The fear of crime strikes all who live with its dread, as well as those who are personally victimized. Fear keeps us from doing what we want to do; it causes us to distrust friends and to view strangers with prejudice; and it can trick us into trading freedom for a false sense of security.
Many of us have grown up with an expectation that we have the right to a comfortable existence and that with education and hard work we can achieve a better than average life. Such naivet has been mostly dispelled. Familiar patterns have been disrupted–perhaps forever.
Billions are owed on student loans by graduates who can’t find a job. Millions of hard-working people are suddenly out of work and unable to sustain their dreams. They are saddled with massive credit card debts and unpayable mortgages, and they find little relief in new bankruptcy laws that deny them the chance to obtain a fresh start.
More than six million workers have lost their jobs in the last year and the "real" unemployment rate that includes "marginally attached" workers is 15.8 percent. The actual unemployment rate that includes those no longer looking for work is far higher, up to 25 percent. Unemployment benefits have been extended several times, most recently under the federal economic stimulus program, but the time will come when even this benefit will expire for millions of working families.
Tent cities are springing up around the country as the mass of homeless, hopeless and helpless people continues to swell. Evictions are skyrocketing, as even formerly middle-class people including professionals, small business owners and skilled workers can’t pay their rents.
Food banks are overwhelmed, welfare safety nets are being shredded, and the tax revenues of municipal, county and state governments are plummeting, just when they are needed the most.
It is likely that the number of all children who live in poverty will exceed 27 percent next year, including 50 percent of all African American children.
As we worry about losing our jobs, paying our bills, feeding our children, and obtaining health care, must we also fear becoming a victim of crime?
One doesn’t have to be a criminal justice system expert to predict the influence of economic upheaval upon crime in our society. You only have to read the newspaper or watch the evening news to see that the risk of crime and violence is going up.
It has been established that individuals act rationally in turning to crime when the opportunity for honest work evaporates. Thefts of property and burglaries of unattended homes and businesses will undoubtedly increase as desperate people resort to self help. There has already been a surge in certain crimes of opportunity, such as burglaries of expensively furnished, but unoccupied McMansions that are up for sale and, at the other end of the scale, homeless people are squatting in vacant foreclosed homes.
While property crimes usually involve stealth and opportunity, the FBI reports a substantial increase in confrontational home invasion robberies–one of the most frightening of all violent crimes. These armed invasions started several years ago with drug dealers ripping each other off. Now, a Google search of "home invasion robberies" results in thousands of hits detailing recent violence against innocent people in their own homes across the country.
In just the last year, six women have been assaulted in their San Diego homes by a robber who remains at large; authorities recently arrested four men on 34 felony charges following a series of residential robberies in Orange and Los Angeles Counties, and a three-year-old child remains missing after being kidnapped during a violent home invasion robbery two weeks ago in San Bernardino, California.
Although difficult to prove, a "fairly substantial" correlation has been found between mass murder and national unemployment rates. Hardly a week goes by without a report of an unemployed father murdering his family and committing suicide or a fired employee returning with an arsenal of weapons to gun down former co-workers and bosses.
Domestic violence is on the rise as women suffer the anger and frustrations of their unemployed male partners. The National Institute of Justice reports that women are three times more likely to be abused when their husbands are unemployed. A reverse corollary occurs when unemployed women are economically forced to stay with battering mates.