PROPERTY CRIME INVESTIGATION
Good, even though it’s sometimes sidetracked, always – repeat, always – triumphs over evil. (Batman)
Property crime (the most common crime in America) takes a tremendous toll on society with 10 million offenses a year, with burglary and theft costing $7 billion a year, and with innumerable indirect costs such as increased prices for products and skyrocketing insurance rates. The major property crimes are burglary, larceny or theft, motor vehicle theft, robbery, and arson (although robbery is a hybrid of violence, and some consider arson a violent crime). There is a clear need for investigators to do better since the overall clearance rate for property crime is less than 20%. Nevertheless, our prisons are bulging with robbers, burglars and thieves, so there must be something somebody is doing right. In this lecture, we'll examine the varieties of ways police investigate property crime and see what utility the standard investigative practices have on typical (or exemplar) cases. There are a few things investigators do differently with property crime, and even between different types of property crime, but let's start out with a comparison of the similarities and differences between violent and property crime:
Investigating Violent Crime
Investigating Property Crime
Observe persons, vehicles, odors. Note time and weather conditions.
Partition team responsibilities.
2. Preserving: Establish perimeter. Set up command post and garbage dump. Determine suspect's point of entry & egress and your own.
3. Processing: Photograph whole scene. Photograph body. Sketch the scene. Systematically search the scene. Plant evidence markers. Photograph evidence. Examine evidence. Take notes. Bag & tag.
4. Identify the victim: Establish cause, manner, and time of death. Examine the victim's pockets, clothing, body, and pose.
5. Develop a theory of motive: from the scene evidence, knowledge of victimology, or any information from victim's residence or anyone that knew the victim.
6. Seek additional information: Do background checks, record checks, and utilize both open and closed sources. Obtain leads from who knew the victim. Scan police records for possible related crimes. Go over laboratory reports. Consider psychological profiling.
7. Narrow down list of suspects: Search or question suspects. Make use of evidence during questioning. Use surveillance. Obtain confessions.
Same as for violent crime, but be inconspicuous and call for backup.
Less need to observe odors and weather conditions.
2. Preserving: Diagonal coverage usually. Avoid further contamination. Determine modus operandi (type of building, entry, loot, time, partners, trademarks).
3. Processing: Photograph exterior/interior, place of entry/exit. Measure distances. Search the scene. Plant markers. Photograph evidence. Diagram the scene. Take notes. Bag & tag.
4. Interview the victim: Obtain whereabouts, acquaintances, enemies, recent visitors, and list of stolen property. Check for history of insurance claims. Walk victim with you through crime scene. Determine if suspect did anything other than steal.
5. Discover modus operandi: Determine this from clues -- prints, tool marks, footprints, fibers, entry and exit points. Trace evidence with numerical characteristics.
6. Conduct canvass of area: Cultivate or work an informant. Interview and interrogate. Conduct surveillance on appropriate receivers of stolen property.
7. Notify and work: with surrounding departments and private security; recover stolen property; update modus operandi files.
Physical evidence to look for include: footprints, fingerprints, fiber traces, clothing and dust samples, tool marks, and of course related property. A property criminal will usually have an extensive prior arrest record and be in possession of numerous unusual items such as burglar tools as well as the proceeds from many crimes. Many of them specialize at taking certain kinds of items. At the crime scene, some good places to look for fingerprints are: the bottoms of dresser drawers, doors, windows, any documents handled, toilet seats, items in the refrigerator, and cans in the garbage. Property criminals often help themselves to toilet and food items.
