Sunday, November 18, 2007

Personal Safety: Gadget Crime Increasing

A recent report from the Urban Institute, Is There an iCrime Wave? |PDF|, suggests that the recent spike in violent crime is can be tied to the explosion of Ipods in our society.

The study suggest several reasons why Ipods are special targets of theft.

There are [five] reasons iPods may be especially criminogenic (crime creating).

First, they contain almost no easily accessible antitheft protection.

Second, unlike cell phones, there is no subscription associated with iPods, so the offender can continue to use them even after the robbery is reported.

Third, iPods are high-status items and may be stolen for their status, not as items to be resold....

[Fourth], since iPods transmit sound to both ears, rather than just one in the case of cell phones, iPod users may be less aware of their surroundings than users of other consumer products.

[Fifth,] iPod users are easy to identify... and iPods are typically worn in public places (44 percent of robberies occur on public streets),

[T]he device is a lightning rod for criminals.| Is There an iCrime Wave? (PDF)|

I think all of these reasons make sense, but the authors also outline some some statistical data to support their arguments. (I think only philosophers write articles these days without statistics.)

Anecdotal evidence [of a link between Ipod sales and thefts] is strong...

In the first three months of 2005, major felonies rose 18.3 percent on the New York City subway—however, if cell phone and iPod thefts are excluded,felonies actually declined by 3 percent....

The increase in iPod robberies on the [San Francisco] BART [subway system] between 2004 and 2006 accounts for 23 percent of the increase in robbery in the entire city [of San Francisco]over that time.

The increase in iPod-related crime appears to be an international phenomenon.

Britain’s Home Office reports a 10 percent rise in gunpoint robberies from 2005 to 2006. The BBC quotes British Home Secretary John Reid as identifying devices like iPods as the cause, stating that the increase in robberies “is largely driven by a rise in the numbers of young people carrying expensive goods, such as mobile phones and MP3 players.”

Likewise, Ian Johnston, chief constable of the British Transport Police and spokesman for the Association of Chief Police Officers, said the rise had “a lot to do with the products that are available to be stolen these days. The mobile phone explosion is continuing. The iPod explosion is continuing. All of these gadgets that people carry around with them are very attractive to robbers, so that puts the opportunities up. We’ve obviously got to respond to that in a very positive way.”

The scale of iPod sales and the increase in robberies also lend credence to this hypothesis. Increases in robbery in 2005 and 2006 translate into about 40,000 more robberies than in 2004; during that period, 78 million new iPods went into circulation. In order for iPod robberies to explain all of the recent increase in robberies, just 1 in 1,960 iPods would need to have been stolen in a robbery, a rate of less than one-tenth of 1 percent.

The relationship between the release of the iPod and the recent rise in robberies is purely correlational, and our conclusions should therefore be interpreted with caution.

That said, the properties of the recent crime increase — a rise in robbery and homicide with a corresponding decrease in other types of crime, an increase in juvenile arrests for robbery, and temporal increases in robbery that mirror trends in iPod sales — are all consistent with the iCrime hypothesis. Moreover, observational data from New York City; Washington, D.C.; San Francisco; and the United Kingdom (jurisdictions where some iCrime data are available) suggest that iPod robberies are on the rise.

Finally, the magnitude of the increase in iPod-related crimes (in the U.S. cities) is consistent with increases in robbery rates. |Id.| (emphasis added)

The argument is much stronger when expanded to cell phones. Actually, it's getting harder and harder to distinguish between phones, PDAs, and music players.

London's metropolitan police reports here that roughly 10,000 cell phones are stolen every month in London.

The authors of the report contend this was all quite foreseeable and suggest that we should focus more on prevention and less on retribution.
[T]he iCrime wave was predictable and could have been prevented or mitigated, and yet little was done, or is being done, to slow the wave before it washes out on its own. U.S. crime policy is overwhelmingly focused on increasing the cost of committing crime for would-be offenders and pays little attention to the behavior of potential victims. As technology races ahead, we should expect to see more iCrime-like waves. | Is There an iCrime Wave? |PDF|

My own experience as a criminal defense attorney led me to the conclusion that most of my criminal clients were simply not able to plan ahead and did not even consider what the consequences of their actions would be, they simply acted on impulse and then had to deal with the consequences as they came.

So it's important not to act like a victim. And blocking out all auditory input certainly increases your chances of being a victim. I use my Ipod in public, but I make sure when I do that I keep my head on a swivel and I try to keep a wall to my back.

Via the Law Librarian Blog.

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