C. Theft and Drug Use
Illicit drug use, particularly heroin use, became associated with property crime in the 1970s based on the reasoning that users will turn to burglary, fraud, shoplifting, as well as other forms of crime such as robbery and prostitution, to obtain money to maintain their addictions. Such reports emerged during the Nixon administration, and remain popular in anti-drug campaigns today. In criminology, this reasoning was formalized in Goldstein’s (1985) economic-compulsive model of drug use and crime. Heroin and cocaine, because they are expensive drugs typified by compulsive patterns of use, are the most relevant substances in this category.
While some scholars have framed these claims as exaggerated attempts to drum up public support for “get tough on crime” policies, an empirical link between drug use and theft does exist. Two things, however, should be noted. First, the onset of participation in crimes such as theft and shoplifting tends to precede induction into drug use (C. Allen, 2005), so the relationship is not directly causal. Second, the relationship between theft and drug use is observable only with serious and prolonged narcotics use. There is a much weaker, almost negligible relationship between regular use of marijuana or other hallucinogens and theft. In studies that have observed a positive relationship, theft and drug use tend to be correlated simply because they are common measures of general delinquency. However, research consistently demonstrates that regular use of harder drugs such as heroin and crack cocaine will eventually lead to participation in theft and is therefore strongly related to, if not a direct cause of, theft (C. Allen, 2005; Best, Sidwell, Gossop, Harris, & Strang, 2001).
Patterns of theft involvement tend to vary with respect to the recent levels of drug activity, with users reporting the highest levels of drug expenditure and accordingly, the highest rates of crime (Best et al., 2001; Manzoni, Brochu, Fischer, & Rehm, 2006). Petty forms of crime by drug users such as shoplifting and bicycle theft tend to be the most common, whereas burglaries and motor vehicle thefts are exceedingly rare (Van der Zanden, Dijkgraaf, Blanken, Van Ree, & Van den Brink, 2006). Violent forms of theft such as street robbery and purse snatchings tend to be one-off occurrences rather than criminal lifestyles (C. Allen, 2005). Frequent crack cocaine and other hard drug users are equally likely to be heavily involved in drug selling or prostitution, as well as the performance of marginal, part-time work in the legal economy (Cross, Johnson, Davis, & Liberty, 2001). The point is that neither serious nor petty theft functions as a primary source of income to support individual drug habits. Drug offenders are far more likely to recidivate with a drug offense than either theft or violent crime.