8.1 The Problem of Crime
• Crime - Behavior that is prohibited by the criminal law because it is considered
especially harmful or offensive.
• Deviance - Behavior that violates social norms and arouses strong social disapproval.
Sociologist Becker said that "deviance is not a quality of the act the person commits,
but rather a consequence of the application by others of rules or sanctions to an
'offender.'" This deﬁnition reminds us that some harmful behaviors, such as white-
collar crime, may not be considered deviant and fail to result in severe legal
punishment, perhaps because wealthy individuals perform them. Some less harmful
behaviors, such as prostitution, may be considered very deviant because the public
deems the behavior immoral and because poor people engage in them.
• The application of a criminal label to an offender is problematic: People arrested and/
or convicted of a crime may not have engaged in a very harmful behavior or even in
the behavior of which they are suspected, and people with no criminal record have in
fact engaged in harmful and even criminal behavior.
Public Concern about Crime:
• The public believes the crime rate has been rising but it has actually been declining
since the early 1990s.
• Homicide does not rank among the top ten causes of death
• Newspapers and TV news cover crime stories and the public becomes more
concerned even though crime in general has not risen at all.
• The new media increases their crime coverage even when crime is falling.
• The media devote particularly heavy coverage to violent crime. More than 25% of the
crime stories concern homicide, even though homicide comprises less than 1% of all
• The media tend to highlight crimes committed by African Americans and other people
of color and crimes with white victims.
• Most crimes involve offenders and victims of the same race.
• The media tends to highlight crimes committed by youths.
• It is difﬁcult to know how much crime occurs because usually only the criminal, victim,
and an occasional witness know about it.
• Uniform Crime Reports (UCR) - The FBI's regular compilation of crime statistics, most
of them on Part I crimes.
• Part I Crimes - The FBI's term for the major crimes committed in the UCR including
homicide, rape, aggravated assault, robbery, burglary, larceny (shoplifting, purse-
snatching), motor vehicle theft, and arson.
• Violent crimes: homicide, rape, aggravated assault, robbery
• Property crimes: burglary, larceny, motor vehicle theft, and arson
• More than half of all crime victims do not report their crimes to the police and thus the
police do not know about them. Dark ﬁgure of crime - The large number of crimes that do not come to the attention of
the police and thus also not to the public.
• The UCR excludes white-collar crimes and thus diverts attention away from their
Police practices affect the number of crimes listed in the UCR. Ex: The police do not
record every report they hear from a citizen as a crime. Sometimes they don't have
the time, and other times they don't believe the citizen.
• The crime rate also rises and falls depending on how many victims report crimes.
National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) - An annual survey conducted by the US
Department of Justice that asks a representative sample of the American Public about
crimes they have suffered.
• These responses are thought to be more accurate than the UCR's ﬁgures.
• The NCVS excludes commercial crimes such as shoplifting while the UCR includes
• Self-report survey - A survey given to individuals, usually adolescents, that asks them
about offenses they have committed and usually about their families and other
aspects of their lives.
8.2 Types of Crime
• Criminologists commonly group crimes into several major categories: 1). violent crime,
2). property crime, 3). white-collar crime, 4). organized crime, 5). consensual or
• Although some homicides are premeditated, most in fact are relatively spontaneous
and the result of intense emotions like anger, hatred, or jealousy.
• Most homicide offenders and victims knew each other before the homicide occurred.
• About 2/3 of homicides involve ﬁrearms.
• Intraracial - In criminology, the commission of crime by offenders against members of
their own race/ethnicity.
• Males commit about 90% of all homicides.
• Homicide rate is 4x higher in large cities than in small towns.
• Property crime has declined along with violent crime since the early 1990s.
• Most property offenders are amateur offenders (young and unskilled in the ways of
crime, and the amount they gain from any single theft is relatively small)
• Professional property offenders tend to be older and skilled in the ways of crime, and
the amount they gain from any single theft is relatively large. They often plan their
crimes well in advance.
