Struggling to End Crime
“YOUTHS Claim Boredom Is Main Cause of Juvenile Crime,” declared a headline in a leading British newspaper. “Home Strife Blamed for Rising Crime,” said another. And a third stated: “Addictions ‘Prompt Thousands of Crimes.’” The magazine Philippine Panorama estimated that 75 percent of all violent crimes in Manila were committed by drug abusers.
Other factors may also contribute to sparking criminal behavior. “Poverty in juxtaposition to great wealth” is one that was referred to by the Nigerian inspector-general of police. Peer pressure and poor job prospects, the absence of strong legal deterrents, the general breakdown in family values, the lack of respect for authority and law, and the excessive violence in films and videos are also cited.
Another factor is that many people no longer believe that crime does not pay. A sociologist at Bologna University in Italy observed that over a period of many years, “the number of thefts reported and the number of persons convicted for them have followed opposite trends.” He noted that “the number of convictions in proportion to the total number of reported thefts has plummeted from 50 to 0.7 percent.”
Sad but true are the words of The New Encyclopædia Britannica: “Increasing crime appears to be a feature of all modern industrialized societies, and no developments in law or penology can be shown to have had a significant impact on the problem. . . . For modern urbanized society, in which economic growth and personal success are dominant values, there is no reason to suppose that crime rates will not continue to increase.”
Is This View Too Negative?
Is the situation really all that bad? Do not some localities report crime decreases? True, some do, but statistics can be misleading. For example, it was reported that crime in the Philippines decreased by 20 percent after a gun ban was introduced. But Asiaweek explained that one official believes that car thieves and bank robbers had stopped stealing cars and robbing banks and had “switched to kidnapping.” Fewer bank robberies and car thefts caused a drop in total cases of crime, but this decrease lost much of its significance in view of the fourfold increase in kidnappings!
Reporting on Hungary, the magazine HVG wrote: “Compared with the first half of 1993, crime figures are down by 6.2 percent. What the police forgot to mention is that the decrease . . . is mainly due to administrative changes.” The monetary level at which cases of theft, fraud, or vandalism were previously registered was raised by 250 percent. So property crimes involving values below this level are no longer registered. Since crimes involving property account for three fourths of all crime in the country, the decrease was hardly genuine.
Arriving at accurate crime figures is admittedly difficult. One reason is that many crimes—perhaps up to 90 percent in certain categories—go unreported. But arguing whether crime has decreased or increased is actually beside the point. People yearn for crime to be eliminated, not just reduced.
Governments Are Trying
A 1990 United Nations survey revealed that the more highly developed countries spend an average of 2 to 3 percent of their annual budgets on crime control, while developing countries spend even more, an average of 9 to 14 percent. Increasing the size of the police force and providing it with better equipment takes priority in some localities. But results are mixed. Some Hungarian citizens complain: “There are never enough policemen to catch the criminals but always enough to catch traffic violators.”
Many governments have recently found it necessary to pass tougher crime laws. For example, since “kidnapping is on the rise across Latin America,” says Time magazine, the governments there have responded with laws that are “at once vigorous and ineffectual. . . . Passing laws is one thing,” it admits, “applying them another.”
It is estimated that in Britain more than 100,000 neighborhood watch schemes, covering at least four million homes, existed in 1992. Similar programs were implemented in Australia in the mid-1980’s. Their aim, says the Australian Institute of Criminology, is to reduce crime “by improving citizens’ awareness about public safety, by improving residents’ attitudes and behaviour in reporting crime and suspicious events in the neighbourhood and by reducing vulnerability to crime with the help of property identification and installation of effective security devices.”
Closed-circuit television is used in some places to link police stations with commercial premises. Video cameras are used by police, banks, and stores as a crime deterrent or as a tool for identifying lawbreakers.
In Nigeria the police have checkpoints on highways in efforts to apprehend robbers and carjackers. The government has set up a task force on trade malpractices to combat fraud. Police-community relations committees made up of community leaders inform the police of criminal activity and people of questionable character.
Visitors to the Philippines note that homes are generally not left unattended and that many people have watchdogs. Businessmen employ private security guards to protect their businesses. Antitheft devices for cars sell well. People who can afford to do so withdraw to tightly secured subdivisions or condominiums.
The London newspaper The Independent commented: “As confidence in the rule of law falls, citizens are organising the defence of their own communities in increasing numbers.” And more and more people are arming themselves. In the United States, for example, it is estimated that every second household owns at least one gun.
Governments are constantly developing new methods of combating crime. But V. Vsevolodov, of the Academy of Home Affairs in Ukraine, points out that according to UN sources, so many gifted people are finding “unique methods of carrying on criminal activity” that “the training of law enforcement personnel” cannot keep up. Clever criminals funnel huge sums of money back into businesses and social services, merging with society and “gaining for themselves high positions in society.”
An increasing number of people in some countries are even coming to believe that government itself is part of the problem. Asiaweek quoted the head of an anticrime group as saying: “About 90% of suspects we arrest are either police or military men.” Whether true or not, reports like this led one legislator to comment: “If those who are sworn to uphold the law are themselves the lawbreakers, our society is in trouble.”
Corruption scandals involving high officials have rocked governments in different parts of the world, further undermining citizen confidence. Besides losing faith in the ability of governments to curb crime, people are now questioning their determination to do so. An educator asked: “How could these authorities now combat crime when they themselves are neck-deep in the mire?”
Governments come and governments go, but crime remains. Yet, there is a time coming soon when crime will be no more!
[Pictures on page 7]
Crime deterrents: Closed-circuit TV camera and monitor, roll-down steel gate, and guard with trained dog
[Picture on page 8]
Crime makes people prisoners behind their own doors