The classic modus operandi of a property criminal consists of the following:
Type of victim -- they usually specialize in a type of prey
Type of dwelling -- they usually have a turf or place for preying
Means of entry -- they usually use the same ploy or method
Type of loot -- this tells if they are skilled or unskilled
Time of operation -- this is how long the crime takes
Presence of partners -- some work alone; others with partners
Trademarks -- some leave calling cards at the scene
Robbers and burglars frequently "stake out" or "case" their targets, as well as commit their crimes using one of the following ploys:
Pretending to be drunks
Pretending to be out of gas or having a flat tire
Pretending to be lost
Having wife & kids in the getaway car to throw off suspicion
Carrying of bribe money
Posing as salesmen
Posing as repairmen
Typical "receivers" of stolen property include:
Customers/clients of the victim
Disgruntled ex-employees and ex-friends
Pawnshops in the community or a nearby one
Fences operating out of construction sites
Fences operating out of transportation hubs
Fences posing as legitimate businessmen
Family, friends, and neighbors of the perpetrator
Crime scene investigation of burglary pays close attention to the points of entry and exit. Somewhat near or slightly beyond the exit zone is usually the place where you'll find fingerprint evidence since this is the place where offenders might take off their gloves. Expect to run a whole bunch of AFIS searches on a whole bunch of fingerprints. Another place that's important to look at closely is the exact point of entry, which is required by law to show some type of force was used. We'll examine the legal elements of burglary in a moment, but for now, it's important to know that a record of these forced entry points are called "tool marks" (whether or not any tool was used is irrelevant) in a standard modus operandi file, and modern police computer record management (RMS) systems link these modus operandi files with mug shot photos and composites, so it's fairly easy to do a search on police records by modus operandi.
The only other additional piece of physical evidence that is important in a burglary has to do with small pieces of debris or dust from the crime scene, and possible matches from the clothing, tools, and (suspected stolen) possessions of a suspect. Most offenders are careless about washing or wiping their clothing, tools, or loot. Rarely will there be any eyewitnesses. A property crime is, after all, a crime of stealth. However, police frequently respond rather quickly with rounding up and interrogating suspects in a burglary investigation. The only reason for not acting quickly is because surveillance has been ordered to catch the fence or nab an organized ring of thieves. Sting operations with police posing as a fence have sometimes been successful. One of the parties that is often interviewed quickly is the property owner or lienholder, because of the possibility of false reporting to cash in on insurance claims and the like. You should investigate times prior to the offense and take the names of possible witnesses that may have seen suspicious persons "casing" the property. You can then create a lineup of people for these witnesses which includes a suspect that fits the pattern or modus operandi.
The legal elements for the crime of burglary include:
1. Breaking -- This refers to any forceful parting, separating, piercing, or disintegration of a solid substance. Breaking is not the same as causing damage. All that's required is that some part of the structure was moved, a doorknob was turned, a door was opened, or a window was raised. It doesn't matter if the structure was locked, but it does matter if the opening is large enough to squeeze through. How much something serves as an obstruction is an important consideration.
2. Entering -- This refers to any placing of any portion of the body or item connected to the body inside the slightest portion of the dwelling, even momentarily. It is intended to get at various items called "burglary tools" (pry bars, augers, picks, etc.), but offenses can include just placing a finger or sticking the point of a gun inside a windowsill or doorway. The entry item can be connected to the body indirectly, for example, as in a bullet "entering" a home during a drive-by shooting, a brick thrown through a jewelry store window, or a remote control used to open a dwelling's garage door. The point of entry is determined by "breaking the close", an imaginary geometric plane that defines the physical confines of the house. A "close" is different from a "curtilage". Each state has slightly different versions of the "close", with some states like North Carolina, not even requiring a breaking of the close -- it is enough that they tried or were "casing the joint".
3. Dwelling -- Any structure intended for sleep, business, or the accommodation of persons is considered a dwelling, whether occupied or not, and in some states, like California, include vehicles. Abandoned properties do not ordinarily qualify as dwellings. States normally punish the burglary of an inhabited dwelling more severely than that of an uninhabited dwelling. Any adjacent building within the "curtilage" is considered part of the dwelling, such as a garage, barn, stable, cellar, or shed.
4. Of Another -- The structure must be used as a dwelling by someone other than the accused. An owner can commit a burglary of their own structure if it is rented and used by another. In cases of husband and wife dissolution, an important consideration is the unauthorized entry requirement. The spouse keeping the house must demonstrate that they controlled access (such as by changing the locks or attempting to get the keys back).
