Crime in the United States peaked in the 1980s and 1990s, and decreased during the following thirty years. What if the reason for this decrease is that fewer teenagers had opportunities to commit their first “debut”crimes? If so, why would that be? And what would that mean? These are some of the questions that Graham Farrell, Gloria Laycock, and Nick Tilley address in an article called, “Debuts and legacies: the crime drop and the role of adolescence-limited and persistent offending” recently published in Crime Science.
Farrell et al. suggest that improving security technologies and tactics—e.g., car-tracking technologies, “bandit barriers” in taxi cabs, better anti-shoplifting technologies, policing tactics, etc., have reduced the opportunities for teenagers to commit their early “debut” crimes, and that in so doing, have reduced the numbers of people first starting a “criminal career.” They also present data that show that as criminality has decreased among younger people, the rate of arrests among those 40 and older—who were teenagers during the “crime glory years” of the 1970s and 1980s—still remains higher than had been the typical pattern. This is because criminals of that age, once they began their “careers” in their teen years, persist in offending. They conclude by arguing that reducing crime opportunities (by improved security and similar design efforts) to deter adolescents from committing their first crimes should have a great impact on crime:
Taken to its logical conclusion, [this study] implies that situational crime prevention, particularly security technologies, may be more realistic means of influencing criminal careers than the developmental approaches that seem to dominate the literature on adolescence-limited and life-course persistent offending.
You can read the entire article here.