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Are Burglaries More Common in Dense or Sparsely Populated Cities?

People tend to assume that larger cities with a dense population have more law breaking including property crimes like burglary, and violent crimes like homicide and rape. Is this assumption based on facts or merely influenced by television shows, curious video cameras, and isolated incidents in history? Do people decide whether to start a business or raise a family in one city or another because they have looked up the current crime statistics or because they just make (possibly incorrect) assumptions?

In common vernacular, people typically think of terms like theft, stealing, robbery, burglary, and mugging as the same thing. They are not synonymous or interchangeable, and need to be defined to understand how they are measured. A crime is categorized as a burglary when the criminal breaks and enters into a structure with the intent to commit some sort of crime, any sort of crime. You do not necessarily have to commit that crime to be charged with burglary, which is either a misdemeanor or a felony depending on a variety of factors. Typically burglaries do not include innocent people whether they are victims or bystanders. They happen when nobody is at home or when a business is not secured. Robbery is more about direct threat, about purposefully planning to cause harm to a person. The criminal commits theft of property by threatening a person with violence with a gun or other weapon.

The United States Chamber of Commerce categories crimes against businesses into external and internal. External crimes are burglary, computer hacking, and shoplifting. They involve strangers – individuals who do not work for and are not associated with the business. Internal crimes, on the other hand, are typically performed by people who do work for the company. They include theft, sabotage, fraud, and embezzlement. All of that is done at the company’s location and on the company’s time.

In general, burglaries in the United States have been at a steady decline since the 1970’s. Forty years ago the average number of burglaries occurring in households was over one hundred and ten out of every one thousand. In 2002, nearly twenty eight out of every one thousand households was burglarized. That amount dropped to twenty six out of every one thousand in 2008. Compared to the one hundred and ten in the 1970’s, that is a significant decrease. In 2012 there were more than two million one hundred thousand burglaries in the United States. When you do the math that equals about one burglary every fifteen seconds. But were those homes in cities, the suburbs, or out in the country? Were the populations less than a hundred thousand, which would be categorized as low – density, or high – density which is a population of over two hundred and fifty thousand?

Remember that with burglaries, as with anything else, there is a difference between perception and reality. You might assume that when a business fails, it is wholly its own fault. That is incorrect. The United States Chamber of Commerce states that thirty percent of business go under because of external criminal activity including billions of dollars in property damage caused by burglary. You might perceive that criminal activity automatically increases during times of economic crisis like The Great Depression or the recession. That is correct! Some assumptions are true.

For examples of perception verse reality, Gallup polls have studied the “perceived dangerousness” verses the “actual dangerousness” of various cities. New York City, New York, is assumed to be the most unsafe city in the whole United States, but statistics show that it is actually safer than Houston, Texas; Boston, Massachusetts; Washington D.C., Chicago, Illinois; Detroit, Michigan, Dallas, Texas; Atlanta, Georgia; and Miami, Florida. New York City is high density and has more violent crimes than Houston, Texas, but not more crimes against homes and business property. On the other hand, people see Minneapolis as very safe and do not realize that is actually more dangerous than Los Angeles, California; Seattle, Washington; San Francisco, California; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; and San Diego, California. It is more dangerous because but the population is less dense, so the percentage of crimes compared to New York City is lower.

Property crime rates in metropolitan areas are almost always above the national average. In the 1990’s, violent crime was worse in San Diego, California; Dallas, Texas; Atlanta, Georgia; and Houston, Texas, all metropolitan locations with a high density population. In comparison, property crime was not. Tulsa, Oklahoma has fewer violent crimes than Cleveland, Ohio. Cleveland has fewer property crimes. Las Vegas is like New York City in that people assume it is very unsafe. It may surprise you to know that Seattle is twice as dangerous and Los Angeles, California, is statistically one third less dangerous than Las Vegas.

In conclusion, violent crimes such as homicide tend to occur more often in high – density cities, but non – violent and property crimes such as burglary happen more in low – density cities. You might interpret that as a no win situation. If you move your family to one area you are risking violence. If you move to another, you risk burglary. What is important to keep in mind is that burglaries and other nonviolent crimes rarely result in loss of life. Loss or property, yes. Psychological damage and loss you business’ property or your household sense of security, yes, but not human lives.

Also keep in mind that a variety of factors can influence crime in any location, with any population. Financial difficulties locally, nationally, and internationally almost always come with an increase in crime. When some place is damaged by a tsunami or a tornado, survivors are forced to commit additional crimes just in order to stay alive. The political climate, especially, has a big correlation with increased criminal activity. In cities where there have been big political debates, such as the recent ones about Caucasian police officers and African Americans, what starts as peaceful demonstrations can turn into looting, theft and burglary.

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