5. Nighttime -- Technically, this begins one-half hour after sunset and ends one-half hour before sunrise, but legally, it's defined as whenever it's too dark to discern a person's face or to recognize them. This element is intended to get at the characteristics of stealth, disguise, or coverup common to burglaries, so daytime burglaries are possible. States treat nighttime intrusions as an aggravating circumstance. Burglary does not require one-night action; a person can commit a "breaking" on one night and an "entering" on another night.
6. Intent to Commit a Felony -- Felonious intent must be present at the time of entry, not at some point once inside the dwelling. The most common reason, however, for committing a burglary is to place oneself in a position to look around, but it's the intent to steal something of value, not the act of theft, which matters. Burglary is not the same as theft. The intent to commit any felony or misdemeanor satisfies. The law wishes to avoid arguments over exactly when, what and how much the burglar intended to steal once inside. Therefore, the intent to commit any crime suffices. Intent to steal cannot be inferred from the act of unlawful entry. Intent can only be inferred from a set of circumstances: forcible entry; point of entry (rear or side entrance); type of building (items a burglar might be interested in); time of entry; and hiding or attempting to escape if and when interrupted.
Burglary is sometimes graded into 1st degree (assaults a person present), 2nd degree (carries a weapon), 3rd degree (intends a felony or gross misdemeanor), and 4th degree (intends any misdemeanor), but more common is the simple distinction between SIMPLE and AGGRAVATED burglary. States vary in what they consider as aggravating factors.
Robbery investigations employ all the elements involved in criminal investigation -- crime scene processing, interviewing people (victims and witnesses), method analysis (modus operandi), and records checks. 90% of robberies are committed by black males, 82% of robberies are committed by strangers to the victim, and 50% of robberies are committed by teams of offenders. Victims are almost always surprised by the fact they were robbed, and because the incident takes place so quickly, the victim is likely to make things up that never happened, so be careful of any victim statements. Victims almost always misestimate things like age, height, and weight. Be careful about information buried in the victim's subconscious. Try to get the victim's description of the getaway vehicle, as weapons focus will force the victim to forget this. Consider using computerized identification kits or computer imaging programs that do the forensic art for you. Remember to interview all victims and witnesses separately.
As with burglary, there's usually a "discard area" in the exit zone for robbery (Weston & Lushbaugh 2003). If a wallet or purse was stolen, for example, the robber will take out the contents while in flight, and discard the empty wallet or purse along the way. A check of garbage cans, wastebaskets, and dumpsters in the nearby area will usually reveal such evidence. Robbers also typically never go home right after a robbery. They have usually set up an alibi refuge like a tavern or theater which they say they been in all the time.
Having an "interview plan" is extremely important, both in discovering the modus operandi and in satisfying the legal requirements for robbery. Try to get the victim to focus on remembering any specific words spoken by the perpetrator. Also get the victim to describe any gestures or movements, and most definitely the type of weapon used. Police typically conduct a neighborhood canvass to find possible witnesses. Knowledge of the culture of a particular neighborhood is extremely important, and police departments should always have informants in place in high-risk neighborhoods. The use of modus operandi files are very important. Interviews are generally arranged with people who have been previously arrested for robbery, suspected of fitting the pattern, or in the case of addict-robbers, people who might have needed money for drugs. There have been some advances in recent years identifying signature characteristics of robbers based on style and the degree of hostility expressed during the crime.
Many police departments operate a Repeat Offender Program that uses specialized detectives to focus on robberies. The idea is to catch chronic, high velocity offenders. Police also sometimes employ blended operations, decoy operations, and stakeouts (Dempsey 2003). In a blended operation, officers dress in civilian clothes to blend into an area or in unmarked police cars to catch robbers in the act. In a decoy operation, officers dress as potential victims, waiting to be the subject of a crime. In a stakeout, a group of heavily armed officers hide inside an area of a store or building, waiting for an impending robbery. Commercial robbery is usually thwarted by camera surveillance (CCTV), such as the kind you find in banks, casinos, hotels, and Wal-Marts.
