Conventional wisdom has it that as the economy sours, crime picks up. Faced with job losses and few other opportunities, it might be expected that an increasing number of people would turn to illegal acts, such as burglary, to make a living. Except that it's not happening -- not in this recession, anyway.
Many U.S. cities, regardless of size, are seeing fewer burglaries in this period of economic woe. In Minneapolis, the number of burglaries reported during roughly the first nine months of the year fell more than 15% compared to the same span a year ago, The Associated Press reported. Compared to 2007, the decrease is even more dramatic -- down 25%.
In Boston, burglaries during the same time frame dropped 13.2% to 2,199, down from 2,534 a year ago. In Aurora, Ill., a city of some 170,000 on the outskirts of Chicago, burglaries fell 15.5% to 560 through the end of September, while Shelby, N.C., which has a population of 21,000, saw burglaries plummet 61.7% to 23, compared to 60 last year, according to the AP.
Law-enforcement officials say they are being aided in their efforts to reduce burglaries by falling commodity prices for copper and other metals that thieves were once keen to strip from abandoned homes. Nevertheless, police say that alone doesn't explain the drop in thefts.
Tougher to Rob a House When Somebody's Home
"Just because we're in a recession doesn't mean the opportunity for residential burglaries has increased," says Robert D. McCrie, professor of security management at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in Manhattan. With the nation's unemployment rate having spilled into double digits -- to 10.2% last month -- "there's more likelihood people will be around their property to keep an eye on it," McCrie told DailyFinance.
What's more, greater numbers of people are working from home, if not on a permanent basis at least occasionally, providing thieves with even fewer opportunities. Add to that an increase in use of home alarms in dwellings of all types. Though the devices don't prevent break-ins, McCrie says, they do reduce the frequency of burglaries.
The drop in burglaries is surprising given that rates had been on the rise between 2007 and 2008, and experts just assumed the trend would continue as recession wore on and joblessness mounted.
Crime Rising in Some Cities, But Rising More Slowly
The anecdotal reports of fewer burglaries won't be verified until the Federal Bureau of Investigation releases its tallies late next year, but the trend still surprises some experts, since property crimes tend to rise during recessions.
"We've seen that in every single recession in the U.S. at least since the '50s," University of Missouri – St. Louis sociologist Richard Rosenfeld told the AP. "I would have expected by now some upward movement in burglary numbers."
The phenomenon isn't universal, however. Cities such as Houston, San Jose, Calif., and Chicago have seen burglary rates rise. But Chicago has seen rates rise at a slower pace than last year.
And in Los Angeles, where the rate of burglaries was already falling last year, it's now falling even faster. The rate dropped 6% in the first nine months of the year, compared to a 1% dip during the same period in 2008.
A decrease in crime may be one of the few good things to come out of the nation's recent economic ills. Perhaps it shows that more burglars are buying into the idea that crime doesn't pay. Or maybe they all just have the flu.
Amid this recession, even the burglars are out of work