hyper-militarized policing, to draconian drug and alcohol laws, the chances of a young person becoming ensnared in the criminal justice system is roughly 1 in 3 by the time they hit 23 (and far higher if you are poor, minority and male). While we talk endlessly about racial profiling, we rarely address ageist profiling, or the targeting of young people based simply on they way they appear.

I'd like to think the low crime rates we have had the past decade or so has changed all of the unforgiving aggressiveness in our criminal justice system, but of course, one has nothing to do with other. The goal of criminal justice has gone from apprehension to prevention, via fear and intimidation.

And though I have a sneaking suspicion that most people laugh or roll their eyes when they see the law enforcement jackboots and body armor come out in response to the neighbor's cat being stuck in the tree, the message is very clear: it doesn't really matter if you're committing an act of violence, pinching Christmas packages off of someone's porch, or contemplating that extra holiday cocktail before you head home. We'll be waiting on you to screw up.

Makes you wonder who the real Grinch is this time of year.


Jay Livingston said...

The Daily News reported this story saying that the prevalence had "skyrocketed." But using 1965 as the only comparison point leaves out a lot, that nearly half-century has seen a huge increase and huge decrease in crime and presumably arrests of all ages. If the comparison point had been 1995 rather than 1965, my guess is that prevalence of arrest would appear to have nosedived, not skyrocketed. Check the UCR. Police data on numbers of arrests, unlike police data on numbers of crimes, are likely to be accurate since when the police make an arrest, they have to do the paperwork. I'd bet that even the raw numbers of arrests, let alone the rate, were higher 15 years ago.

But yes, the 40% prevalence is dismaying. And if this is a national sample, that means that some populations have much lower rates, and some (take a wild guess) have much higher rates.

Todd Krohn said...

Jay, definitely agree. If you look at the ten year arrest trends, just in the past decade alone (2001-2010) arrests for those under 18 have dropped 24% (similarly, from 1995-2005, -25%). In that sense, the "skyrocketing" may have occurred in the 1980's and 1990's.

That leads to another obvious problem with the study: if the arrests were higher in 1995, then the percentage of 23 year olds who were arrested was probably higher than 30%. The "all-time high" may have been 15 years ago.

Also, it fails to take into account the obvious: most crime is committed by 15-25 year olds. Not only has that been constant since crime data was first collected, but it would mean the 15-25 demographic would always have a higher percentage arrested.

Still, the numbers are troubling, and the unforgiving nature of the c.j. system towards young people only adds to this. College students busted for MIP (minor in possession of alcohol) going to jail and receiving 6 months probation is silly. It makes a mockery of both the law and law enforcement.