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The crime drop in The Netherlands and other industrialized countries: Trends and possible explanations

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An attempt will be made in this memorandum to answer the following questions. (1). Has the level of crime decreased? Where and to what extent has this decrease occurred? To which types of offences does this relate? On the basis of which sources, statistical and otherwise, can we make statements about this? (2). Why has crime decreased? What plausible explanations can be given? Various different hypotheses set out in the available literature will be assessed. (3). Special attention is given to the so-called security hypothesis. That is based on the fact that the increase and quality of the application of large-scale security measures, such as immobilizers, break-in prevention measures, private security and measures to limit opportunity, have been the significant driving force behind the observed decrease in crime, both nationally and internationally. (4). Finally, a number of main conclusions will be presented.
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1
The crime drop in The Netherlands and other industrialized countries: Trends and
possible explanations
{The Hague: Dutch Ministry of Security and Justice, Directorate for Law Enforcement and
Crime Control, Jaap de Waard
1
j.de.waard@minvenj.nl, 01/05/2015}
‘’It is easy to lie with statistics, but it is easier to lie without them’’ (Frederic Mosteller,
Harvard statistician)
‘’Without data, you are just another person with a opinion’’ (William Edwards Deming)
Crime in the Netherlands has been decreasing significantly since 2002, in terms of both
property crime and violent crime. The sense of security has also become substantially
greater. This observed decrease in crime also been seen in a large number of other
industrialized countries. The question now is how this decrease in crime can be explained.
On the basis of the available national and international knowledge, a number of explanations
that have previously been given are described.
Introduction
An attempt will be made in this memorandum to answer the following questions. (1). Has the
level of crime decreased? Where and to what extent has this decrease occurred? To which
types of offences does this relate? On the basis of which sources, statistical and otherwise,
can we make statements about this? (2). Why has crime decreased? What plausible
explanations can be given? Various different hypotheses set out in the available literature will
be assessed. (3). Special attention is given to the so-called security hypothesis. That is based
on the fact that the increase and quality of the application of large-scale security measures,
such as immobilizers, break-in prevention measures, private security and measures to limit
opportunity, have been the significant driving force behind the observed decrease in crime,
both nationally and internationally. (4). Finally, a number of main conclusions will be
presented.
Has crime decreased in the Netherlands?
Between 1980 and 1990 there was a steep rise in crime in the Netherlands. That was apparent
from victim surveys, in which citizens were asked whether they had experienced crimes, as
well as from that which the police registered in the way of offences. These two developments
run a parallel course: in each case the graph shows an upward trend until the year 2002. As
from 2002 the lines have shown a downward trend: over the last decade crime has decreased
by around 30%. Since the Dutch Rutte government came into power in 2012 this decrease in
crime has continued markedly, as illustrated in figure 1. That applies to property crimes as
well as crimes of violence. The public's sense of security has increased significantly
(Ministerie van Veiligheid en Justitie, 2014).
Figure 1: Development of crime in the Netherlands: registered crime and crime victim
survey data, 1980 - 2014
1
Jaap de Waard is a senior policy advisor at the Netherlands Ministry of Security and Justice. He is the former
secretary of the European Crime Prevention Network. He has published widely on crime prevention models,
international trends in the private security industry, and international benchmark studies in the field of crime
control. He is research fellow at the International Victimology Institute (INTERVICT), Tilburg University
2
(index: 1990 = 100)
Therefore the total level of crime in the Netherlands has decreased. However, fluctuations
can be seen when offences are viewed singly. Then it appears that, in the case of specific
offences, a (temporary) increase can be observed following a significant decrease. This can
be illustrated well by zooming in more specifically on three so-called "high impact crimes’’,
mugging, house break-in and (commercial) robbery (figure 2). Following many years of
decreasing number of robberies, this type of crime increased during the period 2006 to 2009.
This relates to robberies carried out both in businesses as well as private homes. The quantity
has now significantly decreased again. National figures from the police show that the number
of robberies in 2013 had decreased by 18 percent compared with the previous year. This
decrease continues in 2014 by 22% compared with 2013. Compared with the year 2009, the
number of robberies had more than halved. Also the number of muggings shows, following
an increase, a decreasing trend since 2005. There was a decrease of 14% in 2013 compared
with 2012. In 2014 there was a decrease of more than 22% compared with 2013. The
decrease amounts to more than 50% compared to the year 2005.
The registered number of house break-ins shows an increase in 2007 following a decreasing
trend since 1996. However, there has been a turnaround since 2012 and the increasing trend
has turned into a decreasing trend. The integrated approach towards house break-ins was
started during the second half of 2013. Particularly during the final months of that year the
number of house break-ins showed a significant decrease, leading to a 5% decrease over
2013. This number was further reduced during 2014 to around 71,000. This concerns a
decrease of 19% compared with 2013.
Figure 2: Development of household burglary, commercial robberies and street robbery
in the Netherlands (index: 2005 = 100)
3
Figure 3 below shows that there has recently been an 'acceleration' in the decrease in the
registered level of crime in the Netherlands (Statistics Netherlands, 2015). The number of
known offences shows a decrease over 2014 of seven percent compared with 2013. During
the previous years that decrease amounted respectively to five and four percent.
Figure 3. Development of registered crime in the Netherlands, 2011 2014 (index: 2013
= 100)
Is there also evidence of a shrinking number of young offenders in the Netherlands?
40
50
60
70
80
90
100
110
120
130
140
2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014
Household burglary Commercial robbery Street robbery
109
104
100
93
90
95
100
105
110
115
2011 2012 2013 2014
Index (2013=100)
Figure : Development registered crime by
the Dutch police, 2011 2014 (index: 2013 = 100)
Crimes known to the Dutch Police
4
The number of young offenders shows a significant decrease. Since 2007 there has been a
steady and substantial decrease of more than 50% (see figure 4). This decrease can be seen
amongst girls and boys, and also amongst ethnic minorities and the native Dutch.
Figure 4: Development of juvenile and adult suspects in the Netherlands, 2005 2013
(index: 2002=100)
The number of registered offences, whereby minors and adults are suspected, shows a
decrease. The decrease in juvenile offenders runs parallel to various surveys in the area of
juvenile crime. The decrease amongst juvenile boys and girls lies between 5 and 10%
annually (Goudriaan et al., 2014).