One of the worst problems you'll encounter with robbery investigation is lack of victim cooperation. The law requires that robbery victims testify at trial, and for whatever reason (lack of interest in pursuing the case, fear of retaliation, etc.), victims often don't seem willing to go the distance.
Here are the legal elements to establish the crime of robbery:
1. Taking -- The general rule is that victim and offender must confront one another. You must establish that a confrontation took place between victim and offender by words, notes, or gestures exchanged.
2. Carrying away -- The offender must gain immediate possession of something and retain it in such a way as to make it immediately impossible for the rightful owner to regain possession. Only a slight movement or gesture is necessary to fulfill this requirement, and you should easily be able to establish that victims relinquished their property because they honestly and reasonably feared the robbers' threats.
3. Property of others -- Actual ownership of the property by the victim does not matter; mere possession is sufficient.
4. From their person or in their presence -- The general rule is that the stolen property must be on the victim's person or in the immediate vicinity.
5. By immediate or threatened force -- This is the key element in robbery. There must be forceful intimidation (force or threat of force to inflict harm to the person, property, or rights of another). The threat can be to the victim, the victim's family, the victim's dwelling, or another person present. If there is no force or threat of force, the crime is larceny, not robbery. If there is a struggle, the force must be sufficient to overcome the victim's resistance; otherwise, the crime is attempted robbery. Some states don't require force at the time of taking, only at the time of escape.
6. With the intent to permanently deprive -- Robbery intent may be proven by direct or circumstantial evidence. Eyewitness testimony by itself is not usually sufficient. You need to know the thief's subsequent actions, the "reward" or gain they intend to profit by from the sale or receiving of stolen property. If it turns out the thief truly believes the property is theirs, this is called the claim of right, a common defense
Most states have divided robbery into degrees:
1st degree robbery -- also called strong-arm robbery or mugging. This requires the presence of a deadly weapon (play weapon suffices), serious injury, or the intent to create serious injury. A variant, called Home Invasion Robbery, occurs when the robber follows the victim home, knocks on the door to gain entry, or lies in wait after a break-in.
2nd degree robbery -- this requires the presence of an accomplice or accomplices, any display of weapon, any injury or threat of injury.
3rd degree robbery -- also called simple robbery, unarmed robbery, or forcible stealing. This simply requires use or threat of force.
TRENDS IN PROPERTY CRIME OFFENDING
Money is the root of all evil, so they say, and greed may very well be an elemental component of the human condition. Whether or not we agree with the idea that wants are unlimited, money buys happiness. Obtaining money dishonestly often brings quicker happiness. Although violence can be done for financial gain, money is more commonly pursued non-violently. Over time, and throughout every society, property crime has far outnumbered violent crime. Below are some facts and particulars about these crimes (patterns and trends) -- robbery, motor vehicle theft, burglary, larceny, and white collar crime.
Robbery is technically a hybrid crime that is both violent and property-oriented, although many criminologists would classify it as more of a violent crime. Robbery involves the taking of goods, money, or something of value by force or threat of force, or by instilling fear in the victim. Robbery usually involves some form of physical confrontation, and for this reason, some criminologists use the term mugging to describe events that are more violent than property-driven. However, most robbers only resort to violence when the victim delays, resists, or from the robber's point of view, needs to be reminded how serious the situation is. Some robbers certainly experience a thrill from the confrontation and making people obey, but the primary motivation and payoff is money. Tremendous variety exists in the modus operandi for robbery (also called stickup).
There are two types of stickup: personal robbery and institutional robbery, the former taking place at streets or residences, and the latter taking place at commercial or financial establishments. Some personal robbery, such as pick pocketing and purse snatching, are considered larcenies rather than robberies because the moment of confrontation is less forceful. There are two ways to conduct a stickup, armed or unarmed, the latter referred to as strong arm robbery. Conklin's (1972) typology of robbers includes: (1) professionals; (2) opportunists; (3) addicts; and (4) alcoholics.
