In my attempt to err on the side of caution in regards to confidentiality, I rarely speak about my job, let alone write about it. Such is the nature of social work. Even so, the subject of today’s post has been preying on mind for a while now, and while I’m still going to not disclose the entirety of what I do, I am going to put it out there that I am (essentially) a vocational counselor for individuals who have criminal backgrounds. I just want to show that I do have some basic understand of some of the things I’ll be discussing, and I’m not speaking simply out of speculation. So what are we talking about today? Crime, criminals, and why you shouldn’t be afraid of either.
Let me break it down for you. In spite of the image of prisons and correctional facilities as being stocked with white supremacists, serial killers, arsonists, mafia thugs, and psychopaths, the truth of the matter is this:
I. Most Crime Isn’t Violent
Of all the arrests made in 2011, about how many would you guess were violent offenses?
Half? A quarter? Maybe one in ten?
That’s right, of the estimated 12,408,899 arrests made in the US, the FBI reports that a mere “534,704 were for violent crimes.” Not convicted– arrested. Drug related charges top the list for arrests, followed by various forms of theft and DUIs.
The arrest rate for violent crimes is cited at “172.3 per 100,000 inhabitants,” which translates to .17%- again, not “17%”, point 17%. You are more likely to kill yourself than to be killed by a murderer. And speaking of murder…
II. Most Violent Crime Isn’t Violent
You hear “violence” and you think of blood, guts, and gore. And yes, that is there. I’m not disputing the reality of murder, mugging, or anything like that. But if you say, shoved someone at a party, what classification do you think that crime would receive if someone pressed charges?
Let’s take a look at what the Nevada State Legislature defines assault as:
NRS 200.471 Assault: Definitions; penalties.
1. As used in this section: (a) “Assault” means: (1) Unlawfully attempting to use physical force against another person; or (2) Intentionally placing another person in reasonable apprehension of immediate bodily harm.
Yeah, that’s pretty dang broad. Really, assault can mean anything from a vicious beating to, well, a slap fight. With that in mind, the percentage of really violent crime (not to put down other assaults, but c’mon- there’s a difference between a slap upside the head at a bar and domestic violence) goes down even further. But that’s not the only reason to not worry.
III. Most Truly Violent Crime Isn’t Random
I don’t recall exactly how it happened, but the subject of superheros once came up with my grandfather, who worked for most of his life as a court clerk. He said he didn’t think a superman like figure would ever actually be useful because, in his experience, most crimes were “crimes of passion,” that is, emotional outbursts conducted in the heat of the moment. Bar fights, domestic violence- these typically aren’t calculated things, but they aren’t entirely random either. Do fights start out when one stranger walks up to you and starts wailing on you?
Chances are, if there’s a fight going on, it’s between two people who know each other. Chances are, the conflict’s been building for a while, perhaps years, and it’s just now finally turned physical. Unless you’re creating and sustaining enemies everywhere you go, you probably don’t have to worry about being beaten up or murdered.
Heck, murder probably has the scariest and most unwarranted reputation. Murder- as an act in and of itself- is already rare in society, and murder just for the sake of murder is even rarer. When you hear about someone getting shot in a parking lot, what’s not mentioned is that the act was committed (more often than not) by someone the victim knew. One does not simply hang out in a parking lot taking shots at people. And on that note…
IV. Most Criminals Aren’t Career Criminals
There’s this stereotype of people who’ve committed crimes as being somehow “inherently” criminal. Don’t get me wrong, I think everyone’s twisted deep down, and I think lots of people are inherently obnoxious, selfish, etc., but we have to get one thing straight. A guy whose committed a burglary isn’t plotting every second of the day how to burgle more houses. In spite of the massive recidivism (return) rates in the US, lots of crimes are done out of stupidity and necessity.
Lots of people with backgrounds deeply and truly regret having done what they did. Again, the “career” criminal does exist, but is a true minority in an ocean of people who have simply made errors. Heck, usually the difference between you and a “criminal” is he got caught and you didn’t (or you could afford a good lawyer and he couldn’t- *cough*evils of Capitalism*cough*). And not only are “criminals” just regular people…
V. Most Criminals Aren’t Masterminds
Again, on TV we’re presented an image of criminals as being cunning predators, always watching and waiting for their chance to strike at the first opportunity. Nearly 1 in 2 incarcerated criminals lacks a high school diploma or equivalency (as opposed to 1 out of 5 in the population at large). Now this isn’t going to make a ton of difference when it comes to, say, a mugging, but in general I’m going to posit that if you’ve got some smattering of common sense, a person functioning on a 6th grade level really isn’t overly threatening (I’ll talk about that more in a minute).
Now there’s no possible way of measuring this, but I’m going to posit that more crimes are committed out of stupidity than malice. The point is, crime bosses with armies of henchmen and serial killers with doctorates in psychology and stellar careers as chief surgeons are far and few between.
VI. Plenty Of Crimes Are Totally Botched
I’ve been pretty consistently talking about how violent crimes (truly violent crimes) are attempted. But even of those few, how many are actually pulled off? I think the fact that we’ve caught so many utterly dumb crime attempts on camera to sustain “stupid criminal” stories and special episodes over the years speaks to, again, why you shouldn’t be scared of crime. I mean, just look at these guys:
VII. And Here’s Why You Should Care
None of this is, of course, an attempt to downplay the effects of crime on any of the victims. The current statistics for rape and sexual crimes in this nation stand in testament to this. And of course, there’s no such thing as a tolerable level of injustice- one murder is one murder too many. The point is, you can’t be scared of it. You can’t jump when some politician or TV pundit says “boo!” We got told over and over (as we have been since the dawn of time) that there are monsters under our beds. And hey, sometimes there are- but being terrified of them isn’t the answer. Neither is devalutating people who’ve screwed up in the past, and giving into paranoia and cashing in on whatever snake oil solution is being sold to you, be it panic rooms or drone programs- that’s easily just as harmful to society.
Be confident, people (besides, studies suggest you’re less likely be singled out a victim if you are).