The number of problematic youth groups in the Netherlands shows a decreasing trend over
the last few years (Ferwerda & Van Ham, 2015). Table 1 below show this development over
the last six years.
Table 1: Problematic youth groups in the Netherlands, 2009 2014
Year Irritating Nuisance-causing Criminal Total
2009
1.341
92
1.760
2010
1.154
89
1.527
2011
878
65
1.165
2012
731
59
976
2013
536
45
764
2014
427
33
623
In respect of the first national picture dating from 2009 there has been a decrease of 64% over
the course of five years, whereby the decrease is apparent in the youth groups that may be
40
60
80
100
120
140
160
Index (2011=100)
Public Prosecutor Office registered cases
Registered offenses Public
Prosecutor, Minors
Registered offenses Public
Prosecutor, Adults
5
termed as irritating, causing a nuisance and criminal (respectively around 68%, 50% and
64%).
Possible explanations for the decrease in juvenile crime in the Netherlands
There are no 'definitive explanations' for the decrease in juvenile crime. It is possible that the
approaches aimed at target groups and areas and also towards 'multiple and repeat offenders'
over the last few years have had an influence on the decrease in juvenile crime (Bervoets et
al., 2014; Wijters & Van der Laan, 2014). Another possible explanation could be that through
improved security the opportunity to commit offences, such as theft from cars, shoplifting
and break-ins has been significantly reduced. The first step (or debut offence) on the path to a
criminal career has become increasingly difficult. (Tseloni et al., 2012; Owen & Cooper,
2013; Farrell, Laycock & Tilley, 2015). Berghuis (2015) gives an indication, on the basis of
an analysis, of an important explanation for the decrease in the number of juvenile offenders:
"Then it is striking that there are signs of considerably dramatic developments involved
amongst the youth: the number of years of juvenile detention imposed decreases from 2005
by 60% (from 500 to 200); this concerns all types of offences, including the relatively serious.
If we look deeper into what could be going on
2
, then that does not really arise from the fact
that less juveniles come into contact with the police due to a crime (that volume only
decreases by 10%), but that the police are involved with less repeat offenders amongst
juveniles: their numbers decrease by almost 70%, whereby it stands out that the younger the
juvenile, the greater the decrease of registered repeat offenders amongst juveniles (in the
case of 12-year-olds their numbers decrease by 84%, by 13-year-olds that is 80% and that
carries on in the case of the 17-year-olds, where the decrease is 56%). It is therefore not
improbable that this lack of growth will lead in the future to a further decrease in number of
adult offenders who will become eligible for the application of a term of imprisonment. And
therefore to even less cells being needed".
Is the decrease in juvenile offenders only apparent in the Netherlands?
It is striking that also in international terms youth crime has been capped. An illustration of
this fact can be seen in the following picture seen in Canada (figure 5). A strikingly similar
picture is apparent to the one in the Netherlands.
Figure 5: Development in the seriousness of registered juvenile crime in Canada, 1999 -
2013
http://www.statcan.gc.ca/daily-quotidien/140723/dq140723b-eng.htm
2
See Statistics Netherlands StatLine, registered offenders per age group and re-offence.
6
Finally, evidence of the decrease in the number of juvenile offenders between 1988 and 2010
in the US (figure 6). It is remarkable that the decrease there lies in the number of offenders in
the age category between 10 and 17 years, with respectively 56% and 52% for crimes of
violence and 78% and 41% for property crimes.
Figure 6: Development in the number of juvenile offenders in the US, 1988 - 2010
Source: (Farrell, Tilley and Tseloni, 2014, pages 477-478)
Decrease in crime: An international phenomenon
The decrease in crime can be seen widely across the Western world. There is increasing
evidence and consensus in the world of scholarly research that an extensive international
decrease in crime can be seen (for recent summary studies see Van Dijk, Tseloni & Farrell,
2012; Farrell, Tilley & Tseloni, 2014; Tonry, 2014). This concerns property crimes as well as
crimes of violence, such as murder and manslaughter, sexual offences, vandalism and
offences against the Opium Act. In appendix 1 a recent summary is presented as an
illustration of the development in crime trends in a large number of countries where crime
has decreased. This relates to a summary of statistical information from separate national
victim surveys, the International Crime Victims Survey, and registered crime trends from the
police.
All these separate sources present convincing evidence of an international decrease in crime
(Farrell et al., 2010; Van Dijk, 2012; Weatherburn & Holmes, 2013; Ross, 2013; Morales
Flores & Fanara, 2014; Clancey & Lulham, 2014; Baumer & Wolff, 2014; 2014a Kesteren,
Dijk & Mayhew, 2014; Knepper, 2015; Roeder, Eisen & Bowling, 2015). The period in
which the start of the decrease in crime can be seen varies per country. It started in the United
States and Canada in the 1990s. A large number of Western countries then followed around
five years later. The level at which crime has decreased in various countries shows great
similarities. During a period of 20 years or more, the total level of crime in many countries
decreased on average by 30 to 50%. Peaks can also be seen, for example a decrease in the US
by 70% in violent crimes and 65% in the number of house break-ins in England and Wales.
This means that in a large number of countries the level of crime has been reduced to the
same level seen at the start of the 1980s (Van Dijk & Tseloni, 2012).
7
The variety in the number of sources and the large number of countries where crime has
decreased means that the chance is extremely small that this is purely a coincidence. Also in
relation to the registered crime the picture in many EU countries is the same as in the
Netherlands: a decrease in registered property crimes, as well as a decrease in the number of
violent crimes
3
. It is striking that there has been a sharp decrease worldwide in the number of
murders. The following figure illustrates this decrease.
Worldwide decrease in the number of murders
The number of murders shows a worldwide decrease (Figure 7). In countries with the highest
incomes on average, the decrease observed is the most sizeable. A decrease can also be seen
in the other countries, although to a lesser extent. During the period from 2000 to 2012 the
estimated worldwide decrease in the number of murders amounted to 16% (from 8.0 to 6.7
murders per 100,000 of the world population). In countries with the highest incomes the
decrease amounts to 39% (from 6.2 to 3.8 murders per 100,000 of the population). In the
countries with high and low average incomes a decrease of 13% can be seen. In countries
with the lower incomes the decrease measures 10% (WHO, 2014, page 12).
