Myths A. Part of the sociological enterprise is busting myths - or putting ‘common sense understandings' to the empirical test. Peter Berger said: "The fascination of sociology lies in the fact that its perspective makes us see in a new light the very world in which we have lived all of our lives. This constitutes a transformation of consciousness... It can be said that the first wisdom of sociology is this -- things are not what they seem." B. Today we are going to challenge several myths about crime by seeing if they hold up to empirical data. I. MYTH #1 CRIME IS INCREASING IN THE UNITED STATES & WE ARE IN MUCH GREATER DANGER OFBEING VICTIMS OF CRIME TODAY THAN IN THE PAST. A. Myth Fueled by politicians, the press, and reports by law enforcement agencies. 1. Politicians mentioned "getting tough" on crime as the most salient issue in 1992 and 1994. 2. Within a 5 year span, incidents of crime shown on television news have increased over 2000% (despite the drop in the crime rate). B. REALITY: The crime rate has declined since the mid-1970's. C. How do we measure crime? 1. Victim Surveys - National Institute of Justice Every 6 months Random sample of 83,000 Americans Have you been a victim of crime in the past 6 months? Finding: Crime is decreasing in all categories. Mid 1970's: 1 in three Americans reported experiencing a property or violent crime. Mid 1990's: 1 in four Exception: 2 to 3 in four inner-city residents have been victims of crime. 2. Uniform Crime Reports - crime as reported by police departments. FBI - Department of Justice Overall crime levels have increased by 75% since the mid 1970's. And violent crimes have more than doubled. Even this source shows modest decline between 1993 and 1997. Central Question: Why have the # of crimes reported by police departments increased while the actual number (as reported by victim surveys) has not? a. Police departments have a stake in reporting increased crime because in increases their budget. b. The number of police have doubled - while actual crime has declined. c. The number of reported crimes and arrests of drug users (victimless crimes) has increased while these people are unlikely to see themselves as victims. II. MYTH #2: MOST CRIMES ARE VIOLENT AND COMMITTED BY A STRANGER. A. Reality: Most crimes are non-violent and most crimes are committed by people we know. B. Types of Crime 1. Victimless Crimes Acts prohibited by law in which those who are affected are willing and voluntary particpants. EX. Buying drugs, gambling, prostitution 30%of ALL ARRESTS are for drug offenses, 70% of those are for possession. 2. Interpersonal Violence Violent Crimes such as murder , assault or rape US has the highest rate in the industrialized world. Most interpersonal crimes are commited by acquaintances NOT strangers Low income women are twice as likely to suffer violent crime and three times as likely to be raped than high income women.. 3. Property Crimes Robbery, burglary and larceny. Larceny is the most common type of crime. 4. Hate Crimes Illegal acts perpetrated because of what the victims represents to the perpetrator. As international migration increases, immigrants compete for scarce jobs. Competition and hatred go hand in hand. III. MYTH #3: LOW INCOME, INNER-CITY BLACK MALE GANG MEMBERS COMMIT MOST CRIMES. A. Illegal acts are committed by nearly everyone in society (most people speed,cheat on their taxes, lie on applications, drive while intoxicated, or use drugs). B. Who does break the law 1. Professional thieves People who earn their livelihood by regularly committing crimes. Exact # is unknown 2. Organized crime Ex. Illegal driugs, money laundering, gambling and prostitution Recruit members from impoverished groups in society Major industry in the US (drugs are a $100 billion industry) 3. State Organized crime Acts defined by law as criminal that are committed by state and government officials in the puruit of their jobs as representatives of the government. The US government had rigged elections, allowed drug shipments on governement planes, plotted assainations, and funded and trained terrorists. However, no member of the government has been charged with these crimes. 4. White collar crime Crimes committedby people of high social status in connection with their workplace. a. Benefit the individual Ex. Overbilling clients, embezzlement b. Benefit the company 1. Deliberate crimes committed on the behalf of the company Ex. Prudential was found guilty of fraudulently selling stocks to hundreds of thousands of its customers - they paid $41 million in fines and $330 million in claims. 2. Withholding information about product dangers Ex. Asbestos 5. Individuals and gangs Young men are more likely to commit violent crimes than any other age group.
IV. MYTH #4: PEOPLE WHO COMMIT CRIMES ARE PUNISHED For every 1000 crimes reported (victimization surveys) 540 are reported to police 65 result in arrests 36 are convicted 17 sentenced to custody 3 are sentenced to prison for more than a year IV. MYTH #5: IF 50% OF PEOPLE SENTENCED TO PRISON TODAY ARE MINORITIES, THAN MINORITIES COMMIT 50% OF CRIMES Reality: Minorities are more likely to be arrested & imprisoned Why? 1. Poor inner-city residents are disproportionately nonwhite. 2. Police work focuses on poor neighborhoods - crowding causes activities onto the streets. 3. Differential treatment occurs (intended and/or unintended) in arrest & imprisonment rates. More whites are arrested for crimes than nonwhites yet, nonwhites serve more jail time (Mauer, 1994) More white than black juveniles are arrested for violent crimes yet, yet more Blacks are tried as adults for their crimes (Harris, 1990)
American Society of Criminology:
U.S. Department of Justice:
The Federal Bureau of Investigations:
National Criminal Justice Association:
National Institute on Drug Abuse: