Monday, September 26, 2011

Scratching the Surface of Criminal Behavior

In the formation of a global society, such a society will need to answer the question of how to reduce to prevalence and significance of crime. In a broad sense criminal activity can be divided into two categories based on the motivations that drive the action. Gain crimes are actions that are taken in effort to either gain financial resources or political influence. The overall level of violence associated with a gain crime tends to be low. Damage crimes are actions that are taken in effort to inflict either physical injury on another individual or structural harm to some institution. In contrast to gain crimes, damage crimes typically have significant violent elements.

Effective neutralization is interesting between these two categories because gain crimes are more instinctual due to the nature of human self-worth and greed contrasting morality, basically the desire to acquire resources with greater ease than conventional and available means allow. Damage crimes have a more defiant driving motivation. An individual commits a damage crime because he/she wants to inflict some level of physical or psychological damage to an individual or group typically with single-minded motivation, the desire for vengeance or superiority.

It is appropriate to divide gain crimes into two separate categories: major and minor. While eliminating minor gain crimes would be nice for the most part their effect on society is limited. Behaviors like speeding, jaywalking and similar traffic violations can be considered examples of minor gain crimes. Ironically any minor gain crimes, which have probabilities of detriment, can be neutralized through simple logical analysis regarding the insignificance of the gain. For example suppose an individual elects to speed and run the occasional red light to save time. Normally it is reasonable to assume that these actions will save no more than 2-3 minutes of travel time in most experiences. Clearly running red lights greatly increases the probability that an individual is involved in an accident, especially a fatal one. So initially one could argue that the individual in question is significantly increasing his/her chance of being involved in a fatal accident to save 2-3 minutes in travel time during a given trip. In addition there are moral ramifications applied to running the red light in that any accident involves other individuals who took no illegal actions.

Regarding the question of increasing fatality probability one could argue that this increase is a misrepresentation of the actual significance of a fatal accident, that the increase in this case is more political speak than anything. Political speak in this case is defined as: ‘on their face meaningful statements which later appear less meaningful after more in-depth analysis.’ For example consider one country at three different times, Time A, Time B and Time C, in sequential order from past to present. At Time A the country has a GNP of 9 million with an annual growth of 1.5 million over the next year. At a later time, Time B, the country could have a GNP of 24 million and see a growth of 6 million over the next year. Finally at an even later time, Time C, the country could have a GNP of 8 million with an annual growth of 2 million over the next year. Upon completion of that year the appropriate authority may then make the statement that GNP growth is at its highest level since Time A. This statement is somewhat misleading because although the percentage of GNP growth is at its highest level since Time A, the absolute growth, is not. While the statement may imply ‘rate of growth’ unless explicitly stated most individuals will take the statement to mean absolute growth.

Returning to the speeding example, one could argue that the probability of getting involved in a fatal accident is so low that even though running red lights significantly increases the probability the probability is still low. For example assume that the probability of a fatal accident is 0.01% versus 0.1% when running a red light (note these are not actually figures, just trend relevant numbers for the sake of the example). The change in probability is 10 fold, definitely significant, but the overall probability is still quite small, so one could argue that the importance of the change is mitigated. So one could argue that such a relative increase is still not enough to prevent an individual from preferring to save 2-3 minutes a day at the cost of increasing their probability of death.

However, the above abatement of risk argument typically falls apart because most individuals who commit minor gain crimes do not only commit them once. Thus, simple time-risk association can be used to demonstrate the overall detriment of such behavior. For example suppose an individual runs an average of one red lights per 100 minutes of drive time. This individual drives 15,000 miles per year at an average of 40 miles per hour resulting in a total drive time of 22,500 minutes per year resulting in 225 run red lights in a year. Running this many red lights would increase the probability of getting into an accident due to this action to 22.5%. Running these red lights saved an average time of 450-675 minutes per year.

Suppose that due to this increase this individual dies at age 40 years and 0 days and had been receiving the time saving benefits since age 19 years and 0 days. Had this individual not run red lights due to typical life and occupation expectancies you would have lived to the age of 71 years and 0 days and worked until the age of 63 years and 0 days (this individual makes a lot of life decisions on his birthday). So how much time did this individual actually save? Looking at the overall numbers shown in table 1, this behavior actually cost the individual up to 16,284,150 minutes of existence.