Figure 7: Trends in the estimated level of the number of murders per 100,000 of the
world population in relation to income status per country, 2000 - 2012
Seen in historical terms the level of murder and manslaughter has decreased dramatically
over the centuries, and since the middle ages even by a factor of 30 (Eisner, 2003). This
movement applies to the whole of the Western world. In particular, serious violent offences
committed by the elite classes has decreased, as well as fights in public places between men
with a fatal outcome. In addition there has been an improvement in healthcare, which has led
to injuries becoming fatal less often. There is also a certain consensus that citizens appear to
feel less reason to use violence and that they are less inclined to take this step. According to
Pinker (2011) there appears to be a long-term trend towards less violence, including the
3
Trends in crime and criminal Justice, 2012. Eurostat Statistics in Focus, no. 18, 2014.
http://epp.eurostat.ec.europa.eu/cache/ITY_OFFPUB/KS-SF-13-018/EN/KS-SF-13-018-EN.PDF
http://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/statistics-
explained/extensions/EurostatPDFGenerator/getfile.php?file=159.46.196.7_1423043256_19.pdf
8
acceptance of violence. The number of murders in the Netherlands also shows a decreasing
trend (figure 8), and the graph shown below illustrates this clearly.
Figure 8: Development in the number of murders in the Netherlands, 1996 - 2014
http://statline.cbs.nl/Statweb/publication/?DM=SLNL&PA=81453NED&D1=a&D2=0&D3=a&D4=a&HDR=G1,T&STB=G2,G3&VW=T
http://www.elsevier.nl/Nederland/Background/2014/12/Aantal-moorden-in-2014-spectaculair-gedaald-1670592W/
A summary of the picture concerning the decrease in crime
A number of conclusions can be reached on the basis of what has been stated above. These
are set out one by one below:
In a large number of industrialized countries a long-term and significant decrease in
crime can be seen;
That decrease is apparent in property crimes (car theft, house break-ins, theft from
cars, shoplifting, muggings and pickpocketing), as well as violent crimes (assault,
sexual violence, rape, murder and manslaughter);
The observed decrease in crime was preceded in most of the countries by a sharp
increase in crime;
The level and background of the decrease in crime appears to a greater extent to
show similarities between various different countries. Significant similarities can be
seen, for example, between the Netherlands and England and Wales and between the
United States and Canada;
The level of the available evidence of the decrease in crime in a large number of
different countries means that the possibility of a coincidental development
occurring at the same time is extremely small, and hence there must be a causal
connection;
The decrease in crime in a majority of the industrialized countries is still an ongoing
fact in 2015. In the Netherlands there has recently been an 'acceleration' in the
decrease;
What is striking is the sharp decrease in the number of juvenile offenders in the
Netherlands and other countries.
239
137
15,4
8,1
0
5
10
15
20
0
50
100
150
200
250
300
1996
1997
1998
1999
2000
2001
2002
2003
2004
2005
2006
2007
2008
2009
2010
2011
2012
2013
2014
Number per million of the
average population
Total number
Total number of murders Per million of the average population
9
Explanations concerning the decrease in crime: Introduction
It has been established that between the end of the 1970s and 1990 there was a steep rise in
crime in the Netherlands and many other industrialized countries. That was apparent from
national and international victim surveys, in which citizens were asked whether they had
experienced crimes, as well as from that which the police registered in the way of offences.
The first signs of a decrease in crime were observed around halfway through the 1990s. This
can be seen in a reduction in the level of house break-ins and car thefts in the Netherlands. As
from 2002 the lines have shown a complete downward trend and we can see that crime has
decreased by around 30%. This decrease is still continuing in 2015. Not only in the
Netherlands, but also in a large number of Western countries. What has led to the decrease in
crime? Which explanatory factors are given in the scientific literature? Only recently has
national and international criminological research been started into explanations for the
decrease in crime. It appears that we had difficulty in actually recognizing the decrease in
crime as such.
A summary of those explanations is given in this paragraph. There are a large number of
explanations to be distilled from the available literature. Use is made of a recently published
summary from Farrell, Tilley and Tseloni (2014), in which the most prevailing explanations
are described and analyzed. The most important findings are described in short. Finally, a
number of typical Dutch explanations are set out and these are followed by a summary of the
picture as a whole.
A box full of explanations
"There is no single cause or even an evident leading cause for the nine years of declining
crime at the national level’’.
With this somewhat discouraging conclusion Zimring (2007) summarizes the discussion
carried out up till then concerning the ‘’Crime Drop’’ in the US. The discussion there has
been ongoing for much longer than in Europe because the decrease started there earlier. The
attention primarily concentrates on explanations for the decrease in violent crime. It mainly
involves the disappearance of the so-called "crack epidemic" and the gang wars associated
with that, weapon legislation and the widespread incarceration of prisoners (Blumstein &
Wallman, 2000; Levitt, 2004; Blumstein & Rosenfeld, 2008; Zimring, 2012; National
Research Council, 2014). To a greater extent, these explanations relate to the specific
situation in the US. However, that situation differs greatly from the situation in Europe, as
well as countries such as Canada and Australia. Many of the explanations therefore do not
relate to countries outside the US. It is striking that American criminologists almost
exclusively look at the situation in the US when explaining the decrease in crime, and they
barely take into account the developments outside their own borders. A recently published
large-scale survey carried out in the US, which gained much attention in the media, is a good
example of this (Roeder, Eisen & Bowling, 2015). Anyone going through the available
literature will soon come across a large number of possible explanations, which are apparent
from the box given below.
Box: A selection of the possible explanations for the observed decrease in crime
- Selective effects of incarceration/targeted selective approach towards offenders.
- Cultural factors / other manners of spending free time / "new smartness".
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- Personal impressions, operational police practices.
- Saturation of the consumer market for luxury goods (capping of the market for dealing
in stolen goods).
- Increasingly cheaper luxury consumer goods (the mass market effect), whereby the
outlets in the market for dealing in stolen goods, whether amateur or otherwise, has
collapsed.
- A shift in addictions - to drugs or other substances - leads to a shift in other offences
(the use of crack increases the urge to obtain cash, hence theft from people = reduction
in house break-ins); ageing cohorts of hard drug addicts who have simply gone too far
to be able to commit offences any longer; reduction / burning up of heroin and crack
cohorts.
- Maturing out / accelerated burning up of offender cohorts.
- Effects of situational crime prevention, scope of measures increases through the
Buildings Decree, the Police Residential Security Warranty and the obligatory
installation of immobilizers, Tracking & Tracing of luxury consumer goods.