The most common type of robber is the opportunist, who frequently works in a group, but never plans more than an hour in advance. Armed robbery is the most common type, but unarmed robbers (usually addicts and alcoholics) are far more likely to injure their victims. According to UCR data, the average payoff from all types of robbery is $900. Larger payoffs involve armored cars or banks. The typical robbery (60% of the time) involves an 18-24 year old black male holding up an older white male (inter-racial stranger crime pattern) on the street with a gun and getting away with $100 or less. More inmates are serving time (20 years or more) in U.S. prisons for this offense than any other crime. Roughly 33% of the time, the victim sustains an injury, and about 8% of the time, a homicide results, but victim resistance has variable effect, sometimes scaring away the offender (Feeney & Weir 1975).
Robbery rates have dramatic fluctuations. In the U.S., they were rather low from 1930 to 1965, then skyrocketed to about 600,000 a year where fluctuations of 100,000 more or less a year are common. Countries with the highest robbery rates, besides the U.S. which leads the world in this respect, are Chile, Colombia, Venezuela, Canada, Spain, France, and Ireland. There may be nothing inherent in urbanization that drives robbery rates (Japan, for example, has low rates), but robbery in the U.S. is indeed a big city crime, with the nation's 50 largest cities (mostly in the Northeast, like New York City, Newark, and Baltimore) accounting for over 60% of the robbery rate (Cook 1983). Robbery predominately involves males, as women are involved only 10% of the time (Miller 1998). Criminologists have found that besides having few job skills and a decent education, most robbers suffer from low self esteem, susceptibility to peer pressure, and weak social bonds (Wright & Decker 1997). Further, far less than half of robberies are committed out of economic necessity. Far more common, the need for money is related to a hedonistic lifestyle. Robbers typically have extensive criminal histories (Gabor et. al. 1987).
Home Invasion is a variation of robbery and burglary that accounts for 11% of all robbery, and rising. Typically, the offender uses a disguise or ruse to enter the home, and the victim is blindfolded, bound, and gagged. Sexual assault and/or injuries occur in a small number of cases. The profile of a home invader is the same as for robbery, but it is less likely to be a stranger crime.
Carjacking is a variation of robbery and vehicle theft (some criminologists argue that it's the most serious form of motor vehicle theft) which accounts for 2% of all motor vehicle theft, and rising. Some 35,000 carjackings occur annually, mostly at night. Many victims escape injury, but some offenders can be quite evil. In 1992, for example, offenders forced a woman to watch as they threw her 2-year old child, car seat and all, out from a moving vehicle. About 80% of the time, the victim is forced out of the car at gunpoint, and about 20% of the time, the victim is abducted and later dumped. The profile of a home invader is the same as for robbery, but the injury rate is higher.
MOTOR VEHICLE THEFT
Auto theft is the most frequently reported crime in America, occurring about 1.7 million times a year. There has always been a high rate of it, peaking in 1990, and slightly decreasing since. It might make sense to talk about this offense category as "auto crime" since some states classify auto theft as larceny, and only stealing parts from a car is usually classified as theft. 20% of the time, auto theft involves trucks, motorcycles, or other moving vehicles. There is a 62% recovery rate for stolen vehicles (Schmalleger 2002). This crime occurs more often in Western big cities like Los Angeles (the exception being Miami, with the highest auto theft rate in the world) than anywhere else, and more frequently in the summer months of July and August. All European countries have as serious an auto crime problem as the United States.
People steal cars for four reasons: (1) joyriding; (2) transportation need; (3) commission of other crime; and (4) profit (McCaghy et. al. 1977). The two predominant groups are joyriders and profit seekers, which produce a bimodal distribution of offenders. About 45% of offenders are joyriders who are typically 16 year old white males (60% of the time) who steal a Firebird, Camaro, or Corvette to drive around till it runs out of gas. Another 40% of offenders are profit seekers who are predominately black or Latino (60% of the time), in their twenties, and steal Mercedes, BMWs, Cadillacs, or Jaguars to export to foreign markets (places like Canada, Mexico, and Venezuela are known transshipment points for stolen American cars). Other groups are heavily involved in the theft of parts, which according to U.S. News and World Report, makes up 40% of the stolen car business today. Stolen air bags fetch anywhere from $100 to $600, and certain German-made auto accessories are valuable. Car parts are worth much more sold separately than whole vehicles. A so-called "chop shop" will pay anywhere from $400 to $600 per stolen car to the thieves. The dismantlers who work in the chop shop are usually paid about $1,800 a day. The illegal parts market depends on the existence of unscrupulous auto part store owners and organizers of swap meets.
