Predicting Crime: The review of Research


The objective of this research is to identify and examine studies and organizations that have developed predictions of crime, focusing on forecasts for the first two decades of the 21st Century. The research methods for this study involved a review of electronic and printed literature as well as structured interviews with relevant organizations and researchers.

Crime predictions can be developed through both qualitative and quantitative methods. Qualitative approaches to forecasting crime, such as environmental scanning, scenario writing, or Delphi groups, are particularly useful in identifying the future nature of criminal activity. In contrast, quantitative methods are used to predict the future scope of crime, and more specifically, crime rates. A common quantitative method for developing forecasts is to extrapolate annual crime rate trends developed through time series models. This approach also involves correlating past crime trends with factors that will influence the future scope of crime, in particular demographic and macro-economic variables.

Demographic factors have been cited as the strongest determinants of crime rates and hence have been central to crime predictions. The key demographic variable appears to be the size of the male population within the crime-prone years of 15 to 25. In those societies with large proportions of young males, there tends to be higher crime rate. A number of studies have shown that crime rates are also closely tied to the strength of the economy; during economic recessions, property crime rates are inclined to grow rapidly, whereas during more economically favourable periods, they have a tendency to fall.

Based primarily on demographic and macro-economic trends, there appears to be a consensus among predictions for the United Kingdom and the United States, that until 2010, the overall crime rate is expected to equal the average crime rate over the past 10 to 15 years. This means that there will be a low to moderate annual increase in the overall crime rate in these countries, beginning in the early years of the 21st Century. Similar patterns should be expected in other developed countries.

The most significant changes over the next few decades will not be in the scope of crime, but rather, in the nature or complexion of crime. Property crime will continue to target physical consumer goods. However, theft will also increasingly target intangible property, such as electronic services, information, knowledge, and even personal identities. Physical hardware, such as digital television sets, computers, or cellular phones, will be targeted for theft to facilitate access to valuable electronic services. Crime will also become more organized and transnational in scope; increasingly, offenders will be located in one or more countries while their victims may reside in countries located on the other side of the globe.

The one variable that research suggests will have the most significant influence on the future complexion of crime is technology. New technology will provide individual offenders and criminal groups with easier access to systems, premises, goods, and information; remove geographical obstacles to crime; increase the scale of the bounty from criminal offences; maximize anonymity, and enhance the ability of offenders to avoid detection. Traditional crimes such as theft, counterfeiting, child pornography, stalking, money laundering, and fraud will continue, albeit facilitated by advanced technological tools. The Internet will be a central vehicle through which traditional and new forms of crimes will be perpetrated. In short, the computer, digital, and cellular age will bring about changes in how old forms of crime are conducted, while ushering in new, high-value services that will be targeted.

What is consistent throughout most crime predictions is the assumption that the largest offending demographic group will continue to be young males between 15 and 25 years of age.

Of most concern will be the technologically-astute young offender who commits complex electronic and computer-based crimes, such as stealing electronic signals, counterfeiting digital products, or hacking into computer networks for the purposes of vandalism or profit. The future may also hold a greater degree of offending by legitimate and illegitimate companies; the Internet has given rise to the virtual firm, which makes it easier for unscrupulous offenders to commit fraud and theft while avoiding detection.

As far as the future victims of crime are concerned, households, businesses, and governments will continue to be victimized by a wide range of organized and unorganized physical, electronic, and intellectual crime. The general public will continue to be a principal target of property crime, especially as the consumption of high-value, portable consumer electronic products continues to grow. Demographic trends point to a significant rise in the aging population over the next 20 years . This will produce a senior citizen population that may be at greater risk of criminal attack. The greatest crime and delinquency threats to businesses may come from attempts to steal or sabotage intangibles, particularly information and knowledge. As global competition intensifies in the knowledge era, rival businesses may increasingly try to steal intellectual property through industrial espionage to maintain an edge.

While there is little reason to believe that the crime rate will grow dramatically in the first decade of the 21st Century, given the anticipated increases in the globalization, sophistication, and organization of crime, one may conclude that the impact of crime on Western societies will be more severe than the one witnessed under a similar rate of crime in the past. In particular, advanced telecommunications technology such as the Internet, will allow offenders to reach a greater number of victims. There are also fears that the ongoing organization, sophistication, and globalization of crime may pose a greater threat to financial markets, economic stability, and even the national security of some countries.

An international comparative analysis shows that most crime forecasting has been conducted in the United States and Great Britain. This research did not identify any Canadian studies in the past decade that involved forecasting crime into the 21st Century. A cursory knowledge of Canadian data sources indicates that there are no real obstacles to replicating in this country the organizations and models developed elsewhere. Within Statistics Canada there exists the expertise, resources, instruments, and experience in conducting national statistical estimates of criminal incidents, including time series analyses. Moreover, Statistics Canada collects quantitative data on those factors that influence crime and hence can be correlated with crime-related data to conduct time series forecasts and impact assessments.

The principal recommendation of this study is that a dedicated funding stream be provided for an integrated research program that examines crime trends, forecasts future crime rates and patterns, and estimates the impact (costs) of crime for both the present and the future. This funding should emphasize applied research that can be used to develop policies and programs that anticipate future crime trends and attempt to minimize their impact on Canadian society. The Federal Government should convene a multi-disciplinary and multi-sectoral working group to coordinate and/or undertake this research. Future research should assess the wider impact of new technology on crime and the criminal justice system. Funding should be provided to focus scientific and technological attention to crime reduction, especially computer-based crime. These initiatives must be placed in the context of an emphasis on incorporating crime reduction into the mainstream of public policy, private sector, and household planning and decision-making.

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