- "Truth / honesty in sentencing" (increased deterrence). Selective incarceration of "top
10 offenders", selective incapacitation.
- Increase in the average term of imprisonment (incapacitation effect).
- Stability in imported crime (ethnic minorities versus native Dutch).
- "Golden combination" of a repressive and preventive approach (for example in the
case of robberies and muggings, and prevention of (repeated victimization in relation
to) house break-ins).
- More advanced applications of crime image analyses.
- Through the increased collaboration between the government and the business
community, as well as the implementation of a number of targeted programs,
(prevention/repression) the effectiveness increases.
- Increase in the implementation of "evidence-based" interventions (offenders, victims
and situations).
- Increase in the willingness for prevention / prevention awareness / risk awareness /
effectiveness of preventive measures.
In the course of many analyses researchers looked at whether there is one single explanatory
factor for the increasing followed by decreasing movement in the crime figures. This might
involve economic factors such as prosperity and unemployment, demographic factors such as
size of the risk groups, immigration and age, and policy factors such as the increase in terms
of imprisonment/infliction of punishment and a selective offender-targeted approach.
However, just as there is no magic bullet that can be seen as the cause of the burgeoning
criminality, there is also nothing in that way to explain the subsequent downward trend.
A summary of the explanatory factors
The box above shows that a large number of explanations can be found in the literature. In
order to introduce methodology into the matter, for pragmatic reasons the choice has been
made to use a recently published research synthesis into the available hypotheses from
Farrell, Tilley and Tseloni (2014). The table given below gives the reader the most complete
summary of the hypotheses available at the present time concerning the explanation for the
crime drop. These have been distilled from a large number of published studies.
11
Source: (Farrell, Tilley and Tseloni, 2014, page 438)
In order to test the 17 aforementioned hypotheses the authors use four tests with which a
hypothesis must comply.
1. The cross-national test. Can the hypothesis be applied to different countries? The
basis for this test forms the previously reached conclusion that the crime drop
occurred in a large number of countries and that this development is not based on
coincidence.
2. A test whereby there must previously have been a rise in crime over a period of
several decades. The basis for this test forms the previously reached conclusion that
there was a long-term rise in crime in most of the countries prior to the observed
crime drop.
3. The so-called e-crimes and theft of mobile telephone test. Is the hypothesis consistent
with, or at least not contradictory to, the fact that some types of crime show an
increase at the same time as a decrease in many other types of offences?
Consideration must be given here for the increase in theft of smart phones, iPads and
laptops, for example. Also offences whereby the internet is used as modus operandi
fall into this category. Examples hereby include identity fraud, purchase and sales
fraud, or hacking for financial gain.
12
4. The so-called test of variable duration of the development. Is the hypothesis
comparable with, or at least not contradictory to, the variation in duration, length of
the crime drop between countries and type of offence?
For further information, the reader interested in the description and outcomes of this test of
the 17 hypotheses presented above can refer to the original contribution. Under the scope of
this contribution, it is not possible to give a complete description of the 17 separate tests. The
table below gives a summary of the outcomes.
Source: (Farrell, Tilley and Tseloni, 2014, page 458)
Taking into account the comparable international development of the crime trends in a large
number of countries (see appendix 1) it is an obvious choice that explanations for this are
sought that apply to all of the countries. From the summary given above it appears that only
one hypothesis passes all four tests (Improved security, also called the ’security hypothesis’),
and therefore this hypothesis applies internationally. Ten hypotheses pass one test, three pass
two tests, and one hypothesis passes three tests (phone guardianship).
As previously mentioned there is a large number of available explanations that are typical or
exclusively applicable to one specific country or a limited number of countries. Examples of
this include the disappearance of the crack epidemic in the US and its associated fatal
violence. No other country experienced a similar level of consumption of crack cocaine. Due
to the weapon legislation in most of the European countries, there is only a limited use of
firearms causing a fatal outcome in comparison with the US. Therefore the call for extra
investment into the expansion of the police apparatus and the far-reaching application of
custodial penalties as explanation for the crime drop does not apply to countries outside of
the US. The size of the police force and the quantity of personnel involved in the criminal
justice chain, as well as the ratio of prisoners, all show a marked variation between countries
(Van Dijk & De Waard, 2000; De Waard & Van Steden, 2012; Aebi, et al., 2014). Also the
explanation involved around the liberalization of abortion (whereby the cohort of "risk
13
groups" was reduced in size) does not apply. The variation in legislation and regulations
involved in abortion shows a large variation in time between countries.
Demographic developments also show large differences between countries and thereby
cannot form a universal explanation. The assumption that a downturn in the economy
contributes to a growth in the level of crime is contradicted by the international developments
that can currently be observed. Despite the downturn in economic growth experienced in
many countries, the crime rates are still declining at the same time. According to some
authors, there is in fact a reverse effect. In times of economic prosperity, crime actually
increases (Van Dijk, 2012). There is, in simple terms, more to be stolen because the
availability of luxury goods increases, there is an increase in individual lifestyles, people are
away from home to a greater extent and they are more mobile. There is more property to be
stolen that is less well safeguarded (Cohen & Felson, 1979; Clarke, 2012).
Four 'typical Dutch explanations'
There appear to be four 'substantial explanations', which are connected with each other, for
the developments of crime in the Netherlands. However, they are not entirely unique to the
Netherlands, as may appear from the latter statement, given the parallel tendency elsewhere.
Private prevention. A reaction can be seen amongst Dutch citizens and the business
community to the increase in crime during the 1970s and 80s through the slow but steady
realization that people need to protect themselves against the risk of crime. The willingness
of the public and the business community to take preventive action has increased enormously
over the last 25 years. That leads to significant investments in prevention, which are now at a
level that is far removed from what was previously considered necessary (Roethof
Committee, 1986). A massive growth in the size of the private security industry can be seen
over the last 30 years, both in terms of the size itself, as well as the turnover. This had led to
the number of employees in that area increasing from around 10,000 at the start of the 1980s
to 32,000 at the present time. Hence, triple the amount in just over 30 years. During the same
period the turnover also increased from EUR 150 million to around EUR 1.5 billion (Van
Steden & De Waard, 2013). Therefore individual citizens and the business community have
invested enormously in their own security. That is a consequence of the deployed policy, but
also of the recognition that the judiciary and the police alone are not able to prevent crime.