One particularly well-organized activity is called the "buy back" or "strip and run" scheme. Here, the car is stripped for parts on the street, leaving only the frame. The stolen parts are kept in private storage by the thieves. The police impound the frame, and the insurance company declares it a total loss. The police impound lot then sells the worthless frame to a salvage company for a couple of dollars. The thieves then go the salvage company and buy the frame, and reassemble the car. In this way, the reassembled car can be legally sold because all the title transfers have been legitimate.
Auto crime follows a stranger crime pattern. Offenders have extensive criminal histories and high recidivism rates. For juveniles, it's usually their first felony after a series of status offenses, although there's no evidence auto thieves escalate into more serious criminals. Both juveniles and professionals always work in groups, and peer pressure or the desire to impress may be precipitating factors. Drug and alcohol use is common, and BJS reports some 60% of arrested car thieves test positive for drugs.
Burglary is the breaking and entering of any dwelling with the intent to commit a felony. Burglary is a crime of stealth, a victim-avoiding crime, and it is usually carried out after some attempt at careful planning and target selection. Most (60%) residential burglaries are carried out during the daytime at pre- or post- lunch hours, and most (60%) commercial burglaries are carried out during nighttime. A significant number of burglaries are reported at unknown times of occurrence. Nighttime residential burglaries where the victims are home and asleep is estimated at 13% of the time, and a smaller percentage involves thrill seekers who like to wake their victims in order to physically or sexually abuse them. As with robbers, burglars do not appear motivated by economic necessity, but instead by the need to support a lavish lifestyle (Wright & Decker 1997). Ethnographic research indicates burglars experience an exhilaration or thrill once inside a dwelling (Cromwell et. al. 1991), and other research maintains they sometimes drop clues in a desire to get caught, get a sexual thrill from the voyeurism involved, and have a need to urinate or defecate on the floor out of excitement or to show their spite for the victim (Schlesinger & Revitch 1999).
Burglary rates have gone up steadily, peaking in 1980, and gone down steadily since. There are approximately 4 million burglaries a year in America, and declining. Metropolitan cities, mainly in the Midwest, like Chicago, tend to have the highest burglary rates, and all European countries, including Canada, have high burglary rates. Areas with ethnic diversity have the highest rates. As is the case with robbery, burglary tends to be a crime of youthfulness. The typical burglar is a male, equally likely to be white, black, or Latino, under the age of 25, under the influence of drugs or alcohol at the time of offense, comes from a lower or working class background, and has an extensive criminal history. More than any other type of criminal, burglars are more likely to be recidivists, and regard the average five year prison sentence as the cost of doing business. The typical burglar is also usually a robber, assaulter, thief, or drug dealer (Miethe & McCorkle 1998). The average payoff from a residential burglary is $1000.
There are three types of burglars: (1) low level amateurs, usually spur of the moment juveniles; (2) mid level professionals, older, drug addicted, and lacking the connections to be large scale; and (3) high level professionals, who work in groups that come together for a specific, high payoff job (Maguire 1982). The vast majority of burglars (70%) are amateur or mid level opportunists who have only done rudimentary planning. A few professionals may travel great distances to carry out the crime, but most burglars, like robbers and rapists, prey upon their local neighborhoods. Burglars travel about 1.6 miles from their residence, robbers travel about 2.1 miles, and rapists travel about 1.2 miles (Rhodes & Conley 1981). Areas near railroad tracks, parks, or other non-roadway escape routes tend to be victimization areas. The motives for burglary tend to fall into three categories which, in order of being the most frequent, are: (1) to keep the party going (money from the crime is used to purchase drugs, usually cocaine); (2) to keep up appearances (money is used to buy expensive clothes, jewelry, or status items); and (3) to keep things together (money is used for living expenses, food, shelter, or child support).
