Property Crime Essay

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The Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) program of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) defines property crimes as the offenses of burglary, larceny, theft, motor vehicle theft, and arson. (Shoplifting and vandalism are also property crimes but are not reported in the UCR.) These crimes do not involve force or threat of force against victims, and their purpose is generally the taking of another’s money or property. In 2006, law enforcement nationwide reported to the FBI a total of 9.98 million property crimes, accounting for an estimated $17.6 billion in losses. Two thirds of all these crimes were larceny-thefts.

In the United States, during 2006 an estimated 3,335 property crimes per 100,000 inhabitants occurred. These numbers, however, vary by environment. For example, in 2006, for every 100,000 inhabitants, the nation’s cities collectively had 3,991 property crime offenses, while suburban counties had 2,478 and rural counties had 1,667. Overall, according to Bureau of Justice Statistics data, property victimization rates have been declining since 1975, when the estimated number of victimizations per 1,000 households was more than 550. In contrast, in 2006, this number was 159.

The UN Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute reports that with a rate of 10 percent (people victimized by property crime as a percentage of the total population), the United States has the seventh-highest property crime victimization rate (the top three are New Zealand, Australia, and Italy, with respective rates of 14.8, 13.9, and 12.7 percent). The weighted world average is 8.6 percent and points to the relatively small differences between nations. Also, crime statistics often do not reflect actual crime prevalence as much as they reflect the prevalence of law enforcement, the effectiveness of law enforcement, and the willingness of people to report crime.

The social response to property crime raises the issues of how law, law enforcement, and punishment function as a protection system for property owners. On the one hand, classical criminologists point to property crime as commonly being a “crime of opportunity” and consider this evidence for a “rational choice” theory of crime. On the other hand, critical criminologists argue that modern Western societies are defined by large and far-reaching systems of social control, put in place by the organizational work of those who own the larger share of community resources (e.g., economic wealth, social capital). Critical criminologists characterize such social control work as an antidote to the problems of unequally distributed wealth and the lack of equal access to opportunity for all members of society. While the former consider the moment the crime is committed as central, the latter focus on the reality of class struggle; the presence of social, political, and economic inequality; and the impact of social-structural forces in the definition and management of crime.


  1. Ferrell, Jeff. 1993. Crimes of Style: Urban Graffiti and the Politics of Criminality. New York: Garland.
  2. Potter, Gary W. and Victor E. Kappeler, eds. 2006. Constructing Crime: Perspectives on Making News and Social Problems. 2nd ed. Long Grove, IL: Waveland.

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