Recovery of the capacity and authority of criminal law The government has taken a long
time to bring its interventions up to standard, starting at a very low level of provisions in a
social climate in which toleration was the rule and criminal law was considered more of a
problem than a solution. It appears that since the end of the 1980s the reaction has also been
to impose punishment (often light or symbolic) in relation to the lighter forms of crime,
where previously the reaction had generally been simply to look the other way. This has sent
out the signal that crime will not be tolerated:
crime deserves a robust approach. Generally speaking, toleration is no longer accepted.
Crime is no longer a problem for the police and the judiciary alone, but a joint responsibility
of citizens and businesses (Society and crime, 1985). This is precisely the area where the
turnaround can be seen, in which it is recognized that crime is objectionable and deserves a
reaction from the government that clearly demonstrates that fact (Boutellier, 2008).
Toleration is no longer accepted in the case of forms of crime that are committed en masse,
such as theft and violence, as well as in the case of offences in the area of public order, and
this generally has a preventive effect. The criticism that this leads to a repressive overreaction
14
only seems to form a valid argument if a reaction that is too hefty would lead to a reduction
in the willingness to abide by the law. And not that a reaction would in principle follow a
violation of standards. One surprising outcome is that more serious offences are not
systematically more heavily punished now than was previously the case (Berghuis, 2011).
The average duration of punishment has shown a stable picture for decades. Such a reaction
therefore does not appear necessary in order to reduce crime. The typical Dutch tradition of
imposing relatively short terms of imprisonment has remained valid. That has enabled
avoiding the situation that, despite the decrease in crime, the prisons are becoming increasing
full, as is the case in the USA and the UK. The chance is also greater in the case of shorter
punishments that offenders can return to a meaningful existence in society.
Demography and drugs. At the start of the 1980s crime was partly cultivated by the
growth in the trade and use of drugs, most particularly heroin: this led to violence in the
illegal drugs markets and to procurement crime amongst marginalized heroin addicts. The
growth in the use of drugs during the 1970s, particularly heroin, led to a large population of
tens of thousands of addicts, who committed countless offences in order to pay for their
addiction. The more forceful approach towards this group, which led to longer terms of
imprisonment, had a repressive effect on crime.
4
This group has slowly disappeared as a
result of physical exhaustion and a conscious policy of helping such people by leading them
away from the criminal path.
5
This group of addicts to hard drugs, who committed large
quantities of crimes, has virtually disappeared from the streets. The Kruiskade in Rotterdam,
the Zeedijk in Amsterdam, Hoog Catharijne in Utrecht and Central Station in The Hague now
look completely different in comparison with how they were 25 years ago: the commotion
caused by heroin users and dealers has disappeared. There is strong evidence that the large-
scale disappearance of the heroin cohorts provides an important explanation for the
significant reduction in property crime (Morgan, 2014; 2014a).
Stimulating and active role of the government. The government's policy, which has been
deployed since halfway through the 1980s, has mainly played a facilitating and stimulating
role in relation to the aforementioned explanations. It is difficult to give a precise indication
as to how important the effect has been of the separate measures put in place by successive
governments in order to bring down crime. It is also difficult to assess the purported
relationship between crime policies and subsequent effects. We must be careful not to think
too much in terms of the means rather than the end. In relation to that, the extent to which
social change can be affected by government policies is limited. However, research results
are available which give an indication that particularly a mixture of connected repressive and
preventive measures is successful (Versteegh et al., 2010). A better targeted deployment of
the police forms a contribution to the decreasing trend in crime (Karn, 2013). The integrated
and problem-targeted approach deployed by many of the parties involved, including the
police, the Public Prosecution Service, municipalities, schools, housing associations,
healthcare providers and the business community, is a successful example of this. Intensive
collaboration with the business community has been going on in order to deploy more and
better preventive measures. The help of the public has also been called upon by way of
reporting suspicious situations and by stimulating electronic payments. It can therefore be
argued that an active and stimulating government policy partly provides an explanation for
the decrease seen in crime.
4
The heavier terms of imprisonment are meant here, the programme Criminal accommodation of addicts and
the subsequent measure for placement in an Institution for systematic offenders. For the effect, see: Ben
Vollaard. The effect of long-term imprisonment of repeat offenders on security in society. Lessons of a natural
experiment in twelve urban areas. University of Tilburg, 2010.
5
See the periodical 'Repeat offenders monitor' (www.wodc.nl).
15
Summary of the explanations concerning the crime drop
On the basis of what has been set out above, a number of conclusions can be reached. These
are set out one by one below:
Only recently has such national and international criminological research been started
into explanations for the decrease in crime. It seems as if criminologists are mainly
oriented towards explanatory models for the existence of crime and that they have
great difficulty in giving explanations for the observed decrease;
The list of explanations that are possibly responsible for the decrease in crime, both
nationally and internationally, provides an immensely varied picture. From the
reduction of lead poisoning through to the selective dealing with offenders, from
demographic changes through to the legalization of abortion, from a shift in addiction
(to drugs as well as other forms of addiction) through to the application of the death
sentence, from economic factors through to an increase in security and the limitation
of opportunity;
Just as there is no magic bullet that could be seen as the cause of the burgeoning
criminality, there is also nothing in that way to explain the subsequent downward
trend;
In order to interpret the explanations for the drop in crime, people often look
exclusively within their own national borders, which therefore makes the explanations
country-specific and they do not then apply outside the borders of the country in
question;
In the case of the Netherlands, there appear to be four 'main explanations', which are
connected to each other, for interpreting the drop in crime: (1) increase in private
prevention; (2) recovery of the capacity and authority of criminal law; (3)
demography and drugs; (4) stimulating and active role of the government;
Taking into account the comparable international development in the crime trends in a
large number of countries (see appendix 1), main explanations must be sought that
apply in all countries;
Then it appears that the so-called security hypothesis is the most valid. There is
sufficient empirical evidence that the increase and quality of the application of large-
scale security measures, such as immobilizers, break-in prevention measures, private
security and measures to limit opportunity, have been the significant driving force
behind the observed decrease in crime, both nationally and internationally.
Attention is given to this hypothesis in the following paragraph. A number of specific
features will be addressed one by one, as well as the empirical evidence and the positive
indirect effects that appear to go hand-in-hand with the rise in the scope and quality of the
application of large-scale security measures.
