III. Prevalence of Theft and Shoplifting in Society Today
According to official data (FBI, 2008), there were about 10 million property crimes reported to the police in 2006. This translates to an estimated property crime rate of 3,334.5 for every 100,000 U.S. residents. Nearly two thirds of all property crimes are larceny-thefts (Bureau of Justice Statistics [BJS], 2006). According to the BJS, theft from motor vehicles (a type of larceny-theft and not theft of the actual vehicle, i.e., motor vehicle theft) comprises the largest portion of larceny-thefts annually. This pattern has remained consistent over time. Theft from buildings and shoplifting follow in second and third place, respectively. As indicated above, property crimes like theft yield significant costs to society. According to the BJS, losses from property crimes in 2006 totaled about $17.6 billion. Like other crimes, rates of property crime have declined significantly from the early 1990s, when the United States began to see a national crime drop (Blumstein & Wallman, 2005). Rates of property crime offending and victimization are highest in cities and much lower in the suburbs and rural areas (BJS, 2005b, 2006).
Contrary to logic, perhaps, the highest rates of property crime victimization are reported in the poorest of American households (BJS, 2005b). For example, burglary, motor vehicle theft, and major and minor larceny victimizations are higher in households with incomes below $7,500 per year than in households earning more than that. The exception to this pattern is that larceny-theft victimizations are about as high in households earning $75,000 or more per year as they are in households earning less than $7,500.
Below is a comparison of the crime literature on the market value of goods and their risk of theft with claims by routine activities theorists. The market value approach suggests that theft should be highest where goods are most plentiful and most valuable. This would seem to suggest higher rates of theft victimization in higher-income households, a contradiction to the data reported above by the BJS (2005b). However, the routine activities claim that motivated offenders (e.g., lower-income people residing in poorer households) confronted with easy targets (e.g., unattended households not guarded by locks or alarms) leads to high rates of property crime victimization, may help explain greater theft victimization in poorer households.
A. Demographic Variations in Theft
Offenses and arrests for theft are not evenly distributed across demographic groups. In general, adult males who live in urban areas are responsible for the highest levels of theft and other property crimes. The exception to this pattern is for motor vehicle theft, which has been historically dominated by adolescent males. While research shows most females offenders are arrested for drug offenses, property crimes, and prostitution (Anderson, 2008), males still outpace females with respect to arrests for theft and shoplifting. However, women have gained ground on men in recent times.
With respect to theft victimizations, data show that African Americans are more likely to have their homes burglarized and their vehicles stolen than are whites (BJS, 2005a). Whites, on the other hand, are more often victims of larceny-theft than are blacks.
Data (BJS, 2005a) show that a large portion of property arrestees at the local and state level committed their offense to get money for drugs. In fact, property arrestees were more likely than violent crime or drug arrestees to commit their crimes for money for drugs. The relationships among theft, shoplifting, and drugs are elaborated below.