Computer Crime Research Center


Future of crime is computer oriented

Date: December 03, 2007

According to the Government National Crime Survey, the average American has an 83 percent change of becoming a victim of crime within their lifetime and one in every 131 Americans will be affected by a murder. Statistics such as these are not only unsettling, but they can distort the public's perception of the incidence of crime, especially in smaller cities such as Defiance.

Defiance County Sheriff Dave Westrick believes statistics are often manipulated to present a picture useful to the person presenting them. "Especially during an election year when crime prevention becomes a highly political issue," he said.

One example of the possibility for misrepresentation of data is the murder rate in Defiance County. In 2005 there were no murders, in 2006 there was one. Statistically, the murder rate has increased by 100 percent. However, the risk of being murdered in Defiance is in reality quite low.

"It is difficult to get an accurate picture of the actual risk of crime using statistics when you have such a small amount of data (crime levels in a smaller town) to base the statistics on," said Westrick. "Because of the attention paid to violent crimes and because of the impact upon the victims of those crimes, I believe in general people perceive the threat of crime to be greater than it actually is," said Westrick, "however, there has been some increase in the incidence of violent crime in the community. More drugs means more violence, especially with drugs like meth," he said.

Other crimes, such as home burglaries, have "decreased significantly" in recent years, according to Westrick. "The types of crimes and the way in which they are committed change over time," he said.

"I believe the future of crime is computer oriented," said Westrick. "Our office handles an unbelievable amount of computer crime, everything from child pornography to identity theft. There is a new scam every day."

Despite an increase in some crimes or a decrease in others, crime is a constant in our society. "There is always that certain element, no matter what you do, that are going to be on the other side of the law," said Westrick.

Another reason that the public's perception of crime may be distorted is due to the "dark figure" of crime.

The term dark figure refers to the number of crimes that go unreported each year -- a staggering 50 percent, according to Dr. Don Knueve, Defiance College professor of criminal justice.

Because many crimes are unreported, the number of violent crimes may seem greater in comparison. This distortion may lead "people to perceive the threat of violent crime to be greater than it actually is," said Knueve.

"One of the flaws in the gathering of data which provide the basis for the statistics about the crime rate is that often a vital piece of information is missing. That piece of information is the data complied by the National Crime Victimization Survey," said Knueve.

"What is most often used when computing statistics is the Uniform Crime Report which comes directly from police reports, but doesn't take into account that 50 percent of crime that goes unreported," said Knueve.

Because the National Crime Victimization Survey (complied by the U.S. Department of Justice) does take those crimes into account, the information is more accurate and complete, providing a more balanced view of the ratio of violent crime in comparison to the rate of crime overall.

Knueve agrees with Westrick's assessment that the public's general perception of crime is greater than is the reality.

"We have seen a rather dramatic drop in the rate of crime in the past several years," said Knueve. "According to the National Crime Victimization Survey, since 1994 violent crime has declined steadily, reaching its lowest point ever recorded in 2005. That's the good news. The not-so-good news is that the decline seems to have leveled off around 2005 and has even risen slightly in the last year or so, and experts are predicting a continued upward slope," he said.

However, Knueve attributes some of that increase to a hike in reporting of crime rather than to an actual increase in the incidence of crime.

Locally, the rate of reporting of crime seems to change according to what is going on in the world in general, said Westrick. "After 9/11 the number of calls we received really increased, but after a while they went back to about what they were before that. Every time something major happens we see an increase in calls, but it always levels back off for the most part."

Defiance Police Lt. Jeffrey Mack agrees that the level of calls remains fairly constant, but does see some changes in the way in which calls are received since the use of the cell phones has become so prevalent.

"The use of cell phones has made the reporting of incidents more timely," said Mack. "Our response time (to incidents) is better because people don't have to go search for a phone."

One area where calls have increased, according to Mack, is child abuse. "The educational programs that are now in use are making people more aware of the criminal aspects of abuse, while at the same time letting them know that there is help out there," said Mack.

Knueve sees a direct correlation between the creation of the Family Justice Center and the increase in the reporting of some crimes. In 2005 there were eight rapes reported in Defiance, in 2006 the number of reported rapes had increased to 21.

"The Family Justice Center gives victims a place where they can go and feel like they are being heard. It's a one-stop shop where victims and their families have access to all the services they need in one place. Defiance was one of the first cities to start a domestic violence program in the state of Ohio, and now there are six family justice centers in the surrounding counties. I am really pleased with what the Family Justice Center is doing with this program," said Knueve.

Like Westrick, Mack sees an increase in the "drug trade as having a direct bearing on other problems" in the community. Within the city of Defiance, crack cocaine is his biggest concern. Much of the petty theft, especially money and items stolen from unlocked parked cars, is due to "someone looking to find some money to buy drugs," said Mack.

In general, crimes such as petty theft "tend to run in cycles," said Mack. "This past summer we had a higher incidence of things such as vandalism," said Mack.

A rash of petty crimes can lead to a skewed perception that the overall rate of crime is worse than it is. "When it's your car that is broken into, the threat seems greater and your sense of safety is compromised," said Mack.

Petty crimes like vandalism "are the most difficult to solve," said Mack, "because they are so random."

Reporting suspicious behavior can be a great way to regain a feeling of safety in one's community. "If you see something that doesn't look right, don't be afraid to call and report it," said Mack. "It may not turn out to be anything, but it will get a car into the neighborhood. If we can solve petty crimes, it helps people feel safer," said Mack.

He said that being aware of what is going on in your community and getting involved can lead to both a "great sense of safety and a higher quality of life" for everyone.
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