Table 1

So in this example taking the action of running a red light is not logical or intelligent at all. Of course an individual may believe that the probability of a fatal accident is so small that the numbers themselves are meaningless and in the end it is up to the individual to decide whether it is worth the potential of wasting some number of years of his/her life to save a number of minutes that only amounts to miniscule amount of the time that could be lost. In addition one must remember that this ‘additional’ time is not actually extra time, but simply the ability to utilize available time in a different way other than in transit, so if the individual in question does not effectively use this time it is meaningless to increase the probability of death, regardless of the overall probability.

Significant gain crimes are obviously more difficult to neutralize than insignificant gain crimes because logic cannot simply act alone. Revisiting that rational, significant gain crimes are appealing because they allow an individual to save time and/or resources while acquiring an equal or greater amount of resources than would have been available under conventional means. There are two strategies that can be utilized to limit the occurrence of such crimes.

First, increase the certainty of punishment. In the typical cost-benefit analysis there are two important factors relating to the cost, its severity and its certainty. Most criminal activity is largely dependent on the certainty of negative consequences. Most criminals act out of one of two rationalities: 1. Necessity of action where the criminal action is taken to ensure future survival (stealing food, etc.) 2. Dissociation of consequence where the criminal action is taken because the criminal does not believe that he/she will be caught. For this mindset severity of consequence is minimized because if one does not believe he/she will be caught then the consequence for being caught is unimportant. Therefore, if law enforcement is able to increase the certainty of these negative consequences criminals will be less likely to engage in any actions that would trigger those negative consequences. In addition increasing the certainty of capture will also increase the amount of resources that the criminal will need to devote to evade capture, thus reducing the profitability of the criminal venture making it less attractive to the potential criminal.

The biggest concern with this first strategy is the resource expenditure required to increase the certainty of punishment. Both technology and training of law enforcement need to remain at an equal to or higher than level versus the technology and strategies generated by the potential criminal. In addition not only will society need to provide the resources to capture criminals it will also need to make a significant number of arrests in the initial stages of enforcement programs to demonstrate to possible criminals their future if they elect to commit crimes. After capturing the criminals incarceration of these individuals may result in the construction of new detention centers adding additional land and financial costs. Overall the strategy of increasing certainty of punishment largely emulates the prevention-cure analogy, an ounce of prevention equals a pound of cure. The cost of the necessary technologies, personnel and incarceration should be less than attempting to neutralize more rampant significant gain crime in the future.

The second strategy focuses on reducing the overall benefit derived from these criminal actions to the point where the criminal no longer views the action as worthwhile. The best way to achieve this goal is to create barriers by either limiting distribution channels or restricting access to middlemen and/or customers. For example dealing illegal drugs is much more difficult when the number of individuals available to purchase the drugs is small because most individuals elect not to take drugs. Logically it is easier to eliminate customers of illegal or unnecessary products through the use of education and financial cost-benefit analysis with viable alternatives; however, some would argue that such strategies have not found success when actually applied in society.

Education is the first and theoretically most promising strategy for eliminating potential suppliers and buyers for criminals. By improving the awareness of individuals to unnecessary and/or detrimental actions, these individuals would be less inclined to commit such actions. For example for the major gain crimes of embezzlement, identity theft and grand larceny the victims are frequently careless or lax in security standards so the education process revolves around making more practical decisions that better safeguard information and limit the opportunities. Education in this respect is the easiest way to reduce this type of crime because an individual only needs to be made aware of existing defense mechanisms and how to utilize them. This is not to say that this education, even if followed by all individuals, will completely end this type of crime, but it will increase both the entry and maintenance costs for criminals engaging in these activities which will reduce the number of criminals. Unfortunately as previously mentioned an ample number of individuals to not even take the basic steps to protect themselves, such as using the word ‘password’ for their security procedures. This lack of action is detrimental for all of society because it easy ‘scores’ further instills resources and confidence in criminals driving more criminal action.

