Financial and Emotional Costs of Crime

It has been estimated by some that crime in the United States costs in excess of one and a half trillion dollars a year. That figure is probably low. It is doubtful that all crime is reported or that all real costs are considered. There is also an emotional toll, or cost, that the victims of crime must endure. Some victims never fully recover.

Let’s begin at a place that we often don’t think about. The legislative function of government. Laws are needed to identify and define what is acceptable behavior and what is not. Laws become part of our costs of crime. We have hundreds of thousands of cities passing laws and ordinances with the help of local officials, attorneys, and politicians. That effort is duplicated in counties via county ordinances. We have 50 states and thousands of legislators, lobbyists, attorneys, agencies, and governors passing laws. The Federal Government also passes laws. We have an army of people involved in the drafting and making of those laws.

We have local, county, state, and federal police officers. Working from the top down we have thousands upon thousands employed at the A.T.F., C.I.A., D.E.A., F.B.I., I.C.E., I.R.S., T.S.A., U.S. Marshals, Postal Inspectors and Police, Railroad Police, Secret Service and Treasury agents, U.S. Forest Service, Park Rangers, Military Police. We have federal prisons and guards. We have state police in every state and an absolute myriad of state enforcement bureaus from alcohol, gaming and lottery, child support and enforcement, fraud divisions, motor vehicle enforcement, the list goes on and on. We have county and city police agencies and jail staff. Probation and parole officers. Coroners and medical examiners.

We have layer upon layer of local, state, and federal judiciaries. Thousands of lawyers, prosecutors, judges, criminal investigators, court clerks, recorders, interpreters, and paralegals.

All of that and we haven’t even talked about insurance companies, private investigators, claims adjusters, millions of security guards, loss prevention employees, inventory takers, surveillance, alarms and cameras and associated monitoring, firefighters putting out arson caused fires, or emergency medical services caring for driving under the influence or reckless driving induced trauma and vehicle accidents. Stabbings, shootings, or other violent calls. We haven’t even talked about the billions in theft and related losses or laundered drug money. Or things like tax evasion.

Employees at virtually every level and branch or government, partially or wholly, directly or indirectly, exist because of crime. Members of the legislative, judiciary, or executive and enforcement branch of government. Employees with significant salaries and benefits.

One man, Bernard Madoff, fraudulently stole 50 billion dollars. That is 50,000 million. It will cost millions more to convict him. If he lives ten years in prison he will only cost taxpayers an additional 400,000 dollars. That seems like bargain. The cost to prosecute and incarcerate criminals is outrageous. As bad as all this is, sometimes the emotional costs are just as overwhelming.

It is difficult to imagine losing all of those kids at Columbine High or Virginia Tech, absolutely senseless and impossible to understand. Having to bury sons and daughters and find a way to accept it. Losing a family member at the hands of a drunk driver and receiving a message at three a.m. Victims of child abuse or rape seeking years of therapy and professional help. There is even a stressful toll on the people charged with enforcing our laws and carrying them out. Law enforcement officers suffer high divorce rates, alcoholism, premature death, and suicide. They too, become part of the cost of crime. Trying to quantify the costs of crime and the emotional costs is staggering if not impossible. At it’s very best, trying to measure the costs of crime is incredibly imprecise. As difficult as it is to measure financially, it is far more difficult to understand or measure emotionally.