The Cost of Crime Explained

Arguably the most contentious of duplicities, the cost of crime on one hand fosters a range of related indusrty and careers from enforcement, legal professions, government agencies and the prison system. None of this would be necessary in a perfect world of citizens observing all laws of the land yet a comensurate cost is commission of a criminal act involving property, money, illegal substances, prostitution, murder, corporate crime and fraud to name a few.

A simplistic view describing the cost of crime might consider loss by way of theft or fraud, loss and damage through property crime, or perhaps even the human cost related to the physical harm or killing of another person. No matter the crime, cost is far more a complex issue extending across the broadest spectrum of society involving family and individuals, through to the very system imposed upon society that serves to differentiate civilized culture from barbarism.

Exploring this issue further, consider the crime of shoplifting as an example of the complex nature and cumulative cost effects. First is the store needing to try and recover the cost of stolen goods lost because only a relatively small percentage of shoplifters are caught. Of those few who are caught and handed over to authorities there are costs involved store employees taking time away from the workplace having to attend court as a witness, and the nature of our justice system in assuming all are innocent until proven guilty. The onus therefore falls to the store employee needing to prove the crime moreover, sometimes a technicality is sufficient to see a verdict of not guilty.

A shoplifter caught stealing an item or items of value less than $10 will incur ongoing costs many times greater. In our chain of events instigated by detection and capture of a shoplifter we next have law enforcement; men and women who are employed and paid from the taxes of workers, and who must now respond to deal with the incident. Employing police time and resources significantly add to the cost, and the attempt to steal now involves costs mounting into many hundreds of dollars before the matter enters the courts.

The shoplifter is next taken to the police station, interviewed and processed ready for a court appearance. This will usually involve engaging legal representation for the perpetrator and this is often at the expense of taxpayers. Meanwhile the store employee will likewise require some legal representation should the matter proceed to court. At this point the mounting costs of consequences following our $10 crime have exceeded a four figure sum.

The day arrives for the matter to be heard in court and this is where a number of possibilities determine the total cost related to the theft of relatively low value items. If the magistrate or judge elects to issue a fine, the matter does not end there because we now introduce administrative costs involved in setting up the means for this fine to be paid, and to ensure measures are in place should the fine not be paid. In some ways this might be the end of the matter but consider the cumulative costs involved with employee wages, lost productivity, legal costs, administrative costs and the need for additional store security and what started out as a minor misdemeanor would easily exceed $20 000 or more.

We have briefly looked at a range of issues and consequences resulting from the detection and prosecution of a shoplifter, and where the relatively low value of goods stolen comprised an insignificant part of the cumulative costs that followed. From the retailer’s point of view some of these costs are passed on to the consumers by way of more costly goods. The taxpayers bear costs involved in paying law enforcement, legal representation and administrative costs. In the event the shoplifter is given a custodial sentence a definite possibility in the event the individual had numerous previous offences, the order of magnitude in cost might easily exceed $50 000.00 or more.

Consider the costs involved in a more serious criminal charge and it is clear the cost of crime is borne across a wide range of the community and the taxpayer. Crime in one sense provides the means for many distinguished and successful careers however this in no way excuses the actions of the criminal elements that plague all society. In some ways crime does indeed pay, and the renumeration is worth the effort of earning a law degree, or building a career in law enforcement. On the otherhand; criminals are finding life more difficult as advancements in detection and prosecutions but the true cost of crime is borne by the innocent!