The Study of Criminology and Causation in Victimization

In my experience, crime rates are impacted by a variety of factors.  When teaching basic level courses, primarily for private security officers, I have typically divided the causations of crime into several key areas, including:  pathogenic crimes (driven by biological or psychological variations), emotional crimes (crimes of passion, in lay terms), nuisance crimes (typically juvenile offenses) and economic crimes that I divide simply into two categories of greed and need.  While each of these, and other, categories have a number of direct and indirect causal influences it is within the need-based economic crimes that we find the greatest impact from economic conditions, both macroeconomic and microeconomic.  The economic conditional impact on crime rate has seen significant recent study and debate.  Ishikawa (2009) used linear regression analysis to compare unemployment rates and crime rates, finding a direct relationship between the two – meaning as one increases so does the other – and further reported a qualitative impact on crime rates from media reporting on economic conditions.  Rosenfeld and Fornango (2007) argued that “collective economic perceptions and attitudes influence robbery and property crime rates” (pp. 762, para. 3), found that “consumer sentiment has significant negative effects on robbery and property crime rates” (pp. 762, para. 3) and estimated that “that about one third of the drop in robbery and burglary rates, one half of the drop in larceny, and one quarter of the decline in motor vehicle theft during the 1990s may be attributed to improving consumer sentiment” (pp. 762, para. 4).  More historically, Cantor and Land (1985) argued that poor economic conditions increased the motivational factor behind many criminal acts but noted that the increased guardianship, i.e. hardening of the target, in those same conditions reduced the opportunities for criminal acts.

When I first joined the law enforcement profession as a reserve police officer, I was assigned to a sector of Dallas where development companies were in the process of purchasing low-rent apartment communities, demolishing the existing structures and building townhouses and condominiums catering to upper middle class and lower upper class persons who desired quick and easy access to the city’s central business district and nearby entertainment districts.  While the recession to be had not fully impacted the nation, the development in the name of “revitalization” created a neighborhood blending the “haves” and the “have nots”.  As the newly built residences became occupied the property crime rate, particularly vehicle and residential burglaries, increased dramatically for the statistical reporting area.  Many residents simply did not understand why they needed to hide or remove portable valuables – such as GPS units, laptop computers, and other portable electronic devices – from their $60,000 vehicles that they parked in front of their $150,000 condominiums.  A few residents, realizing that the run-down apartments across the street from their quarter-million dollar townhouses rented for $300 a month, suggested that the city build a fence to keep “them” on “their” side of the street.

It is only natural for crime rates to increase as economic conditions worsen.  While all segments of society – from the unemployed to the working poor to the middle class to the upper class – will readily describe and define their feelings about how an economic recession has altered their lifestyle, the poor and working poor are more significantly impacted by economic conditions.  Whereas financial cuts among upper class and upper middle class Americans may include not taking a vacation or reducing discretionary expenditures, financial cuts among those without luxury or discretionary spending ability cuts immediately into primary and essential expenditures that may already be, or soon will be, found at the base of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs such as shelter and food.  Add in an emergency and essential expense such as a child needing medical treatment or a vehicle used to get to and from employment needing essential repairs and the situation worsens – while some may pull from savings or reduce discretionary spending further to offset the emergency expenses others have much more difficult choices to make.  These scenarios and the physical and emotional stress that result from them create a near perfect scenario for the development and increase of economic crimes of need.

It is difficult for legitimate minimum wage jobs to compete with illicit incomes available from theft and narcotics trafficking.  No matter what your income level, your disposable finances or lack thereof, advertising plays on psychology and other scientific research to pump a perceived need and desire for purchasing through television commercials, radio commercials, and visual advertising campaigns into all socioeconomic environments.  Public transportation systems, which support lower income areas at a higher rate than higher income areas, supplement their budgets to provide cheaper services through advertising both inside and outside of busses.  While these advertised items would normally be purchased on discretionary or luxury budgets, their pervasive impact onto those living paycheck to paycheck can create an increase in economic crimes of greed that the perpetrators improperly feel are actually economic crimes of need.

In my opinion, human interaction with societal, familial and peer-level influences that support and reward proper behavior while denouncing improper behavior will have the greatest impact on keeping someone “one the straight and narrow”.  Whereas basic emotional needs can be exploited through advertising and the concept of “keeping up with the Joneses” the same can be exploited through community, familial and peer interactions and support.  Our society has become detached from the concept of community through mobile phones, electronic social networking and the concept of global friendships that make it more difficult for us to get to know our neighbors.  One solution, and an effective one in my opinion, is to return to the concept of community.


Cantor, D. & Land, K. (1985). Unemployment and crime rates in the post World War II United States: A theoretical and empirical analysis. American Sociological Review 50: 317-332.

Ishikawa, M.  (2009).  A Relationship Between Economic Conditions and Crime Rate.  Retrieved from and%20Crime%20Rate.pdf.

Rosenfeld, R. & Fornango, R.  (2007).  The Impact of Economic Conditions on Robbery and Property Crime: The Role of Consumer Sentiment.  Criminology 45(4): 735-769.

© 2011 – 2014, Jeremy Liebbe. All rights reserved.

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About the author

Jeremy Liebbe holds a Master of Science in Forensic Psychology, holds a Bachelor of Arts in Police Science, and is currently completing a Doctorate of Philosophy in Psychology. He has over a decade of law enforcement investigative experience as a detective sergeant with experience including narcotics, crimes against children, and homicide investigations. As a result of his expertise in complex criminal investigations and forensic mental health Jeremy has earned numerous commendations, lectured throughout Texas and in several other states, authored and co-authored over a half dozen published papers, and has provided expert testimony in over a dozen felony trials.