Property crime is a category of crime that includes, among other crimes, burglary, larceny, theft, motor vehicle theft, arson, shoplifting, and vandalism. Property crime only involves the taking of money or property, and does not involve force or threat of force against a victim. Although robbery involves taking property, it is classified as a violent crime, as force or threat of force on an individual that is present is involved in contrast to burglary which is typically of an unoccupied dwelling or other unoccupied building.
Property crimes are high-volume crimes, with cash, electronics (e.g. televisions), power tools, cameras, and jewelry often targeted. "Hot products" tend to be items that are concealable, removable, available, valuable, and enjoyable, with an ease of "disposal" being the most important characteristic.
Types of property crime
Burglary of residences, retail establishments, and other commercial facilities involves breaking and entering, and stealing property. Attempted forcible entry into a property is also classified as burglary, in the FBI's Uniform Crime Reports (UCR) definition.
As of 1999, there were 1.4 million residential burglaries reported in the United States, which was a record low number, not seen since 1966. Though, up to 50% of burglaries are not reported to the police. The clearance rate for burglary is low, with only 12.7% of cases being solved in the United States in 2005, and 23% in the United Kingdom.
In the United States, burglary rates are highest in August and lowest in February, with weather, length-of-day, and other factors having an effect on rates. Fall and Winter are peak seasons for burglary in Denmark. Most residential burglaries occur on weekdays, between 10-11 a.m. and 1-3 p.m, when homes are the least likely to be occupied. The temporal pattern is reversed for non-residential burglaries, which are more likely to occur at night and on weekends when commercial premises are unattended.
Burglary at single-family home construction sites is an increasing problem in the United States, Canada, Australia, Europe, and Japan, and elsewhere in the world, with burglary of tools and equipment at residential subdivision construction sites comprising between 5 and 20 percent of building costs. In the United States, equipment worth $300 million to $1 billion is stolen each year. Large-scale tract developers are hardest hit by this form of crime.
Distraction burglary is a form of burglary where the offender(s) trick or dupe the occupant or distract them, allowing co-offender(s) to gain access and commit burglary. The elderly are particularly vulnerable to distraction burglary.
Some crime prevention programs, such as Neighborhood Watch, have shown little effectiveness in reducing burglary and other crime, though can be effective when at least some community participants are home during the weekdays, thus avoiding any large gaps in the Neighborhood Watch during the peak residential property crime hours of 10am to 11am and 1pm to 3pm.
Motor vehicle theft
Motor vehicle theft is a common form of property crime, often perpetrated by youths for joyriding. The FBI includes attempted motor vehicle thefts in its Uniform Crime Report (UCR) definition. About 15-20% of motor vehicle thefts are committed for their auto parts or with an intent of re-selling them on the black market. Crime prevention and target-hardening measures, such as car alarms and ignition locks, have been effective deterrents against motor vehicle theft, as have been practices such as etching VINs on car parts.
Only 13% of reported motor vehicle theft cases were cleared in the United States in 2005.
Some car types are more popular with thieves, with sports cars often being preferred by those stealing cars for joyriding. Sport utility vehicles also have higher rates of theft, with the Cadillac Escalade cited in 2003 by the Highway Data Loss Institute as having the most frequent theft claims in the United States.
Construction vehicles are also often stolen, as they can easily be re-sold in the second-hand market.
Arson involves any intentional fire setting or attempting to set fire. A frequent motive for arson is insurance fraud, with the fire staged to appear accidental. Other motives for arson include desire to commit vandalism or mischief, for thrill or excitement, for revenge, to conceal other crimes, or as a hate crime.
Criminal law is designed to maintain social order and to protect the authority of the state. In capitalist societies, criminal law is also important in protecting personal property and creating a positive environment for economic activity.
In 1473, Carrier's Case in England set a precedent for criminal law in establishing a right for protecting private property. The English court ruled against those who transported merchandise on behalf of others and wrongfully kept that merchandise, stating that it constituted a crime of larceny. The court recognized the importance of protecting property rights, in creating an environment for the English mercantile system to thrive.
In 2004, 12% of households in the United States experienced some type of property crime, with theft being the most common. The percentage of U.S. households that experienced property crime dropped from 21% in 1994 to 12% in 2004. In Finland, a marked decrease in adolescents committing property crimes also occurred from 1995 to 2004.
The United Kingdom similarly experienced large decreases in property crime, with motor vehicle theft and domestic burglary decreasing 24%, and burglaries, thefts from auto, and other thefts decreasing 45% from 1995 to 2004. From 2001 to 2004, New South Wales in Australia experienced a marked decrease in property crimes, with rates of motor vehicle theft declining by 39%, among other declining trends in property crime.