The ’Security hypothesis’ explained in further detail
Based on the above, it appears that one 'solid' unequivocal explanation for the decreasing
trend in crime cannot be given. Research into the decreasing trend (Berghuis & De Waard,
2008; Vollaard et al., 2009; Van Dijk et al., 2012), assumes a combination of explanatory
factors. On the basis of the knowledge that is now available (Van Dijk, 2012; 2013; Van Dijk
et al., 2012; Farrell, 2011; 2013; Farrell, Tilley & Tseloni, 2014) the security hypothesis
appears to be the most promising explanation. There is a general increase, both nationally and
internationally, in the willingness for prevention, the quality and financial investment in
crime prevention by the public at large, governments, the business community and
16
manufacturers. We see that cars, bicycles, homes, businesses, industrial parks, shops, banks,
town centers and entertainment areas are all being better protected (Van Dijk, Van Kesteren
& Smit, 2007). The quality of the security measures has increased significantly (Tilley,
Farrell & Clarke, 2015). The international private security industry appears to be a pre-
eminent growth market (De Waard and Van Steden, 2012). This has meant the growth, for
example, in the total numbers of employees within the private security industry in the 15 old
EU Member States between 1996 and 2010 by 86 percent (1996: 592,050 employees 2010:
1,102,300 employees). In 1996 that was 140 on average per 100,000 inhabitants and in 2010
that number had risen to 274. This means that hereby the opportunity structure has offered
clearly less possibilities over the last few years for committing simple and unnoticed
offences. This is the so-called ‘’Security hypothesis’’. The latter is based on the fact that the
increase and quality of the application of security measures (immobilizers, break-in
prevention measures, prevention measures standardly inbuilt during production processes,
certification / standards, effects of crime reports, etc.) has been the main driving force behind
the observed drop in crime, both nationally and internationally (Tseloni et al., 2014; Home
Office, 2015). It is becoming increasingly difficult for offenders and potential offenders to
commit offences. The opportunity is increasingly less often creating the offender.
Effectiveness of the situational crime prevention measures
All of those different security measures, also referred to as situational crime prevention, can
be applied to various different types of crime (Clarke, 1995; 1997). Many of the measures are
applied on a large scale, which means that the scope is often very great indeed. That applies
particularly in the case of car theft (the obligatory inbuilt immobilizers) and also in the case
of house break-ins (certification / "secured by design" / Buildings Decree). There has also
been a significant decrease in shoplifting from department stores and retailers (due to CCTV,
no cash, anti-theft strips, private security, sensors, alarms, dummy packaging) (TNS NIPO,
2011; Home Office, 2014). In a large number of countries the application of these types of
measures has led to a significant decrease in these specific offences (see appendix 1). The
measures have raised the chances of being caught, the profits for offenders and potential
offenders have fallen and the opportunistic offenders have been massively discouraged (in the
case of house break-ins by around 70%) from committing break-ins (De Waard, 2012).
The effects of these measures can be large-scale. Figure 9 below illustrates the trend of the
level of car thefts in England and Wales between 1995 and 2010.
Figure 9: Development of car theft in England and Wales, 1995 - 2010
17
Figure 10: Development of the number of vehicle thefts in the Netherlands, 1995 - 2014
The number of thefts of private vehicles fell by 60% in the Netherlands between 1995 and
2014 (figure 10). The decrease in relation to all types of vehicles amounted to more than 51
percent between 1995 and 2014 (Stichting Aanpak Voertuigcriminaliteit, 2015). That
provides a striking comparison with the situation in England and Wales.
There is a great deal of empirical evidence showing that a large number of preventive
measures to limit opportunity appear to be effective. The box below gives a summary of a
number of these successful measures.
Box: Effective situational crime prevention: A number of examples
The installation during the production phase of consumer goods (cars, cameras, bicycles,
GSMs) of standard security measures. Effect: large-scale fall in crime, for example 30% less
theft of GSMs through the installation of a so-called ’kill switch’ (Ekblom, 2012; Behavioural
Insight Team, 2014; New York Times, June 2014; Ministerie van Justitie en Veiligheid, 2014a).
18
The installation of an immobilizer in all newly manufactured cars within the European Union,
which has been obligatory since 1998, has led to a reduction in car thefts of 40% in the
Netherlands. We can see a similar decrease occurring in other European Member States (Ours
& Vollaard, 2013; Brown, 2013, 2013a). A similar development is also apparent in the US
(Fujita & Maxfield, 2012).
Inclusion of requirements for measures in the Buildings Decree for the prevention of
house break-ins Effect: reduction by 25% of successful house break-ins (Vollaard,
2010).
Prevention of violence in entertainment areas through the reorganization of the
catering industry, ban on happy hours, sufficient transport available after closing time,
targeted exchange of information, targeted police surveillance, responsible sale of
alcohol. Effect: up to 40% less violence in entertainment areas (Florence et al., 2011;
Florence et al., 2013).
Raising the level of lighting in public and semi-public areas. Effect: less violence,
fewer muggings and an increase in the sense of security (Welsh & Farrington, 2008).
The use of CCTV cameras in certain locations and targeted at specific offences.
Effect: sometimes significantly less violence and theft, plus a rise in the effectiveness
of detection (Welsh & Farrington, 2009).
National application of the Police Residential Security Warranty. Effect: up to 80%
less chance of a successful house break-in (Nauta, 2004; Jongejan & Woldendorp,
2014)
Tackling repeated victimization. The targeted approach towards repeated
victimization appears to be successful in areas that are characterized by high levels of
crime. This approach also works within the retail industry. In relation to this it appears
that just three percent of the number of branches within the retail industry suffer 40%
of the total amount of victimization. Effect: 12 to 20 percent less crime due to a
focused, specifically preventive approach (Grove, et al., 2012; Farrell & Pease, 2014).
Raising the general level of security and reorganization of residential areas. Effect:
significant decrease in crime and feelings of disquiet (Armitage & Monchuk, 2010;
Pease & Gill, 2011).
The so-called hotspots approach, whereby the police carry out targeted surveillance at
criminal hotspots. This strategy is known as problem-targeted police approach.
Effect: significant reduction in crime and increased satisfaction amongst residents and
the business community (Braga, Papachristos & Hureau, 2012; 2014).
The deployment of supervisors in residential complexes, public transport and in
public areas. Effect: significant reduction in crime in public and semi-public areas
(Welsh, Farrington & O’Dell, 2010).
