By C. Jeff Oakes
Just as many differing types of crime exist, so too an equal or greater number of theories exist to explain the phenomenon. However, there are only two perspectives to the problem, the social problems and the social responsibility (Schmalleger, 2009).
By narrowing the focus from diverse theories to two single plausible explanations, we can gain a better understanding about the nature of crime and human behavior in general. The intent of this study is to look at the two as these relate to crime and gain insight into the nature of the behavior, the motivating forces, and possible solutions, with this essay focusing only on possible motivating forces.
Baton Rouge, LA versus Lubbock, TX
To aid in this study, two seeming diverse American cities have been chosen, Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and Lubbock, Texas.
Four types of crimes as listed in the Federal Bureau of Investigations Uniform Crime Report are condensed into a single general category according to the general motivation: theft. The general motivation of theft is economic, although there can be others, such as thrills, retribution, and most commonly, drugs. Finally, after condensing the four categories to obtain an overall picture, a single category, robbery has been extracted so as to further examine the possible differences, or heterogeneity between the cities. The differences or variables are an integral part of understanding crime and motivation throughout the nation (Barrett, Black, Couch, & Malone, 2010).
According to the Uniform Crime Report for Baton Rouge in 2005, there were
- 8,949 arrests for larceny/theft
- 993 for robbery
- 3,940 for burglary
- 1,489 for motor vehicle theft
Combined, this resulted in 15,371 theft-related crimes. The figures for Lubbock in 2005 reveal similar yet differing trends;
- larceny/theft, 9,312
- robbery, 309
- burglary, 2,697
- motor vehicle theft, 777
and combined, 13,321 (Federal Bureau of Investigation, 2005).
These two cities were selected because the populations were very similar, with Baton Rouge having a population of 224,487 and Lubbock, 211,271. However, whereas Baton Rouge experienced a population reduction from 2005 to 2009, Lubbock experienced growth over the same period bringing the populations closer to even. The 2009 populations were 223,187 for Baton Rouge and 222,884 for Lubbock (Federal Bureau of Investigation, 2009).
Understanding the reasons for the population shifts in these two seeming very dissimilar cities should provide additional insight into the nature of the selected crime.
Finally, the crime statistics for 2009 reveal interesting trends. In Baton Rouge, there were
- 8,459 arrests for larceny/theft
- 1,135 for robbery
- 4,268 for burglary
- 929 for motor vehicle theft
whereas in Lubbock for 2009, there were
- 8,754 arrests for larceny/theft
- 311 for robbery
- 3,730 for burglary
- 526 for motor vehicle theft.
The combined totals were 14,791 in Lake Charles, LA and 13,321 in Lubbock, TX (Federal Bureau of Investigation, 2009).
Understanding the Data
Of the four types of theft-related crime listed, one stands out as different: robbery. Robbery is listed in the Uniform Crime Report as a violent crime rather than a property crime because it involves a more personal approach, usually the taking of property through violent threats involving the use of a weapon. However, although the motives behind such a crime may be the same as with other theft-related crimes, the attitudes of the perpetrators are vastly different. It is this difference in attitudes that can possibly lead researchers to explanations for differences in crime rates across various localities because attitudes are closely related to values. Understanding these differences could possibly lead to improved enforcement and prevention programs.
There could be a multitude of reasons why criminals choose stealth in the case of most theft-related crimes over violent forms, but probably the best place to begin the investigation would be to study the demographics of the locations in question. With that foundation, further research should reveal differences in values among the dominant groups in one area over another; it is these differences in values that should further explain the choices made by the perpetrators (Lewis, 2003).
To understand why Baton Rouge had so many more robberies than Lubbock and why there was such an increase over time, although the population shrunk, a few demographic indicators would need to be studied.
For starters, Baton Rouge is located on a major east/west Interstate artery. Hence, it would be logical to believe there is more drug-related traffic leading through that city and perhaps more competition among dealers at every level. According to Officer D. Lewis of the Tangipahoa Parish Sheriff’s Department, many theft-related crimes are drug related and robbery is often a choice of desperate, drug-addicted persons (Oakes, 2011). So any study into the differences would need to include research into drug crimes.
To fully understand the relation between crime and personal choice, or social responsibility versus the role of society at-large in fueling crime (or social problems perspective), it would be necessary to learn exactly how homogenous the areas studied have become and in what specific ways. Indeed, the more homogenous two areas, whether cities, neighborhoods, or even streets have become, the greater the similarities should be noted in crime rates, especially in the types of crime. Because all science relies on experimentation and empirical proofs gained through careful examination of all variables and constants, the first step in understanding the differences would by necessity include cataloging homogenous areas and peering deeper into the variables. The variables should reveal much to aid criminologists in developing a unified theory regarding criminal behavior.
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Barrett, J. D., Black, D. L., Couch, J. F., & Malone, K. D. (2010). An Investigation of State Homogeniety. Journal of International Diversity, 1(3), 70-85.
Federal Bureau of Investigation. (2005). Uniform Crime Report. Retrieved from http://fbi.gov/ucr/2005
Federal Bureau of Investigation. (2009). Uniform Crime Report. Retrieved from http://fbi.gov/ucr/2009
Lewis, H. (2003). A Question of Values: Six Ways We Make the Personal Choices That Shape Our Lives (3rd ed.). Mt. Jackson, VA: Axios Press.
Oakes, C. J. (May 6, 2011). Personal Interview with Officer D. Lewis, Tangipahoa Parish Sheriff’s Department.
Schmalleger, F. (2009). Criminology Today: An Integrative Introduction (5th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentis-Hall.