Crime Epidemic — It’s Larcenous

Posted on August 20, 2010. Filed under: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette Columns |

It was just after 4 a.m. when someone shattered the passenger side window of the SUV.

As the alarm sounded, the thief panicked and grabbed the only thing within reach, a polka-dot suitcase, and fled. Roused by the blaring siren, the college students in the apartment where the SUV was parked rushed outside just in time to see the thief get into a latemodel sedan and speed away.

To mimic and slightly amend the proverbial MasterCard commercial, replacement SUV door window, $200; lost shoes, clothes, underwear and makeup, $1,000; the government’s attitude toward ever again having a rate of larcenous crime as low as it was 50 years ago, hopeless.

The investigating police officer told the college kids as much when they asked whether there was any chance he would find the stolen luggage. He shook his head and said, “They’ll probably do this 10 or 15 times. Then we’ll catch them and they’ll admit to a few of them.”

He seemed only slightly less defeated than the sleepy-eyed victims,remarking: “But it’s not likely we’ll recover your belongings. I’m sorry.”

Property crime has long taken a back seat to more dangerous varieties in news coverage, but in its annual publication, “State Crime Rankings,”CQ Press reports both burglary and motor vehicle theft rates.

Lamentably, Arkansas has had the second highest burglary rate in the nation for several years now, topped only by North Carolina. Indeed, other than Alaska and Delaware, the entire list of “15 Most Dangerous States” in 2010 consists of a contiguous batch of states along the southern half of the U.S. starting with California and ending with Florida: Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana, Alabama, Tennessee, South Carolina, Maryland and Georgia. At No. 16, Texas barely missed making the cut.

Is there some undiscovered connection between climate and crime? Especially burglary, because nine of the top 10 burglary rate states are included in that list, with the northernmost among them being Oklahoma. Conversely, six of the 10 safest states have a Canadian border, with New Hampshire, Vermont and North Dakota leading the way. The southernmost among the safest 10 states? South Dakota, which also has the lowest burglary rate in the country.

Statewide rates, of course, are like averages, and none of us lives in the “average” place. Crime rates vary widely across cities within states as well as across neighborhoods within those cities.

A website called Neighborhood Scout has compiled profiles on countless U.S. cities that provide viewers neighborhood-level information on home prices, appreciation, schools and crime rates. Each city’s neighborhoods are delineated in shades of blue representing degrees of difference. For crime, the bluer the neighborhood color, the safer.

Statewide, Arkansans have a 1-in-23 chance of becoming a victim of a property crime, which is slightly above the 1-in-21 chance national median.

Here in Jonesboro, the average chance that someone will rip me off is 1-in-25. But each neighborhood in town is given a crime index, with 100 being the safest. In the Nettleton area, for example, the index is 66, meaning that the area is safer than 66 percent of the neighborhoods in the U.S., but in the city center area, it drops to 26.

Other cities have similarly spotted maps. In Fayetteville, where scads of cars loaded with inbound college kids’ stuff were parked last week, the property crime index ranges from 16 in the College Avenue/ApplebyRoad area to 98 out toward Goshen. In Fort Smith, the chance of becoming a property crime victim increases to 1-in-13, and in several central neighborhoods the index is down to single digits—all the way down to 2 in the D Street/17th Street area.

Meander across the faintest blue tints in various cities, and in numerous neighborhoods residents have much greater than a 1-in-10 chance of being victimized in a property crime.

Since 1960, the larceny/theft rate has increased more than fourfold and the burglary rate almost as much. As recently as 2000, Arkansas ranked 16th among states in burglary rate. Now we’re second. The highest number of burglaries we’ve ever had was last year.

This year alone, there will be 70,000 other cases of theft like the SUV break-in mentioned above. Thieves are stealing us blind in Arkansas and it’s time someone in government set about trying to figure out why. Fifty years isn’t that long ago.

Wouldn’t a return to 1960-level property crime rates, then almost half the national average, do wonders for everything from quality of life to real estate values to insurance costs to industry recruitment?

Even moving into college.

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