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Statistics: Costs of Crime - Indirect Costs Of Crime

criminal activity associated police

When considering and estimating direct costs of crime, the general focus is costs associated with the criminal act itself. In contrast to this, costs are also incurred through individual and societal reactions to crime. These can be considered the indirect costs of crime. As criminal activity is generally regarded as a damaging, undesirable, and antisocial activity, the many costs associated with preventing crime, responding to crime, and punishing offenders are substantial. One means of assessing such costs is to consider the various crime-related expenses associated with state agencies and those associated with private individuals and enterprises.

Public sector costs. A large and increasing proportion of state resources are devoted to responding to crime. In 1993 alone, over $97 billion was spent on criminal justice activity. While attributing all criminal justice expenditure as "crime related" costs is wrong as much criminal justice activity is more about maintaining order and assisting the public, there are still substantial crime costs stemming from state response to criminal activity. One gains a better sense of these costs by considering each specific stage of the criminal justice system.

An initial source of costs arises from police investigation and apprehension. The majority of police activity is reactive in that police are usually alerted or notified of criminal activity by victims or witnesses. The effectiveness of police services requires extensive expenditure on communications equipment, transportation equipment, and safety and apprehension equipment as well as the extensive manpower necessary to investigate crime and apprehend offenders. Determining the specific proportion of these costs that are directly attributable to crime requires assessing the amount of police activity that is explicitly devoted to crime investigation and response. Interestingly, there is considerable evidence that the vast majority of police activity, upward of 80 percent, is not directly related to crime.

In addition to policing, there are also costs associated with courts and the judiciary. With the objective of punishing the guilty and protecting the innocent, the courts are the central body of determining the legitimacy of criminal justice sanctions. Court-related costs attributable to crime consist largely of time and energy spent on criminal cases. Estimations of these costs focus on the average salaries of judges, prosecutors, and defense attorneys divided by the amount of time spent on criminal cases. A 1994 report for the National Academy of Science suggests that the average trial costs per case may be as high as $30,000, although only a fraction of all crimes result in a trial.

A final source of costs stems from the sanctioning of convicted offenders. Offenders can be subject to a wide range of sanctions. Some sanctions, including fines and community service, do not explicitly involve public costs, but instead represent a transfer of resources from the individual to the public. Other sanctions, such as probation, jail, and imprisonment, do involve substantial costs to the public. Incarceration, for example, is imposed in almost all murder cases, the majority of rape and robbery cases, and almost half of all aggravated assault convictions. Estimates of the crime-related costs involve estimation of the annual cost of incarceration per individual multiplied by the average length of time served. Probation, on the other hand, has institutional costs associated with the maintenance of probation offices. Combining estimates of the average costs of incarceration and probation, the cost of imposing sanctions per offense may be as high as $75,000 per murder, $5,000 per rape, and just over $3,500 for robbery and aggravated assault.

Private sector costs. In addition to costs associated with the public's desire to apprehend and punish offenders, considerable other indirect costs are borne more directly by private individuals and commercial institutions. Costs associated with preventing criminal victimization are the main source of costs for both these groups.

Private citizens spend vast amounts of money to prevent crime victimization. Some of these costs are largely hidden. For example, houses and cars typically come with locks for doors. Yet, the price of the locks is built into the overall price of the house or car. Other costs are add-ons to purchases. Purchasing a bicycle typically involves the additional purchase of a lock. People often augment existing security precautions. Cars are fitted with alarms or other antitheft devices. Additional locks are added to doors and windows and old, less effective devices are replaced with new, more effective ones. Individuals may purchase dogs for security, thus incurring the costs of care and feeding. In even more extreme cases, people purchase firearms to protect themselves against intruders. National surveys show that almost 10 percent of all households own firearms primarily for protection. Importantly, all such costs are borne by individuals in the effort to protect themselves from criminal victimization.

Businesses and commercial establishments also spend considerable money on crime prevention. Commercial establishments, both large and small, often carry extra staff to guard against crime. Often such staff is specifically employed for crime-prevention purposes. Department stores may employ "floorwalkers" to guard against shoplifting, while bars and nightclubs employ "bouncers" as a means of protecting both patrons and property from harm and damage. Probably most significant, recent decades have seen the proliferation of security guards in both individual establishments and commercial venues such as shopping malls. The growth of private security has been so significant that it has dramatically outpaced the growth of conventional police and law enforcement.

In addition to personnel costs, various crime prevention devices are standard features in commercial establishments. Consistent with efforts to "target harden," such devices make establishments less attractive by increasing risks of apprehension. For example, convenience stores purchase "height tape" to be placed on doors such that employees can estimate the height of a thief or robber fleeing an establishment. They also often have time-release safes to limit the amount of money that can be stolen in any given time. The presence of surveillance cameras has also proliferated in recent years. That both personnel costs and the adoption of various crime prevention technologies are typically factored into the everyday or routine operating expenses of businesses is a significant indicator of the degree to which crime prevention has become "normalized" in society.

Although less intuitive than the direct costs of crime, responses to crime and crime-prevention strategies are important considerations in both understanding and estimating the overall costs of crime. The identification of such costs indicates the myriad ways in which citizens pay for crime. Importantly, a consideration of such factors demonstrates the generalized vulnerability to crime costs that all citizens bear rather than only those borne by those directly victimized by crime.

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about 8 years ago

Hi, I was wondering if you could provide the name of the 1994 report for the National Academy of Science that suggests that the average trial costs per case may be as high as $30,000.