For individuals who fund criminal activity by purchasing the fruits of the action education can also reduce criminal opportunity. There are two types of buyers for criminal activity those who are unaware that the product is stolen/counterfeit and those who are. For those who are unaware, information relevant to the product purchased, both in cost, authenticity and availability can help differentiate between legal transactions and illegal transactions. For instance when attempting to purchase goods knowing the typical retail cost of the items and defining physical characteristics can serve to differentiate between stolen goods and legally acquired goods. Overall in a situation where the authenticity of the product could be questioned, the old adage of “Caveat Emptor” remains a good rule of thumb. One topic for debate may be whether or not harsher penalties should be attributed to buyers of stolen property who do not take reasonable steps to authenticate the legality of the purchased merchandise.

For individuals who know the transaction is illegal education can only offer some level of support regarding certain products. For example illegal drugs like heroin and cocaine can lose some of their desirability in light of the deleterious effects those drugs have on the body. In addition one can also inform drug users how much money they would save by eliminating drugs from their lives. Unfortunately education has little effect on neutralizing an individual making a non-consumable purchase, like buying a stolen stereo, because the individual is aware that the stereo is stolen, so the only education possibility would be on a subjective moral level.

Although education is a necessary and important first step, it is clearly not a “silver” bullet. For example one may cite that the federal government has been fighting a war on drugs for decades including multiple public service announcements, the most memorable being the fried egg-brain association, along with the D.A.R.E program and drug use has not collapsed into an activity only conducted by the most loathsome bottom dweller. With most criminal activities, the first step is to educate the individual to the detriments of participating in such an activity, the second step is introduce viable alternatives to the criminal behavior that will either provide similar, if not improved, sensory experiences or opportunities for resource acquisition. Therefore, it is not only essential to reduce the desirability of criminal activity, but also provide other opportunities or tasks that can replace the criminal activity. In essence this two-pronged strategy creates a situation where the criminal activity is not appealing while implying the availability of another more beneficial, to the individual and maybe even society, activity.

One could argue the curiosity is a significant motivating factor for buyers, especially of illegal drugs. While true, logic demonstrates that this curiosity is artificial. The curiosity largely associated with initial drug use is the typical ‘I wonder what is it like?’ despite plentiful information describing the positive short-term and negative long-term effects. The same curiosity motivator could be applied to putting one’s hand on a hot stove. Sufficient information exists regarding the outcome of such an action outside of direct experience. Despite the lack of direct experience there is not a rash of people putting their hands on hot stoves. Thus the curiosity motivator for drug use has simply maintained its faux legitimacy over touching a hot stove largely attributed to lack of acquired education regarding direct and indirect physical damage to the body.

Preventing damage crime appears to be more difficult than preventing gain crime. The chief problem, as previously mentioned, is the motivation behind damage crime. Although there may be some level of residual motivation through resource gain, the primary driving force is injury or damage to a person or group driven either by vengeance for a past wrongdoing or to prove one’s superiority over another. With this motivation cost-benefit analysis is more difficult as the cost becomes somewhat distorted because of the emotion and belief(s) involved in the action. Removing the cost-benefit analysis from the picture implies that very little can be done to dissuade the motivation beyond doing more to prevent the action before it occurs. Punishing the individuals after the fact is necessary, but its ability to act as an effective deterrent to future offenders is suspect. Overall there are four major scenarios when considering damage crimes, a single individual versus a group, a single individual versus another individual, a group versus a single individual or a group versus another group. In any of these situations the motivational factor can either be superiority or vengeance.

Looking first at the motivation of vengeance, interestingly enough although vengeance should be a stronger motivational force than superiority, it seems easier to derail, when using simple logic especially when large groups engaged against other large groups. The statement ‘an eye for an eye’ is an effective description behind vengeance motivation, with a counter being ‘an eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind’. The overall idea of the counter statement is to discourage one from retaliating when wronged for it will create a cycle of retaliation in which everyone ends up worse off.

