Cell Phones And Lower Crime Rates
An interesting new study suggests that the ubiquitousness of mobile phones has been an important factor in reducing crime rates:
Researchers pondering the reason for a one-third drop in the crime rate during the 1990s have suggested a number of reasons why. Perhaps the drop was because of more police on the street, they argued, or more criminals in prison, or changes in the market for crack cocaine. Or maybe there are fewer criminals because of school desegregation, lower lead exposure in children, or a lower incidence of fetal alcohol syndrome.
A new paper offers another explanation for lower crime rates, particularly in the areas of rape and assault: the proliferation of cellphones. The co-authors are University of Pennsylvania law professor Jonathan Klick, George Mason University law and economics professor Thomas Stratmann, and University of Pennsylvania criminology department chairman John MacDonald. A press release has details.
“Given that mobile phones increase surveillance and the risks of apprehension when committing crimes against strangers,” the professors write, “an expansion of this technology would increase the costs of crime as perceived by forward-looking criminals.” The devices allow for quicker reporting of crimes and, in some cases, instant communication of details, they point out.
It’s an interesting hypothesis. Certainly, most forms of street crime — whether we’re talking pickpocketing/purse snatching or other more serious offenses like assault and rape — are quite often crimes of opportunity, meaning that a criminal acts when he thinks the odds that he will get caught are relatively low. With more people carrying cell phones the odds that a potential victim or witness may be able to contact the police a a moment’s notice are much higher, thus making the criminal act riskier. Of course, correlation does not equal causation and there are a number of other reasons that the crime rate has dropped steadily over the past couple decades, but this study raises and interesting possibility that our technology may be impacting our world in ways we don’t even realize.