Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Testing the iCrime theory

In the past week, both the Omaha World Herald and the Lincoln Journal Star have contacted me about the involvement of iPods in violent crime. Apparently the Urban Institute, a Washington, D.C. think tank, recently released a paper by John Roman and Aaron Chalfin entitled Is there an iCrime Wave?

These authors contend that the increase in violent crime over the past two years in the United States is the result of the proliferation of iPods. The theory is that a small, high value, and ubiquitous item essentially increases the number of vulnerable targets for robbery--one of the most common of all violent crimes, and the offense that has driven the overall increase in violent crime in the U.S. during the past two years. The iCrime theory has been getting a lot of ink this week.

Both newspaper reporters wanted my take on the theory. Cory Matteson, the Lincoln Journal Star reporter, sent me an email inquiry last Thursday. Mr. Matteson, it turns out, was himself the victim of a lost-or-stolen iPod recently. He phrased his request like this:

"Did Lincoln see an upswing in robberies during that time? Did enough of the victims report their iPods taken to back what this policy center thinks is happening? I don't know if it's possible to run such a search over the last couple years, but if that report interests you enough to do it, I'd like to hear the results."
You'll notice he didn't really seriously question whether we would have the data, only if I'd be interested enough to search it out. I think he was not surprised when I emailed the results back to him in short order:

"Cory: Get a Shuffle with a big clip. Data on 2007 iPod's attached. Looks like the simple answer is 'No.' "
The Omaha World Herald reporter, Maggie O'Brien ,called late yesterday afternoon. She assumed that I would not have any data at all, and was quite surprised that I could immediately provide her the stats on iPod thefts by crime type back to January 1, 2007. Like any good reporter, she continued to mine that vein, upping the ante by asking me for the 2006 data. That took me a couple minutes, because I had just closed CrimeView and shut down my computer. Is it just me, or does that always seem to happen?

So, here's the data on stolen iPods in Lincoln since January 1, 2006:

Robbery 1
Auto theft 4
Burglary 36
Larceny from auto 184
Other larceny 210

Our data fails to confirm Roman and Chalfin's hypothesis. Only one iPod was reported stolen in a robbery during the past 26 months, a time period during which 388 total robberies were reported to the Lincoln Police Department. That lone case was an April 28, 2007 carjacking in which the victim, sitting outside a bar at 1:10 A.M., was approached by three suspects who pulled him out of the vehicle, roughed him up, took his car then crashed it a couple blocks away. His iPod and cell phone were missing when the car was recovered. Since the offense involved a theft of property by violence, it meets the definition of a robbery.


Anonymous said...

Seems to me that I read an article suggesting that Apple could be more help with iPod thefts. If they have been registered on line or with ITunes Apple has an owner and a serial number on file that "could" be used to prove ownership or at least cast doubt on the claim of someone with a shadily acquired iPod.

Or maybe people just figure reporting the theft of an iPod is an exercise in futility. I think I will do an informal survey today in my iPod rich work place to see what my unscientific sample thinks.

Chris said...

Just linked to you from the comments over at TUAW. I thouroughly enjoy The Chief's Corner.

Anonymous said...

I'm sure you've noticed this over the years, but most media types tend to follow the pack on stories, because real investigative journalism seems to be way too much work. That's why you see so little of it. One gets on the ipod theft thing, and it's like "monkey see, monkey do" for the rest of them.

This only what I observe in your incident summaries, but a lot of the mp3 player, cell phone, and digital camera thefts seem to be from school lockers, unattended backpacks and gym bags, or from autos (where more than a few were in plain sight), even unlocked autos.

Prairie Dog said...

How about searching mp3 player instead of iPod. Would there be a greater invovlement of the technology and not the name brand that way?

Tom Casady said...

Prairie dog, I was just waiting for that question.

If you add up that iPod table, it's a total of 435 stolen since January 1, 2006.

We had another 173 cases in which another brand of MP3 player was reported stolen in the same time period. Those were:

Larceny from auto 80
Other Larceny 76
Burglary 14
Robbery 3

It's still a small percentage of the stolen goods. By comparison we had 615 computers (2 in robberies), 831 cell phones (52 in robberies), 606 cameras (7 in robberies), 195 sunglasses (2 in robberies), and 272 pairs of shoes (9 in robberies).

Like most electronics, portable media players (including iPods and other brands) are fairly popular theft items, just not particularly common in the crime of robbery.

Chirs: Thanks for the nice compliment! I really enjoyed the post on that list about the relationship between global warming and pirates. Arrghh.

Anonymous said...

Was there a police report taken on the stolen Ipod at Northstar? If so please tell the story! "yes principal I took the Ipod, yes I have it with me, No I cannot retreive it right now, said the squirming suspect!

Anonymous said...

But are there less pirates because of global warming or is there global warming because there are less pirates? Chicken or egg?

My theory is that the pirates got too hot and they all moved in land and start stealing iPods.

Anonymous said...

Anon 1:08pm....this sounds like the beginning of a strip search NO ONE wants to do....

Anonymous said...

Well the results are in - most (more than 90%) of my respondents said they would not report a stolen iPod to the police. Most of that was a kind of I don't want to get anyone in trouble kind of thing. The one kid that did report it was happy he did because he got his iPod back.

Maybe there are more stolen than we know since many of them belong to kids and they (apparently) don't think reporting is something to do - with a few notable exceptions.

It led to a brief discussion of responsibility and standing up for one's right to have their stuff not stolen.

It was kind of an interesting question to ask.

Anonymous said...

Ok the question cant be held any longer. I had to have my son cited on a MIP. I am getting mixed reflections from other parents. Some say they would never do that, to, thats is the right thing to do.
I am seconed guessing the decision to have him cited. The guilt from when I used to drink when I was his age is quite great. My parents NEVER had the police involved. In fact the police were viewed as ones to avoid. So whos right here. Do the police officers think badly of a parent that has a son/daughter cited on alcohol issues? I would like your advice please.

Thank You Chief Casady

Anonymous said...

Ask the kids about the pirates!

Anonymous said...

As far as the pirates go, global warming could have caused the polar ice caps to melt, raising the ocean levels a bit. This could allow pirate ships to sail closer to previously un-raided areas by making rivers more navigable for their scurvy vessels. Because of limited cargo space on a small ship, pirates would naturally go for small electronics as a form of booty, because they could also use them to listen to sea shanties while climbing in the rigging and whatnot, or doing hours of spyglass lookout duty in the crow's nest.

Anonymous said...

Advice for anon. 9:46. Don't get the cops involved. All it ever did for my kids was cost them a citation and put them on the cops list. Oh yes, he will probally be put in some expensive class, that you will have to pay for. And the class will be full of losers that are only there because they were forced to be by the judge, as well as your kid. And the class won't teach him anything that you can't or haven't already. Unless your kid really thinks he's doing something wrong and wants help, it's all a waste of time. Believe me you'll regret it.

Anonymous said...

Anon 9:46 am....As an officer, I can tell you that I have never once looked down on a parent that had the stones to make their kid be accountable for their actions. My only question would be, what had been done up to that point? I don't think the police should be the first call made when a parent finds out their kid has been drinking, but if other solutions haven't worked, perhaps a big blue hug from someone like me can help reinforce expectations.

Anonymous said...

Anon 9:46 I would never call the police on my kid for MIP. To me it is the parent's job to take care of. The cops are called in way too soon now days to handle problems parents should be taking care of. Plus it will only cost you money and the kid problems getting certain jobs later in life. He might have to grow up and be a pirate.