Regarding crime displacement
Criticism is regularly expressed concerning the level of effectiveness of measures that limit
opportunity (Barr & Pease, 1990; Von Hirsch, Garland & Wakefield, 2000; Klein, 2008).
People cite the displacement of crime (in terms of time, type of offence, choice of target,
geographical area and modus operandi). However, empirical evidence exists showing that the
phenomenon of crime displacement occurs far less often following the application of
situational crime prevention than is often supposed. In a recently published meta-evaluation,
102 effect evaluations were assessed for the possible effects of crime displacement (Guerette
& Bowers, 2009). Relocation of crime occurred in 26% of the analyzed observations. The
reverse effect, the so-called "bonus effect" (whereby the positive effects are also measured
outside of the experimental area), appeared to occur in 27% of the analyzed observations.
19
Furthermore, it appeared that in the cases in which crime displacement was measured there
was never a case of 100% displacement. The effect of the intervention / measure always
appeared to be positive in total (Hesseling, 1994; Johnson, Guerette & Bowers, 2014).
Regarding ‘’debut offenses’’ by juveniles
Large-scale situational crime prevention measures (by residents, the business community and
in the course of production of consumer goods) can also have an influence on the prevention
of a debut offence committed by juveniles. It is becoming increasingly difficult to carry out a
first offence due to measures limiting opportunity (Owen & Cooper, 2013; Farrell, Laycock
& Tilley, 2015). The result may be that an early halt is called to a criminal career (Butts,
2000). Most criminal careers are characterized by a general working method and rarely a
specialist one. Property crime forms the principal area of the number of offences committed
(Tollenaar and Van der Laan, 2013). Making the preliminary offence difficult may provide a
possible explanation for the observed reduction in the number of juvenile offenders.
Offenders themselves also indicate that the increase in situational prevention measures
provides an important explanation for the drop in crime (Brown, 2015).
Summary concerning the security hypothesis
On the basis of what has been stated above, a number of conclusions can be reached. These
are set out one by one below:
On the basis of our current knowledge it appears that the most promising explanation
for the national and international decrease in crime is the security hypothesis;
There is a general increase, both nationally and internationally, in the willingness for
prevention, the quality and financial investment in crime prevention by the public at
large, governments, the business community and manufacturers;
The security hypothesis is principally applicable to the explanation for the reduction
in property crimes (in particular car thefts, shoplifting and house break-ins). However,
the explanation in relation to various types of violence, both sexual and otherwise, is
less clear;
Over the last few years there has been an accumulation of knowledge about the
effectiveness of situational crime prevention measures;
In a large number of countries the application of these types of measure has led to a
significant decrease in crime;
Relocation of crime occurs much less frequently than is often supposed. The reverse
effect is also apparent, whereby the scope of the measures is estimated to be much
greater by offenders and potential offenders;
The so-called "debut crime hypothesis" (the assumption that it is becoming
increasingly difficult for juveniles to commit a preliminary crime due to measures
limiting opportunity) deserves further investigation.
Conclusion
Has the level of crime decreased? If yes, what plausible explanations can be given for that?
Those are the two main questions that are answered in this background document. The first
one is simple to answer. Yes, in a large number of industrialized countries a long-term and
significant decrease in crime can be seen, both in relation to property as well as violence.
That is apparent from the trends in registered crimes, data from national victim surveys, data
from Eurostat, data from the World Health Organization, as well as data from the
20
International Crime Victims Survey. Therefore it can be said that there has been an
international drop in crime.
The second question is clearly more difficult to answer. What plausible explanations can be
given? That question has only recently been given the necessary attention within the world of
scholarly research. This can therefore be termed as work in progress. However, the number of
available explanations for interpreting the fall in crime is very sizeable. The assessment has
come up with a wide range of explanations. As could be estimated beforehand, there is no
single magic bullet that can be given as explanation. In the explanations for interpreting the
crime drop, the view is often concentrated exclusively within a country's own borders. Those
explanations are therefore specific to one country only and the crime problems which are
specifically present there. This means it is difficult to make generalized statements about
which explanations are plausible that relate to a number of different countries. Still, a main
explanation does need to be sought, bearing in mind the comparable international
development of crime in a large number of countries, which can be applicable to all those
countries.
On the basis of a research synthesis carried out recently by Farrell, Tilley and Tseloni (2014)
into the most common hypotheses concerning the available explanations, only one sticks out
strongly: the security hypothesis. That is based on the fact that the increase and quality of the
application of large-scale security measures, such as immobilizers, break-in prevention
measures, private security and measures to limit opportunity, have been the significant
driving force behind the observed decrease in crime, both nationally and internationally.
These measures principally relate to property crime and, to a lesser extent, crimes of
violence. It is clear that further research is needed to arrive at more robust explanations
6
. That
applies to the area of violence as well as the area of decreasing juvenile crime. Prevention
remains a fundamental condition for reducing the opportunity for committing simple and
frequently unnoticed offences. That prevention must increase together with the social
developments. This will mean that the emphasis will come to lie more and more on social
changes arising from technical developments and internationalization. This deserves timely
preventive investments in order not to miss the chance of ensuring that the hinges and locks
on our front doors are secure, as well as ensuring that the general public and businesses do
not become victims of theft via the electronic highway (Tcherni, Davies & Lizotte, 2015;
Jardine, 2015). Much can be learned from the current insights, which give the most valid
explanation concerning the decrease in "classic" crime.
6
It is an interesting fact that during the Stockholm Criminology Symposium, 8 10 June
2015, a large number of presentations are about explanations concerning the ‘’Crime
Drop’’. For the programme, see:
http://www.criminologysymposium.com/download/18.779f51ff14b839896442162/14289
11652157/Preliminary+Program+2015.pdf
21
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Appendix 1
Crime trends in a number of industrialized countries
Australia
http://www.aic.gov.au/media_library/publications/facts/2013/facts13.pdf
Property crime victimisation rate
Figure 4 Victims of property crimes, 19962012 (rate per 100,000
population)
The rate of ‘other’ theft victimisation reached its lowest point since data were available at
2,064 per 100,000 in 2010, before rising modestly to 2,206 per 100,000 in 2012.
The rate of UEWI victimisation has generally declined since 2001. In 2012, the victimisation
rate was 944 per 100,000 populationthe lowest on record since the collection of data in
1996.
