According to both Police Recorded Crime and the Crime Survey of England and Wales, there has been a steady decrease in crime in England and Wales since 1995 – that’s over 20 years of crime reduction.
There are several possible reasons behind this decrease in crime (IF you believe the statistics, of course!)
The Relative Decrease in Property Crime since 1995
The Office For National Statistics identifies seven existing theories/ pieces of evidence for why property crime has fallen. Read them through and consider how many of them support Rational Choice Theory.
ONE – The rise in the use of the internet has roughly coincided with falls in crime
In 1995, use of the internet was not widespread. As it became more popular, it may have helped to occupy young people’s time when they may otherwise have turned to crime. Farrell et al., 2011 suggests the internet also provides more opportunity for online crime – which possibly explains the increase in Fraud in recent years, although this may be down to improvements in detection and recording of this offence.
TWO – Reduced consumption of drugs and alcohol is likely to have resulted in a drop in offending
A 2014 Home Office research paper ‘The heroin epidemic of the 1980s and 1990s and its effect on crime trends – then and now’ supports the notion that the changing levels of opiate and crack-cocaine use have affected acquisitive crime trends in England and Wales, potentially explaining over half of the rise in crime in the 1980s to mid-1990s and between a quarter and a third of the fall in crime since the mid-1990s. (Bunge et al., 2005).
THREE – Significant improvements in forensic and other crime scene investigation techniques and record keeping
Advancements in areas such as fingerprinting and DNA testing may have led to a reduction in crime.perceived risk to offenders may have increased, inducing a deterrent effect (Explaining and sustaining the crime drop: Clarifying the role of opportunity-related theories, Farrell et al., 2010).
FOUR – The increase in abortions
The ONS also site this classic study by Levitt et al – which suggested that the introduction of legalised abortion on a wide number of grounds in the US meant that more children who might have been born into families in poverty or troubled environments and be more prone to get drawn into criminality, would not be born and therefore be unable to commit these crimes (The Impact of Legalized Abortion on Crime, Donohue and Levitt, 2001).
FIVE – Changes (real or perceived) in technology and infrastructure.
This includes an increase in the use of situational crime prevention technieques such as CCTV, which may act as deterrents to committing crime (CCTV has modest impact on crime, Welsh and Farrington, 2008).
SIX – Longer Prison Sentences
The impacts of longer prison sentences and police activity on reducing crime, particularly property crimes, are likely to act as deterrents (Acquisitive Crime: Imprisonment, Detection and Social Factors, Bandyopadhyay et al., 2012).
SEVEN – Target Hardening
Increased quality of building and vehicle security is also likely to have been a factor in the reduction in property crime. This concept of ‘target-hardening’ which makes targets (that is, anything that an offender would want to steal or damage) more resistant to attack is likely to deter offenders from committing crime (Opportunities, Precipitators and Criminal Decisions: A reply to Wortley’s critique of situational crime prevention, Cornish and Clarke, 2003).
Findings from the CSEW add some evidence which may support this, indicating that alongside the falls in property crime, there were also improvements in household and vehicle security. Since 1995, there have been statistically significant increases in the proportion of households in the 2014/15 CSEW with:
- Window locks (up 21 percentage points from 68% to 89% of households)
- Light timers/sensors (up 16 percentage points from 39% to 55% of households)
- Burglar alarms (up 11 percentage points from 20% to 31% of households)
The ONS also notes that it does not endorse any one of the theories over the others and that many of these theories are contested and subject to continuing discussion and debate.
NB – Just because most of the above theories seem to offer broad support for RTC and RAT theories, doesn’t mean there aren’t other factors that need to be considered when explaining the decrease in property crime.