Dude! Where’s My Car? – It Might Not Be the Drugs This Time

Humanity will blame local druggies when property goes missing. And who wouldn’t? Most of us have encountered someone who would sell his grandmother for a quick hit without hesitation. According to Felson and Staffs’ latest work entitled “Committing Economic Crime for Drug Money” (2017), substance use may not be driving crime as much as we think it is.

Felson’s Drug and Crime Experiment

In this study, researchers examined the connection between illegal drugs, property crime, and if those who engage in both activities are chemically-induced criminals using other people’s property to fund their drug habit. Or, if they are merely heartless hoodlums that like to have a good time while they take things that don’t belong to them. Turns out, there is a connection between drugs and illegal substances, but the motive isn’t as clear cut.
The research conducted by Felson and Staff resulted in three main conclusions:

  • Frequent users of expensive drugs (cocaine and heroin) are more likely to commit economic crimes. Overall, 30% of property crimes and 27% of the drug crimes committed by the prison sample were motivated by the need for drug money.
  • Frequent marijuana and methamphetamine users, as well as infrequent cocaine and heroin users, sometimes have the same motivel.
  • Drug use can motivate economic crime among non-frequent users, as well.

Felson and Staff found that, unlike the common stereotype, property offenders are more likely to be white males with prior convictions. And trafficking didn’t have much effect on the numbers either. Only 14% of the sample trafficking marijuana said they did it for drug money. (The 44% of heroin traffickers, however, are guilty of having this motivation.) And, in case you were wondering, the type of drugs did have an effect on the likelihood of committing a drug-money-driven crime.

Heavy powder cocaine users were 3.5 times more likely to commit drug-motivated crimes than non users. Heavy heroin user? Nine times. And crack cocaine users? A shocking 16 times more likely. Other than that, however, there was very little to no relationship. Drug motivation for economic crimes has not increased over time, either. The most interesting points in the study, however, were the societal and behaviour implications.

Party Lifestyles, Education, and Employment in Relation to Economic Crime

One theory explored is the idea that offenders commit property crimes to fund the party lifestyles they enjoy. This makes sense when you think about it. Heavy drinking, weed, drugs, and women cost a lot more than they used to. So, when they start running out of money, men will commit property crimes to solve the problem. What this theory doesn’t explain are the concepts of women offenders, the fact that property crimes decrease with age as drug use increases, or that criminal behaviour often precedes drug use. It would, however, explain why marijuana and occasional users will commit property crimes.

As expected, education and employment numbers are indirectly proportionate to the likelihood of drug-motivated property crime offences. Those with employment were 29% less likely to behave in such a manner. And, for every additional year individuals were educated, they were 65% less likely to commit economic crime. Considering wide range of benefits education has for the individual and society at large, this was an important finding and suggestion.

All results considered, it appears as though it might be possible to reduce economic crime by reducing drug use, but the war on drugs isn’t going to get us there. If these findings can be correctly extrapolated to the general population, education, employment, and dealing with other risk factors associated with antisocial behaviour would be far more effective. This would provide users with the means and opportunity to have legitimate sources of income, interact with those demonstrating prosocial behaviour, and reduce the reliance on the party lifestyle some seem to get accustomed to. So, while the drugs might be to blame for your car being gone one morning, how we go about dealing with offenders could be the bigger problem.

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