Between 2011 and 2012, the rate of MVT victimisation increased by five percent; from 245 to
258 per 100,000 population.
29
30
Canada
http://www.statcan.gc.ca/daily-quotidien/140723/dq140723b-eng.htm
31
32
33
34
England & Wales
35
36
37
Police recorded burglaries and theft of vehicles, England and Wales, 1981 to 2012/13
The Netherlands
Figure: Development of crime in the Netherlands: registered crime and crime victim
survey data, 1980 - 2014
38
Figure: Dutch Crime Victim Survey: victim rates and feelings of unsafety, 2005-2014
Figure: Development of household burglary, commercial robberies and street robbery
in the Netherlands (index: 2005 = 100)
39
Figure: Development of registered crime in the Netherlands, 2011 2014 (index: 2013 =
100)
Figure: Development of juvenile and adult suspects in the Netherlands, 2005 2013
(index: 2002=100)
40
50
60
70
80
90
100
110
120
130
140
2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014
Household burglary Commercial robbery Street robbery
109
104
100
93
90
95
100
105
110
115
2011 2012 2013 2014
Index (2013=100)
Figure : Development registered crime by
the Dutch police, 2011 2014 (index: 2013 = 100)
Crimes known to the Dutch Police
40
Figure: Development in the number of murders in the Netherlands, 1996 2014
Figures: Registered crimes by the Dutch police: various types of crimes, 2011-2014
40
60
80
100
120
140
160
Index (2011=100)
Public Prosecutor Office registered cases
Registered offenses Public
Prosecutor, Minors
Registered offenses Public
Prosecutor, Adults
239
137
15,4
8,1
0
5
10
15
20
0
50
100
150
200
250
300
1996
1997
1998
1999
2000
2001
2002
2003
2004
2005
2006
2007
2008
2009
2010
2011
2012
2013
2014
Number per million of the
average population
Total number
Total number of murders Per million of the average population
41
60
70
80
90
100
110
120
130
140
2011 2012 2013 2014
Index (2011=100)
Registered crimes
Theft/burglary,
box/garage/barn/garden
house
Theft/household burglary and
barns
Theft/household burglary
Theft/burglary businesses and
establishments
Theft of/from motor vehicles
60
70
80
90
100
110
120
130
140
2011 2012 2013 2014
Index (2011=100)
Registered crimes
Threat
Bodily harm
Public violence (personal)
42
50
60
70
80
90
100
110
120
130
2011 2012 2013 2014
Index (2011=100)
Registered crimes
Sexual offense
Homicide, manslaughter
Street robbery
Commercial robbery
40
50
60
70
80
90
100
110
120
2011 2012 2013 2014
Index (2011=100)
Registered crimes
Vandalism
Alcohol
Drugs/alcohol nuisance
Public order offense
43
New Zealand
http://www.police.govt.nz/sites/default/files/publications/crime-stats-fiscal-national-
20140630.pdf
Schotland
44
Source: Matthews, 2014
United States of America
http://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/cv13.pdf
Development of crime in the USA according to the National Crime Victim Survey, 1993 -
2013
45
46
47
International Crime Victims Survey
48
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Technical Report
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This report compares the legal infrastructure of the Netherlands with those of nine other countries, with attention to the infrastructure for crime control. Abstract: The nine reference countries are comparable societies in both economic and socio-cultural respects, and all the countries have well-developed legal systems. The reference countries are Austria, Denmark, France, Germany, Sweden, the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, and the United States. The comparison uses quantitative data to link the nature and volume of crime with the efforts of the public sector to fight crime. Issues analyzed are the nature and volume of crime, environmental factors that contribute to crime, and the public prevention and repression of crime. Compared with the nine reference countries, the Netherlands has a substantial amount of crime, but occupies a middle position in the rate of serious crimes against persons. The Netherlands has a comparatively low level of corruption in the public sector, but has a relatively high rate of less serious crimes against persons and businesses. Environmental factors that fuel crime in the Netherlands are primarily the high level of urbanization and the high volume of the international flow of goods, services, and financial transactions. These factors are likely to worsen instead of improve in the future. Given this circumstance, the Netherlands must mount greater efforts to prevent and repress crime if it is to achieve the same crime rate as the reference countries. Given the relatively high level of overall crime in the Netherlands, the joint efforts of the public and private sectors are apparently insufficient to bring crime to the average level of the reference countries. There needs to be an increase in the per capita level of expenditures to control crime, and leadership must be exercised to achieve greater participation by private citizens and businesses in crime prevention measures. Among these efforts should be the use of a higher number of private security officers.
Book
Drawing on studies from major European countries and Australia, this exciting new collection from a group of internationally-renowned scholars extends the ongoing debate on falling crime rates from the perspective of criminal opportunity or routine activity theory. Considering the trends and discourse of the international crime fall, this book analyses the effect of Post World War II crime booms which triggered a universal improvement in security across the Western world, such as the introduction of mandatory security in motor vehicles in Europe and the US. Preliminary evidence is also presented on the impact of collective improvements in home security, analyzing levels of household burglaries and their distribution amongst the population in The Netherlands, England and Wales.The International Crime Drop discusses how improved security against volume crime has initiated a prolonged recession on criminal markets in the West, a downturn that appears largely independent from criminal policies of individual governments. With fresh evidence for the causes of international falls in crime, this book signals a new direction in epidemiological studies of crime.
Chapter
Since the early 1990s, all categories of crime have fallen in the United States. Previous research has provided various explanations for this downward trend in crime. These include, for example, increases in incarceration and police staffing, legalization of abortion, and changes in demographic composition, economic conditions, and crack cocaine markets (Levitt, 2004; Blumstein and Wallman, 2006; Zimring, 2007; Blumstein and Rosenfeld, 2008). However, most research on the US crime drop has focused disproportionately on violent crime. Relatively little attention has been paid to car theft, which had the biggest drop between 1991 and 2008 (FBI, 2009).
Chapter
In this opening chapter, the focus is on a descriptive analysis of trends in victimization rates of a selection of mainly Western countries with a special focus on Europe. Our main sources of data are the six rounds of the International Crime Victims Survey carried out between 1989 and 2010. For some countries, the ICVS data have been checked against results from large-scale independently run national surveys, such as the National Crime Victimization Surveys of the US and the Dutch and British Crime Surveys from the same period.