Theft and Shoplifting

V. Conclusion

Theft has very immediate and costly consequences. It is one of the most prevalent forms of criminal behavior in the United States, consistently accounting for around 80% of all crimes reported to the police in a given year. However, the social processes reflected in theft are extremely complex. More so than almost any other crime, theft is heavily dependent on opportunity. Even the most motivated offenders may ignore attractive targets if they are well guarded. This fundamental consideration has led many criminologists to approach the study of theft in terms of routine activities theory, the most enduring explanatory framework that accounts for variables such as time, place, space, and situations.

Routine activities theory is linked to both opportunity and lifestyle, and living arrangements. This, in turn, has led to an increasing focus on the role of environmental context in shaping theft outcomes, and more recent research has made an effort to conceptualize routine activities variables in broader terms, incorporating variables related to neighborhood social organization. This inevitably opens the door to readdressing issues of income inequality, unemployment, and community poverty and exploring how these interrelated variables coalesce to constitute risk environments, shaping both opportunity and motivation in new and unique ways.

Such conclusions have important crime-prevention implications. Prior research has focused on either situational theft and theft prevention or aggregate-level rates of theft in countries or states, highlighting socioeconomic inequality. Recent research suggests that incorporating these two broad explanatory frameworks is useful in effectively understanding the whens and whys of theft. Such possibilities suggest the use of more context-driven crime-prevention policies that incorporate new and inventive understandings of social environments as well as economic factors.

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