Crime, on the increase throughout the world, includes both personal attacks (assaults, theft, muggings) and transnational offenses (diplomat kidnappings, airplane hijackings, drug trafficking), leading to a pervasive uneasiness amongst ordinary citizens who are increasingly resorting to active as well as passive self-protection measures. In addition to criminal offenses often associated with low socio-economic groups (such as murder, burglary, rape, arson, manslaughter, and theft), there is now an acceleration in the dimensions of white collar crimes such as consumer fraud, illegal price fixing, tax evasion and contravention of anti-trust or anti-monopoly laws and labour legislation. Convictions of criminals by courts reflect biases inherent in police practice, as many criminal acts escape notice or their perpetrators cannot be identified. Organized crime, often impervious to police intensifications and court actions, is taken for granted as an aspect of modern industrial life in various countries, often putting legitimate businesses into bankruptcy as a result of unequal competition. Corrupt practices within official bureaucracies may divert funds intended for national development. Transnational crimes in their new political forms challenge social defence while disrupting world order and security.
Recorded crime in industrial societies has increased every year since the mid-1950s, for complex reasons not wholly understood, and now the rate of increase exceeds any in previous history. While studies show that in most countries urban areas have higher crime rates than the surrounding rural areas (due to unemployment, poverty, hopelessness of self-improvement, anonymity and overcrowding being more prevalent in cities), the corresponding economic strain has forced many countries to curtail their rehabilitative crime prevention programmes in favour of less effective short-term repressive policies. The overall general decline of family structure has led both to a mistrust of and intolerance of the older and more established methods of prevention and control, and to impatience with the value systems upon which they have been based. As education spreads, higher expectations, if unfulfilled, appear to increase the vulnerability of young people to the temptation of illegal short cuts to wealth, power, and status. In any case, crime is predominantly an activity of young male members of society.
Crime is viewed differently according to political philosophy. Conservatives tend to view crime in individual terms – personal delinquency – and that fallen man can only be frightened into non-criminal behaviour by adhering to institutions and value hallowed by the time (hence claims to the benefit of religious belief and penalties). On the other hand, those of more liberal political leanings tend to see crime rooted in social inequity and material disadvantage -- essentially a social rather than an individual phenomenon (hence claims to the benefit of social support and raised standards of living).
Neglecting national variations in the basis of statistical estimates, figures from Interpol indicate that in 1990 there were approximately 39 million crimes reported from 91 countries worldwide, namely 1300 per 100,000 population; some 8.8 million (namely 22%) were claimed to have been resolved.
About one in four American households was hit in 1989 by a violent or property crime including rape, robbery, assault, personal theft, burglary and motor vehicle theft. In the same year the UK suffered 11,500 crimes a day, of which 94% were crimes against property. All crime in the UK increased by 3.8% in 1993 over 1992, which included a 14% increase in robberies. Burglaries, which accounted for one quarter of all crime, increased by 9%, and house burglaries by 12%. Vehicle crime rose by 5%, largely due to a 7% rise in the thefts of cars. The 1992 British Crime Survey reported that recorded crime nearly doubled between 1981 and 1991, reaching 5.5 million reported incidents. Most crimes are not reported, however, and the estimate of total crimes in England and Wales in 1991 was 15 million. A similar, though less pronounced, increase showed in the Netherlands in the ten years between 1980 and 1990, with an increase in robberies from 291,543 to 381,324 (over 30%); assaults from 13,409 to 21,786 (62%); and attempted murders from 1,501 to 2,178 (45%).
Crime has effects which are as extensive as society itself. It can be as subversive to development and debasing to the quality of life as it is personally dangerous, socially damaging or politically embarrassing. Its quiet erosion of national achievement and the long-term influence on motivation can be far more detrimental to a society than is currently recognized. Also, crime is barbaric. Whether it is more so than war is arguable, and it is hard to distinguish between them as affronts to human civilization developed over thousands of years. One difference between war and crime is that in the former the adversaries have usually been combatants (until the advent of total wars). In crime there is only one combatant, the criminal, and the victim, the non-combatant, is frequently just a passive object. The victims of crime include people from all arenas of age, education, occupation, sex and nationality. The threat of possible crime, and the after effects of crimes perpetrated, violate the legitimate rights of the citizen and limit his freedom and opportunities, thwarting the aspirations of those who work for a happy community whether at the local or international level. Crime permeates all aspects of society and, as such, is a form of warfare waged on a world-wide scale, with the non-combatants on the losing side.
The distinction between crime and other forms of socially deviant behaviour is not clear-cut, and varies in time and place with the scope and limits of criminal law. Much criminal behaviour is irrational and may stem from a sense of guilt and the desire to be punished, or from a defect in the capacity to acquire conditioned avoidance responses to actions which elicit punishment (found in highly extroverted individuals). Other causes of criminal behaviour have been shown to be related to heredity, and to suspension of the socialization process inherent in family breakdown. Ability to make use of sophisticated language assists in mediating avoidance conditioning, and techniques are being developed using this and other factors which may reduce the inherent criminality in particular individuals.