Year in Review: 2011 – Property Crime

This is the second in a three post series on crime in North Carolina. I’ve compiled all the crime data from the various crime reports issued by the NC Department of Justice.

Part 1, Overall Crime Statistics Read this first

Part 3, Violent Crime

Having already discussed the overall crime rate, let’s turn to property crimes.

Burglary, defined as “The unlawful entry of a structure to commit a felony or theft. Includes attempted forcible entry.” (All definitions taken from the Crime in North Carolina – 2011 report. PDF)

While burglary is usually committed with the intent of theft or other felony, you don’t have to actually steal anything to be guilty of burglary. Larceny is a separate offense, defined as “The unlawful taking, carrying, leading, or riding away of property from the possession or constructive possession of another.” So if one breaks into a house and steals something, they are committing BOTH burglary and larceny.

Larceny is distinct from Motor Vehicle Theft, defined unsurprisingly as “The theft or attempted theft of a motor vehicle.”

Finally we have Arson, “Any willful or malicious burning or attempt to burn, with or without the intent to defraud”

Arson, while a property crime, is not included in the overall category “Property Crime” for reporting purposes. That means it is not part of this chart showing total property crime. I don’t know why that is. I don’t agree with the decision, but we have to play the ball as it lies.

The formula that the DOJ uses is simple. They add up the total number of Burglaries, Larcenies, and Motor Vehicle Thefts to arrive at the total number of Property Crimes. Then you divide the total number of property crimes by the number of people in the state and multiply by 100,000 to arrive at the Property Crime Rate per 100,000, the red line on the chart.

We can make a few observations. Larceny, by virtue of being the most common property crime, overwhelms the rest. The overall property crime rate looks very much the same as the larceny rate. It makes a lot of sense that larceny is the most common crime as it’s the crime that requires the least confrontation with other humans. One can steal money online or shoplift from a store with very little personal risk. Breaking into a house leads to getting shot by irate homeowners, and stealing cars requires some specialized knowledge.

Another observation is that in the last few years these crimes, which with the exception of motor vehicle theft were already at low levels, have dropped dramatically. We’re told over and over that poverty leads to crime. Now I could never understand how being poor would lead to rape and murder, but I can understand how poor people might be more tempted to steal. So how does the extreme drop off in property crimes square with the recession we have experienced? It doesn’t.

I think that most property crimes are drug related, the same way that most violent crime is drug related. People don’t steal to make a living. It’s too hard a life. I think that if you ask the police charged with catching thieves they will tell you that most of them are stealing to feed a drug habit. The drugs make them unemployable but leave them needing lots of money. Stealing your stuff and selling it makes sense to someone in desperate need of money to buy drugs.

What we can tell from these numbers is that crime is dropping and we don’t exactly know why. The oft-stated connection to poverty seems to be wrong.

A big thank you to Linoge at Walls of the City for helping me with the charts. He showed me how to put both the raw numbers and the rate data on one chart.