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Is There an iCrime Wave?

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Document date: September 01, 2007
Released online: September 26, 2007

The nonpartisan Urban Institute publishes studies, reports, and books on timely topics worthy of public consideration. The views expressed are those of the authors and should not be attributed to the Urban Institute, its trustees, or its funders.

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Abstract

The recent increase in violent crime defies easy explanation, and many hypotheses have been put forward for debate. In this brief, we propose that the rise in violent offending and the explosion in the sales of iPods and other portable media devices is more than coincidental. We propose that, over the past two years, America may have experienced an iCrime wave.


Introduction

The recent increase in violent crime defies easy explanation, and many hypotheses have been put forward for debate. In this brief, we propose that the rise in violent offending and the explosion in the sales of iPods and other portable media devices is more than coincidental. We propose that, over the past two years, America may have experienced an iCrime wave1.

Developed by the Apple Corporation, the iPod is a portable media player and data storage device that lets users listen to music on the go. A relatively expensive consumer electronics product, iPods retail for up to $400. In spring of 2004, Apple had sold a relatively modest 3.7 million iPods. In the fall of 2004, a new generation of iPods was introduced and consumer demand exploded. By the end of 2005, more than 42.3 million units had been sold, and by the end of 2006, the total was almost 90 million.

In 2005, for the first time in 12 years, violent crime increased—a trend that continued in 2006. This followed a relatively long period of decline. From 1993 until 2004, the violent crime rate fell every year, for a total decline of 38 percent. At the same time that violent crime rates began to rise, America’s streets filled with millions of people visibly wearing, and being distracted by, expensive electronic gear. Thus, there was a marked increase in both the supply of potential victims and opportunities for would-be offenders.

Past crime waves are thought to have occurred in a similar way—triggered by the introduction of a new high-status and expensive product. For instance, in the 1980s and 1990s, the proliferation of such valuable products as expensive basketball shoes or North Face jackets may have led to new crimes. However, in past instances where the supply of crime creating products increased, the consumer population purchasing these goods—and the would-be offenders coveting those products—made up a relatively small part of the U.S. population. By contrast, iPods are everywhere, and, unlike a jacket or a sneaker, one size fits all.

1 While any type of portable media devices can increase the supply of criminal opportunities, iPod is the leading brand.

(End of excerpt. The entire paper is available in PDF format.)



Topics/Tags: | Crime/Justice | Economy/Taxes


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