Delays in compiling timely crime data mean that it’s still unclear what effect the nation’s depression may have on crime rates, says criminologist Richard Rosenfeld of the University of Missouri-St. Louis. Speaking to the Justice Research and Statistics Association’s annual meeting in St. Louis, Rosenfeld reiterated his theory that some types of crime will increase if the index of consumer sentiment is negative. But Rosenfeld said he is dubious of a direct link between the unemployment and crime rates, saying unemployment is a “very narrow indicator.”
The economic downturn may affect the demand for stolen goods, Rosenfeld said. “Underground markets tend to expand in a poor economy,” he said, with disputes that arise settled on the streets, often violently. He noted that the only major crime that increased in FBI reports compiled for 2008 was burglary. The FBI compilation for 2009 won’t be out until well into next year. Speaking on the same panel, St. Louis Police Chief Daniel Isom expressed some optimism that his city’s crime totals would continue downward (except for robbery, which was up slightly) despite the economy. Higher unemployment may mean more law-abiding people at home and fewer burglaries, he said. By the same token, the unemployed might be targets of robbers in the city’s less-stable areas, he said. They spoke at a meeting cosponsored by the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics.