I’m delighted to introduce a new three-part blog series from Tom Gash looking at the global challenges that crime will bring to developed countries in 2017. Many readers will already know Tom from his book: Criminal: the truth about why people do bad things which successfully deconstructed many of the myths about crime and offending promoted by politicians of all persuasions. You can catch up with Tom on Twitter: @Tom_Gash
Sex, violence and the internet
The crime challenges of 2017 are to a significant degree already known. The rapid crime declines across advanced democracies since the 1990s have slowed, and since the mid-2010s many countries have seen a levelling of crime rates. Many crime types (burglary, motor theft) remain at or near historic lows but other crime types are either threatening to rise or simply to become more widely reported, more visible and more urgent.
We are likely to see particular focus on:
- Sexual violence. Judges will tell you – with a wink – that all they do now is sex. The proportion of criminal justice system (CJS) time taken up by this in English-speaking countries is continuing to rise, both due to improved willingness of victims to come forward and (to a lesser degree) a heavy focus on the worryingly high number of historic abuse cases.
- Domestic violence. Another product of shifting social – and policing – attitudes is better reporting and increased political focus on the harm caused by domestic violence. Reporting rates are up but the pressure on police and prosecutors to investigate cases more thoroughly (or face extreme scrutiny if something goes wrong) is also increasing.
- Internet-enabled crime. The famous American bank-robber when asked why he robbed banks famously replied “that’s where the money is”. Well, it ain’t any more, with the New Economics Foundation finding in 2012 that only 3% of money in the economy was actually physical cash. The security around cash and gold has improved dramatically since the era of the armed robbery. Most banks now see online crime as a cost of doing business, find losses containable, and tend not to advertise security breaches. But a growing number of successful attacks are being revealed, and last year’s experimental statistics on UK cyber-crime unveiled the vast scale of online fraud. Card fraud is starting to rise again as a share of spending – the advent of chip and pin reduced fraud but now the main threat is ‘card not present’ online transactions. This year will see the UK’s Office of National Statistics publish more formal statistics on internet-enabled crime; Australia is undertaking similar work to unveil the extent of fraud and online child exploitation. Expect pressure for governments and criminal justice agencies to respond as the media and citizens find out more about the scale of the challenge.
Murder on the rise again?
Though not universal, we should also expect to see continued pressure in relation to murders. Chicago’s homicide problem, which is accompanied by incredibly low clear-up rate for shootings, is not going to be tackled overnight but is rightly a dominant political topic there, as are rates of homicide in Balitmore and New Orleans. In fact, the US as a whole is now experiencing quite a sharp 2-year increase in homicides that is deeply worrying, particularly when you consider that where America leads on crime trends, the English-speaking world usually swiftly follows. Predictions are foolhardy but I would not be surprised if things got worse before getting better, nor if the increases were replicated in the UK and Canada.
There will, of course, be pressure from ‘events’ too. Crimes do not need to be rising or even comparatively higher than elsewhere in order to gain more media and political focus – so we just need a high level of media or public concern about a specific crime (or class of crime) to spark a wave of activity. Not to be too cynical about it but a young, blonde, female middle class victim of any crime can all-too-quickly create a moral panic – as can a series of stories about young, foreign and ethnic minority perpetrators. There is a bit of path dependency on moral panics too: the media cover stories they find easy to write because they’ve done it before. So the Australian media is unlikely to drop its interest in ‘one-punch’ killings; the British won’t drop the subject of ‘stalking’ as they push through sentencing reforms in that area; the Canadians will still focus on ‘biker gangs’; and US concerns about shootings of and by police will continue, even though the former have definitely been falling and the latter probably have too.
There are some other ‘known unknowns’ too. It’s a fair bet to assume, for example, that political turmoil and the rise of nationalist and anti-immigration movements alongside continued arrivals of immigrants have nudged some police and security services to plan more diligently for possible largescale disorder in Europe and North America. France and the UK have seen the greatest recent largescale disorder in western Europe in recent years, but there is no reason other countries might not be affected. And after riots involving foreign workers in 2014, Singapore remains one of several successful South-East Asian countries highly concerned about threats to public order. Terrorism remains an ever-present threat everywhere, though whether the scale of threat is increasing or decreasing is much-debated.
In broad terms, then, 2017 will be full of familiar challenges but with increased pressure in several areas. Politicians and public officials will need to prepare for this pressure – though, in truth, though, the real issue for governments in 2017 will not be shifts in crime but far the more profound legacy of policy and management failure over recent decades. That is the topic of part 2 of this series, which will be published next Monday.
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