• Cat burglar - someone who scales tall buildings to steal jewels, expensive artwork, or
large sums of money. Prototypical example of the professional property criminals
• Many professional thieves learn how to do their crimes from other professional thieves
White-Collar Crime: White-collar crime is arguably much more harmful than street crime, both in terms of
economic loss and of physical injury, illness, and even death
• White-collar crime - Crime committed by people in the course of their occupations;
Edward Sutherland's deﬁnition emphasized crime by people of high social status.
Much of the study of white-collar crime today focuses on fraud by physicians,
attorneys, and other professionals and on illegal behavior by executives of
corporations designed to protect or improve corporate proﬁts.
• Corporate violence - Actions by corporations that cause death, injury, or illness
Annual deaths from corporate violence exceed the number of homicides
• Employees of corporations suffer from unsafe workplaces in which workers are
exposed to hazardous conditions and chemicals because their companies fail to take
adequate measures to reduce or eliminate this exposure. (coal mining, asbestos
• Unsafe product example: Ford Pinto was a car sold in the early 1970s that was
vulnerable to ﬁre and explosion when hit from behind in a minor rear-end collision.
• Refers to criminal activity by groups whose major purpose for existing is to commit
• This crime thrives because it provides goods/services that the public demands
• Aka victimless crime; Refers to behaviors in which people engage voluntarily and
willingly even though these behaviors violate the law (prostitution, pornography, illegal
• Critics of consensual crime laws say our laws are causing the same problems that
Prohibition caused. Proponents of these laws respond that the laws are still necessary
as an expression of society's moral values and as a means of reducing involvement in
8.3 Who Commits Crime?
• Males commit more crime than females
• Blame sociological factors: Boys raised to be assertive and aggressive, girls raised to
be gentle and nurturing
• A second factor is opportunity. Studies ﬁnd that parents watch their daughters more
closely than their sons, who are allowed to stay out later at night and thus have more
opportunity to break the law.
• Offending rates are highest in the late teens and early twenties and decline thereafter
• Peer relationships matter more during adolescence and peers are more likely to be
offenders during this time.
• Adolescents are more likely than older adults to lack full-time jobs; for this reason,
they are more likely to need money and thus commit offenses to obtain money As we age out of our early twenties, our ties to conventional society increase: Many
people marry, have children, and begin full-time employment. These events and bonds
increase our stakes in conformity
• Poor individuals seem to commit more crimes
• Poverty is said to produce anger, frustration, and economic need that makes them
more likely to commit street crime
Most poor people do not commit street crime at all
• Since the poor commit more street crime and the wealthy commit more white-collar
crime, there does not appear to be a social class crime relationship
Urban versus Rural Residence:
• Urban areas have high crime rates in part because they are poor and have a greater
• There are more people to come in contact with: teens have more peers to inﬂuence,
criminals have more targets, there are more bars and convenience stores that can
become potential targets and drinking at bars can cause tempers to ﬂare and violence
Race and Ethnicity:
• Research ﬁnds that African Americans and Latinos have higher rates of street crime
than non-Latino whites.
• Reasons for this:
• African Americans and Latinos are much poorer than whites on average and
poverty contributes to higher crime rates
• They are more likely to live in urban areas
• The discrimination they experience leads to anger and frustration that can promote
8.4 Explaining Crime
• Biological and psychological explanations cannot easily explain why crime rates rise
and fall or why crime rates are associated with certain locations and social
The Functional Perspective: Social Structure Theories
• Social structure theories stress that crime results from the breakdown of society's
norms and social organization and fall under the functional perspective. They trace the
roots of crime to problems in the society itself rather than to biological or psychological
problems inside individuals. They suggest the need to address society's social
structure in order to reduce crime.
Social Disorganization Theory:
• The view that the weakening of social bonds and conventional social institutions in a
community raises its crime rates. Anomie Theory:
• Robert Merton's view that deviance is caused by a failure to achieve the American
goal of ﬁnancial success through the conventional means of working.
• Conformity: accept the goal of economic success