From 1996 to 2005, the number of arrests in the United States for property crime has declined by 22.1%. The decline is far larger for offenders under age 18, with a decrease of 43.8% in property crime arrests, compared to a 9.5% decrease for those 18 and over. The peak age for property crime arrests in the United States is 16, compared to 18 for violent crime arrests.
Situational factors or characteristics of the building environment may make it a more tempting target for offenders. Situational factors can be altered by property owners to make a property less desirable as a target of opportunity for potential offenders. According to rational choice theory, criminals weigh costs/risks and benefits in deciding whether or not to take advantage of a crime opportunity.
The permeability of residential neighborhoods, or accessibility to outside traffic, is another factor. The proximity of residential areas to main arterial roads is similarly a factor, as such roads tend to be most familiar to criminals and people in general. Criminals tend not to venture too far from familiar places.
Burglars who take cash and jewelry tend to travel on foot, selecting targets close to a busy city center, whereas burglars that target electronics often will travel by car, tending to favor targets in suburban areas.
Property crime control strategies in most English-speaking democracies take a Bentham approach, with focus on punishment and deterrence. Imprisonment punishment also serves to incapacitate offenders for some period of time from re-offending.
The Visiting Forces Act 1952
The expression "offence against property" is used as a term of art in section 3 of the Visiting Forces Act 1952 (15 & 16 Geo.6 & 1 Eliz.2 c.67) and is defined for that purpose by paragraphs 3 (England and Wales and Northern Ireland) and 4 (Scotland) of the Schedule to that Act
England and Wales and Northern Ireland
In the application of section 3 of the 1952 Act to England and Wales and to Northern Ireland it means any offence punishable under any of the following enactments:
- the Malicious Damage Act 1861
- section 13 of the Debtors Act 1869 and section 13 of the Debtors Act (Ireland) 1872 (which relate to the obtaining of credit by false pretences and to certain frauds on creditors)
- section 28 of the Road Traffic Act 1930 and section 4 of the Motor Vehicles and Road Traffic Act (Northern Ireland) 1930 (which relate to the taking of a motor vehicle without the owner’s consent)[why?]
- the Theft Act 1968 except section 8 (robbery)
- the Theft Act (Northern Ireland) 1969 except section 8 (robbery)
- the Theft Act 1978
- the Theft (Northern Ireland) Order 1978
- the Criminal Damage Act 1971
- the Criminal Damage (Northern Ireland) Order 1977
- the Fraud Act 2006
- an offence under section 2 of the Explosive Substances Act 1883 of causing an explosion likely to cause serious injury to property in connection with such an attack as is mentioned in section 1(1)(b) of the Internationally Protected Persons Act 1978
- an offence under section 2 of the Nuclear Material (Offences) Act 1983 where the circumstances are that, either, in the case of a contravention of subsection (2), the act falling within paragraph (a) or (b) of that subsection would, had it been done, have constituted an offence falling within the foregoing sub-paragraphs, or, in the case of a contravention of subsection (3) or (4), the act threatened would, had it been done, have constituted such an offence
- an offence under section 2 of the Explosive Substances Act 1883 of causing an explosion likely to cause serious injury to property in connection with such an attack as is mentioned in section 2(1) of the United Nations Personnel Act 1997
In the application of the section 3 of the 1952 Act to Scotland it means any of the following offences:
- theft, housebreaking with intent to steal, opening lockfast places with intent to steal, reset, plagium, breach of trust and embezzlement, falsehood, fraud and wilful imposition, threats to extort money or with intent to extort money, and malicious mischief
- any offence under section 28 of the Road Traffic Act 1930
- any of the following offences in connection with such an attack as is mentioned in section 1(1)(b) of the Internationally Protected Persons Act 1978:
- an offence under section 2 of the Nuclear Material (Offences) Act 1983, where the circumstances are that either, in the case of a contravention of subsection (2), the act falling within paragraph (a) or (b) of that subsection would, had it been done, have constituted an offence falling within sub-paragraph (a) or (b) of this paragraph, or, in the case of a contravention of subsection (3) or (4), the act threatened would, had it been done, have constituted such an offence
- any of the following offences in connection with such an attack as is mentioned in section 2(1) of the United Nations Personnel Act 1997
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- Paragraph 3(m), inserted by the Fraud Act 2006, Schedule 1, paragraph 2