You have probably heard many politicians claim that crime is down. However, like all statistics, the reality is in the details.
The headline numbers seem encouraging…
Despite what is occurring in several cities, murder and overall violent crime rates have declined nationally. That is a welcome trend but does not paint a true picture regarding our safety.
Crime and how it is dealt with, is changing and we have technology to thank for it. Some of the decline in murders can be attributed to the police using data to identify patterns and deploying resources to combat them. Another piece of the decline is simply attributed to the aging of our population.
What is missing, is the failure to measure thousands of crimes and to account for the explosion of crime aided or created by technology.
The Police Executive Research Forum issued a lengthy report called The Changing Nature of Crime. The document amounted to an urgent plea for action to deal with the expanding and changing nature of crime. The report highlighted many areas. Here are some that caught my eye:
- New types of crime, based on technology are being created – as examples, ransomware is now a multi-billion-dollar enterprise and new approaches to stealing your identity and money, are growing.
- Gangs and local criminals have realized they can steal more with less risk and lower penalties, if caught, by using technology. Why rob a gas station if you can get on a computer and steal or create an identity? Using tech to steal from a bank or credit card company carries less risk than going into a bank with a gun. No wonder bank robberies are plummeting.
- The drug epidemic is being fueled in part by buyers and dealers by using the internet. Many traffickers order illegal drugs from China and have carriers like the Post Office bring it to their door.
- Many crimes go unreported. Why report a stolen credit card to the police when the credit card company takes the hit? The FBI estimates that less than 15% of the nation’s fraud victims report their crimes to the police. Incredibly, only one of seven crimes are ever reported.
The work of criminal investigators and the skill sets required is changing. In the past, when the police responded to a serious crime, they quickly arrived on the scene, collected physical evidence and interviewed witnesses.
Today, they must retrieve smartphones from victims and suspects, check social media accounts for clues; review security camera feeds, automated license plate readers, and traffic enforcement cameras; as well as obtain data from devices such as Fitbits, GPS devices, and video cameras cars. It is very different work than just a few years ago.
Unfortunately, most police agencies are not up to speed on the new way of chasing down the bad guys. What’s worse, is the decentralized nature of policing in the United States makes the necessary adaptations a difficult and long haul.
I write crime fiction but what is clear to me is the need for a national commitment to address the growing threat of computer crimes. Systems to track every type of crime must be created. We need to hire and train officers to deal with the flood of cyber-crimes. I’m a ‘small government’ advocate but in this case, we need to address this epidemic before it’s too late.