The Rational Criminal

Random crime is something that has been a revise for many studious circles, however remaining a constant mirage. Approached only with observation, clearly it is evident how some crime may appear to be random, without rational and cause. However, crime is not of this nature, it is something that is approached with planning and analysis. Criminals are often portrayed as people that are socially deviant, without rule, ethics, morals, and respect for societal laws. The criminal however is like every other rational person, making decisions on the same standings and reasons as other people in the community would and do. There are concrete examples that prove this assumption throughout our history, such as during the Los Angles Riots when truck driver Reginald Denny was stripped and beaten outside of his vehicle. According to many people who believe that crime is irrational would say that he was simply at the wrong place during one of the most violent portions of American history. This is holed with questions though, and there has to be more substance to it then this simple belief.

Economics has held a concern for this subject since its inception. It is one of the core categories which compose urban economics most importantly, as cities seem to be one of the most flagrant locations for crime. Studies have been done by multiple economists that would disprove the common theories that crime is irrational, most notably by economists Gordon Tullock and Richard B. McKenzie. The pair attempted to prove this “sick animal” theory, that criminals are inherently bred to cause disorder, was a fallacy. Everything that they gathered supported their claim, that the criminal community is aware of what they are doing and to some extent performs a set of analytical exercises in their head which accompany their crime. Criminals who committed burglaries are commented as saying that they “would have chosen another route, actually have thought about it. There is no money like what I was making however.”

The criminal does a cost/benefit analysis as every other person does when attempting to approach a situation that requires a choice between differing outcomes. Just as a normal retailer when ordering products for his business decides whether to buy a product based on possible profit and opportunity costs in relation to other products, a criminal decides whether to commit a crime pending on outcome payoff. There is always a set of alternatives available for a criminal on whether he should commit a crime or not. A criminal will only commit a crime if the benefits exceed the costs, as any other rational person would do when faced with a decision. If the cost (more often than not the risk of incarceration) exceeds the payoff (depending on the crime), then the criminal will certainly not perform the crime.

It is not right to think of crime as random, spatial distribution. If this was the case, there would be a uniform distribution of crime across the United States, or any other arbitrary country. There would be no dependency on environmental concerns, and clearly location places a vital role in how crime is placed.

Crime is one of the central theories that urban economics tends to resolve. This is because of the importance of location in regards to crime patterns. Crime is not random, and is based off a cost/benefit analysis which the criminal performs, only to be increased in urban locations where the amount of criminal opportunities is increased. Urban location offers wealthier businesses for the criminals to choose from, increasing the chances that a criminal will perform an arbitrary crime (assuming it is not a passion crime). The choice of whether the crime should be performed or not is completely based off an individual preference. Assume there are two criminals, one in a rural location (criminal A) and one in an urban location (criminal B). In the rural location, the criminal A wishes to steal a tractor worth $2,500. Criminal B is contemplating a jewelry store robbery, a crime that would be worth $300,000. Even though the crime for criminal A is not worth near as much as B, he will still perform the crime if his benefits exceed his costs, the same situation with B. It is a scenario based off personal decision.

Deterrence becomes an issue not of rehabilitation then, but rather an issue of prevention. Our current remedy is to approach crime after the crime has been committed by issuing punishment (rehabilitation). Irrational criminal theory believes that the person that commits the crime is sick, the same way a diseased person is ill. We treat ill people by quaranting and treating them in a hospital or other rehabilitation center, and this is the same way that we should treat our criminals. Our prisons have never been fuller though, and our justice system has never been mocked by other foreign countries in such magnitude.

If we embrace rational criminal theory, the issue is simply prevention. If we make the crime not worth it to the criminal so that his costs exceed his benefits, he will not perform the crime. John R. Lott Jr. (University of Adelaide – School of Economics) did a paper in relation to this subject. A modern theory assumes that if guns are reduced, meaning more personal guns are locked and not available for public use, that crime will in turn be reduced. The opposite has been proven though, after safe storage laws were implemented 300 more murders, 3,860 more rapes, 24,650 more robberies, and over 25,000 more aggravated assaults were bred after 5 years throughout urban areas. This alone proves that crime has to be stopped by influencing the rational criminal, not by consequence after the crime has been performed.