Preparing for Crime in a Bad Economy

With the recession looming, some have speculated that the bad economy may be reflected in higher crime rates. While a causal relationship between the economy and overall crime rates is highly debatable, the nation’s current economic situation will likely affect certain types of crime that the law enforcement community must be prepared to confront. For example, law enforcement agencies should take steps to counteract increases in crimes affected by the housing and foreclosure crisis. The incidence of mortgage fraud has increased steadily during the past few years, a trend which continues even with the decline in subprime lending. The Mortgage Asset Research Institute (MARI) reported a 45 percent increase in mortgage fraud in the second quarter of 2008, compared to the same period the year before.1 Not surprisingly, the top three mortgage fraud states—Florida, California, and Illinois—also have high foreclosure rates. Increases in foreclosures also mean increases in vacant properties, which create opportunities for a variety of crimes, such as property theft, graffiti, and drug activity.2 The COPS Office recently held three conference calls to address crimes related to the foreclosure crisis. Local and federal law enforcement practitioners, academics, members of private industry, and government officials participated in the conference calls to discuss mortgage fraud, vacant properties, and metal theft. In all three calls, experts from the field stressed the importance of educating the community to prevent these crimes and of building strong partnerships among law enforcement, private industry, community members, and other municipal agencies. The COPS Office summarized the highlights of these calls, listing specific countermeasures that other cities have used to combat these issues. The summary is on the COPS Office web site: www.cops.usdoj.gov. Law enforcement should also be prepared for a potential increase in incidents of domestic violence. In a recent interview, John Jay College of Criminal Justice Professor David Kennedy noted the connection between worsening economies and increases in domestic violence.3 A research brief by the National Institute of Justice has also shown that domestic violence "occurs more in households facing economic distress" and suggests that law enforcement agencies concentrate specifically on disadvantaged neighborhoods, where rates of domestic violence are likely to be higher.4 Both the joint COPS-PERF publication, Police-Community Partnerships to Address Domestic Violence, and the Problem-Oriented Guide for Police, Domestic Violence, outline a number of partnership- and analysis-based responses to this problem that law enforcement agencies may find useful in preventing increases in domestic violence in their communities.

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