Shoplifting is a variation and alternative to burglary (some criminologists classify it as a form of larceny) which is quite attractive to beginners and ex-burglars. It is also more likely to involve females (75% of the time) as offenders (compared to the 10% of females involved in burglary). There is a tendency for whites to be involved in shoplifting as much as blacks, and rich people as well as poor people can be involved. Anybody can be a shoplifter, but criminologists usually distinguish between three kinds: (1) soft-core, for which it is usually their first arrest, the item is for personal use, and they don't consider themselves criminals; (2) hard-core, who also steal items for personal use, but do so regularly and will admit to a criminal habit; and (3) professionals, aka "boosters" who make up no more than 5% of all shoplifters, and work in teams, traveling from city to city with lookouts and special equipment like bags or clothing with hidden pockets. In addition, a fourth type works with an employee of a store to better enable price-tag switching or gift card fraud.
Receiving stolen property is another crime of theft intimately connected to burglary. Only professional burglars know where to find and how to use a professional fence, so most burglars use flea markets, auctions, pawn shops, or somebody they know who needs or wants an item.
Larceny (also called larceny/theft) is the unlawful taking of property, or the constructive possession of property, from another person for personal gain. Any property is covered, from physical objects like a wallet found in a bathroom to unreturned tools borrowed from a neighbor to intellectual property plagiarized off the Internet. Larceny is a crime of opportunity, and the most frequent property offense in America. Any locale can be the setting for larceny, but schools, college campuses, offices, warehouses, parking lots, and household yards are particularly vulnerable to having stuff "walk off", such as computers, laboratory instruments, office equipment, bicycles, barbecue grills, and the contents of vehicles. According to UCR data, the most frequent acts involve stealing items from unlocked vehicles, stores, and office buildings. The average payoff is an item worth $500. Larceny is similar (but separate) to fraud offenses, which include telemarketing gimmicks, charity scams, con games, and many types of computer crime. Organized crime is also relevant in this context, although extortion and bribery are more heavily involved. Criminologists sometimes refer to larceny as occasional crime, conventional crime, professional crime, occupational crime, or organizational crime.
Offenders who commit larceny represent a variety of types, from part time, infrequent offenders (occasional property criminals) to fairly persistent semiprofessionals (conventional property criminals). In the occasional category, Hagan (1998) includes shoplifters, vandals, people who steal items from vehicles, and those who forge or write worthless checks. (Note: the FBI counts shoplifting under larceny, although as noted above, it has more in common with burglary; and the FBI doesn't count con games or worthless checks as larceny). In the conventional category, Hagan (1998) includes some types of burglary, fencing stolen property, and arson. All races, ages, genders, and social classes are represented in larceny. Most criminologists agree that occasional offenders grow out of their criminal behavior by their mid-twenties, while conventional offenders do not.
At least 8 million larcenies are committed every year in the United States, and it is not only the most frequent crime in America, but the fastest growing. It has always been high and rising, although there was an unusual decline in the Nineties. So-called "sticky fingers" are prevalent in any nation around the world. Pilfering (shoplifting from your own employer), for example, follows such a universal trend in that it can be safely said internal theft outnumbers external theft by a ratio of five to one (Parker 1977). No matter where you go, vandalism (most often involving graffiti) is also widespread against schools, parks, libraries, public transportation facilities, public telephones, traffic equipment, and public housing. Vandalism best illustrates that part of the definition of larceny where the constructive possession (enjoyment) of property is affected. Bad check writing was first studied by Lemert (1958), who distinguished between naive check forgers and systematic check forgers. The naive, or amateur type was found to be most common. Correlates and possible causes of naive check forgery include: middle class background, underemployment, divorce, alcoholism, educational difficulties, and a consistent knack for being in financial crisis.
Regardless of the form that larceny takes, offenders tend to work alone, and few of them identify with, or associate with, the criminal element. Persistent offenders can be found in their thirties, forties, fifties, or even old age. Not enough research has been done on these offenders, and it would be interesting to know their feelings of remorse (if any), as well as any feelings of glee at having gotten away with something.
