Reality Check: “Is crime really down” in Memphis? – Part 2

Tuesday, I sought to answer the question that many are asking…”Is crime really down in Memphis?”, like we’ve been hearing it is for the past few years.

And at least for violent crime, the answer is no…its not down enough to call it a trend, though it is down from the 2006 high that is commonly cited.

Violent crime may get the headlines, but property crime makes up the vast majority of instances of crime every year.

So, for a little perspective, I thought we should look at property crime as well.

Below is a graph showing the instances of property crime from 2003 to 2012 using the FBI Uniform Crime Report stats from those years.

Screen Shot 2014-01-07 at 8.16.38 AM

As I noted in my previous post, a real downward trend would show a blue line with a steady drop, and a red line somewhere in the middle.

This 10 year look seems to show that, though 2009 and 2010 show the largest drops.

Understanding why property crime dropped so precipitously in those two years means looking at the individual categories…Burglary, Larceny-theft, and Motor Vehicle theft.

You can see those three charts below

Screen Shot 2014-01-08 at 8.27.38 AM Screen Shot 2014-01-08 at 8.29.27 AM Screen Shot 2014-01-08 at 8.31.59 AM

click each to enlarge

If you look at all three of these graphs, you see what appears to be a steady decrease in property crime when measured against the 10 year average…especially in two segments: burglary and motor vehicle theft.

In fact, measured against those averages, 2012 saw a decrease in burglary of 14.5%, Larceny-theft of 13.5%, and motor vehicle theft of 48%.

Calculations of the median against 2012 net a similar decrease.

Measuring each sector against the rate from 10 years ago nets similar results in Larceny, a 25% drop in burglary, and a 65% drop in motor vehicle theft.

So it seems to me that it is fair to say property theft is down over the past 10 years.

Reality Check: Is property crime down? – Yes

The next question is why?

For burglary and larceny, the answer is a little more complicated. But for motor vehicle thefts its pretty easy…opportunity has dropped.

There are a ton of articles that deal with the precipitous drop in motor vehicle thefts, nationwide, over the past decade…and all credit the advent of “smart keys” as the primary reason (here’s one from the Minneapolis-St. Paul area…which has a relatively high rate of mv thefts compared to the national average).

In fact, when looking at the total decline in property theft across these three sectors from their high points…MV theft comes in second and accounts for one third of the total decline, despite the category being no more than 15% of all property crime…even at its high point.

The advent of smart keys as a deterrent played a big role in the decline of one segment of property crime. Those smart keys decreased opportunity and increased the probability that a person would be unsuccessful in their end game…profiting from the theft of a car.

So we can glean from this that “opportunity” and “consequences” play a large role in whether or not a crime is committed.

Of course, that raises the question of why this is seen as an “opportunity”. And it should cause us to question why someone would do this in the first place despite the “consequences”?

That answer is harder to come by…but there are two primary schools of thought…and those schools of thought are pretty well enmeshed with how an individual views the world in general.

And guess what? That’s going to be the topic of the next post on crime!

Reader Note: This is a long an complicated subject from this point on, and, in all honesty, I’ve only started writing this post (or series of posts) so it may be a couple of days before the next update. Stay tuned!

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