October 31, 2004
Cause And Effect? Or Effect And Cause?

At the end of a short post about a break-in at her apartment, Virginia Postrel writes:

Since Dallas is crime-ridden, and property crimes are a low priority, the police took only a phone report.

I wonder whether that is at least partly backwards. I suspect that it would be equally true if rewritten like this:

Since the Dallas police consider property crime a low priority, and can't be bothered to investigate it in person, Dallas is crime-ridden.

I say 'partly backwards' because there is most likely a vicious circle involved, whereby failing to investigate some crimes leads to higher crime rates in all categories which in turn leads to pressure to investigate even fewer crimes.

Maybe if the Dallas police checked they would find that the burglar was careless enough to leave a fingerprint or two on V.P.'s door. He is almost certainly out committing other crimes today, some of which may well fall into the 'higher-priority' categories. Didn't Giuliani's police commissioner find that a high percentage of petty criminals turned out to be wanted for much more serious offenses?

Posted by Dr. Weevil at October 31, 2004 07:36 PM

We can only hope that maybe the burglar will try the duToit residence next.

Posted by: steevil(Dr Weevil's bro Steve) on October 31, 2004 07:52 PM

This is to be expected. Why should governments protect our property rights when the voters themselves do not?

Posted by: Brett on November 1, 2004 01:34 PM

Burglars get caught only when either they run into an armed homeowner, or the police get lucky. By "get lucky" I mean that one who very well knows he should be wearing gloves because his fingerprints are already on file as a criminal leaves a fingerprint anyhow, or the neighbors saw the burglar and are able to remember faces better than most can, or the burglar tries to unload identifiable stolen items in very much the wrong place. And proving burglary (rather than just receiving stolen goods) generally requires both an on-site identification and being caught with something from the crime scene. So I can see the cops not hoping for much when there aren't any stolen items. But you'll never get lucky if you don't even show up.

I think that failure to pursue property crimes as much as the evidence allows does indeed cause a spiral where not only property crime, but violent crime too, become more common, until the cop shop really doesn't have the resources to pursue a simple property crime because of all the shootings and stabbings. Young men that have got away with one crime repeatedly will become bolder and expect to get away with worse crimes, while younger men may decide that they don't need to worry about the law either. If burglars don't expect homeowners to be armed, they may decide that rather than dealing with pesky alarms, they can simply wait until the owner comes home and turns off the alarm. Then you get homeowners in the hospital now and then, no longer just property crimes. Successful burglars may fight over the division spoils, or try to fight with their fence when he says, "another TV, geez I got a whole room full of TV's. Ten bucks, take it or leave it." They may spend the money on legal or illegal mind-bending substances, some of which can make them much more belligerent and likely to start using whatever weapons are at hand - and they make enough to buy a gun, if they want one. And the suppliers of those illegal substances will now and then try to eliminate the competition by violence.

In the book The Corner : A Year in the Life of an Inner-City Neighborhood, I saw numerous examples of how ignoring one crime leads to others. In one little vignette, several junkies get together and break into the house of one of the few neighborhood men that works steadily, while he is at work. So this is in broad daylight. They get his refrigerator onto a cart and push it down to a store that will buy used appliances, among other things, without asking too many questions. Police cars pass, but pay no attention. They could not prove on the spot that this is stolen property, but they could certainly note down some names and descriptions, and go looking for the guys when the burglary report comes in - but it won't get them the points that jumping out of the car and busting up a drug sale later will. In other stories, junkies ripped off far more than this - they would tear aluminum siding from the outside of a house and copper piping from the inside and head down to the scrap metal dealers.

So in this neighborhood the honest working man is a chump whose hard-earned dollars wind up subsidizing parasites and drug dealers. Better to draw welfare and stay home so you can guard what's left. And if that gets too boring, you can buy a few hours of paradise in a vial...

Since most of the book was about drug users and dealers, just where was the money coming from? Some came from surbanites who drove into the inner city to buy some drugs. Some came from burglaries. Much came from welfare. Explain to me again why it isn't fair to make drug-testing a condition of drawing welfare?

Posted by: markm on November 1, 2004 08:55 PM

It looks like your filters stripped out both the HTML italic code around the book title and the link to the Amazon page. I'm sure you can look it up yourself if you want to, but just imagine those italics, please.

Posted by: markm on November 1, 2004 08:59 PM

Sorry about that. One of my unsuccessful attempts to stop the flood of spam involved turning off HTML, and I forgot to turn it on again after I turned comments back on.

If you can e-mail me the URLs and instructions on where to insert them, I'll be glad to do that.

Posted by: Dr. Weevil on November 1, 2004 11:04 PM