Arson is the willful or malicious burning of the property of another, and clearly a property crime, among other things. It is primarily a big-city crime, although it does happen in rural areas a bit. The most common targets are homes, factories, or warehouses (44%), followed by mobile structures such as trailers, mobile homes, or motor vehicles (33%), followed by crops, forests, or rural areas (25%). Controversy exists over the motives for arson, but it is believed the most common motives may be revenge and vandalism. Arson can also be committed to conceal another crime, for profit (insurance company fraud), pyromaniac excitement, and during a riot. Fire departments, not the police, are in charge of determining if an arson has occurred. Numbers to measure the amount of arson in the world today are notoriously unreliable. Arson can also be a violent crime (felony murder) if someone dies during the blaze.
WHITE COLLAR CRIME
Siegel (2004) defines white collar crime as "illegal activities of people and institutions whose acknowledged purpose is profit through illegitimate business transactions." To make it simple, white collar crime is larceny committed by a respectable, legitimate enterprise which is not set up to go out of business like an ordinary fraud or con game. White collar crime involves embezzlement, forgery, or fraud committed in the course of normal business practice, but is highly unethical and violates accepted accounting principles or the public trust. Like the crime of conspiracy, deception and cover up are the hallmarks of white collar crime. Sometimes the offender is a government official. Criminologists who work in this area sometimes approach white collar crime as the study of business crime, corporate crime, suite crime, crime at the top, elite crime, state crime, political crime, or governmental crime.
When Sutherland (1940) first coined the term white collar crime, and defined it as "crime committed by a person of respectability and high social status in the course of his occupation," Sutherland basically was pointing out that poor people are not the only ones to commit crime. The color of the collar doesn't mean anything. It could be blue-collar or pink-collar crime. It is the generally accepted wisdom in criminology that although Sutherland's definition fall short in some ways, the underlying constructs of what he meant -- deception and lack of physical force -- remain constant, even while forms of the crime evolve. The NW3C definition is considered a good 2005 update: "white collar crimes are defined as illegal or unethical acts that violate fiduciary responsibility or public trust for personal or organizational gain." The Edelhertz (1970) typology includes: (1) crimes against government by public officials; (2) crimes against government by private citizens; (3) crimes against businesses; (4) crimes against investors; (5) crimes against consumers; (6) crimes against employees; and (7) crimes affecting public health. The Green (1990) typology includes: (1) crimes for the benefit of one's employer; (2) crimes by government officials; (2) crimes by professionals in the course of doing business; and (4) crimes by individuals in the course of their occupation.
There is no uniform white collar crime reporting system. The FBI only tracks crime data on embezzlement and fraud, so the best estimates are that 18,000 arrests for white collar crimes occur each year. The number of investigations far exceed that number, however. It appears prosecutions for crimes against consumers take priority over crimes against business and government. Offenders typically believe that whatever they've done is not wrong, and is an expected entitlement or fringe benefit of their positions of power. Most research suggests that firms with declining profitability or budget cuts are more likely to break the law (Coleman 1994). Other research indicates that firms in highly regulated areas and volatile markets (like pharmaceuticals or petroleum) are more likely to break the law (Albanese 1995).
The typical white collar criminal is a white, middle class, educated male around 29 years of age (70% of the time) with no previous criminal history and no involvement in drug or alcohol abuse (Miethe & McCorkle 1998). Their offenses are characterized by sophisticated planning, and they have carefully considered lessons learned from the extensive histories most corporations have of regulatory violations. Most offenders prefer to work alone, except where the cooperation of others is needed. Almost all criminological theories (strain, learning, control, conflict, and neutralization) have been applied to white collar crime. The economic costs of white collar crime are staggering, running well into several billions a year. Perhaps more importantly, economic crime erodes public confidence.
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Last updated: June 17, 2012
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O'Connor, T. (2012). "Property Crime Investigation" MegaLinks in Criminal Justice. Retrieved from http://www.drtomoconnor.com/3220/3220lect05.htm.