Unfortunately this logical deterrent strategy seems to go against human nature and rational action. First, human nature tends to demand a response when one is damaged physically, emotionally, financially, etc. rather than simply shrugging it off, whether that response is an apology and proper redress by the damaging party or similar wrongdoing inflicted upon the damaging party. Simply shrugging it off can frequently lead to two possible interpretations. The damaged party is too weak to respond or the damaged party is unaffected/unconcerned by the action. To individuals with malice intent neither interpretation is favorable.

If the damaged party is viewed as too weak to respond there is a concern that the instigator may shift intrinsic interaction motivation from vengeance to superiority instead of eliminating any motivational element. It stands to reason that a shift in motivation to superiority will increase the negative interaction between the damaged party and the instigator whereas action motivated by vengeance is only a single event. The superiority motivator is largely demonstrated by the relationship between a bully and his/her victim(s). The concern with the damaged party appearing unaffected by the action is lack of satisfaction. If the vengeful party does not believe that the damaged party was sufficiently damaged then the vengeance motivator may not be satisfied and the individual may attempt another negative action against the previously damaged party in the name of original element ‘yet-to-be’ avenged.

While the above analysis seems to favor violence as a response to violence, such a belief is not wise. One option may be to attempt to restrict the number of retaliatory actions between the two parties as long as each side receives an equal number. Unfortunately that strategy would probably not be successful because the possibility exists that with each side knowing there are only a limited number of opportunities they would attempt to inflict maximum damage creating more overall damage than if there was no pre-set limit. So when one party commits a damage crime against another party there are three vengeance-motivated options that can be expected from the damaged party, none of which appear to be very attractive. No retaliation can be conducted, possibly leading to a greater number of negative actions. A set number of retaliation and counter action can be conducted, possibly generating a larger damage per attack ratio than might otherwise exist. Finally retaliation can continue for each counter action creating a cyclic nature of action counter action.

The only advantage stemming from the indefinite retaliation strategy is the possibility of no attacks in general. For example if there is not a significant difference between the power/resource levels of the conflicting sides, logic dictates that launching attacks is meaningless in effort to fulfill vengeance or demonstrate superiority because no significant change in the status quo would occur, simply more death and destruction. Two wrongs may not make a right, but the potential for two wrongs may eliminate the occurrence of the first wrong. Unfortunately in practice this strategy does not typically result in this logical outcome, as seen most notably in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict and the Shite and Sunni conflicts, because of strong religious and emotional factors involved in the crimes themselves, thus logic tends to be pushed into the background.

What happens between parties of differing power levels? If a weaker individual or group is attacked their options are few because to retaliate would invite 'vengeance' motivated attacks and to do nothing would invite more 'superiority' motivated attacks. Even though once again logic can fail in practice and weaker individuals can launch attacks against stronger parties. If a pre-emptive or retaliatory attack occurs by a weaker party it is important to analyze why the attack occurs.

The most probable reason for such action can be attributed to frustration. The weaker party is frustrated about either being weak in general or the negative superiority motivated actions of other stronger parties. The problem is that despite what is depicted in the movies these frustration-motivated responses rarely succeed in changing circumstances. After absorbing the attack the stronger party is not going to crumble resulting in the weaker party becoming the victor nor will the stronger party suddenly have a ‘new-found’ level of respect for the weaker party and stop initiating actions of superiority. Instead the more likely result is the stronger party will become agitated and begin executing vengeance-motivated actions. In addition the emotional nature of the response augments the danger. The worse case in this situation is that the frustration pushes the weaker party to act in a severe fashion far beyond anything the stronger party does which frequently results in significant bodily harm to the stronger party, the weaker party or uninvolved bystanders.

The second reason for an aggressive action by a weaker party would be an attempt to ‘stick-up’ for themselves. The concern with this motivation is similar to frustration in that such action will result in reprisal over respect. A third reason could be delusion in that the weaker party does not realize that he is the weaker party. Typically this reason is quickly eliminated as a motivating factor act the weaker party committees his action. Incidentally the best way to address vengeance motivated actions is to admit wrong doing before the action is committed and arrange proper redress.

The best option for the individual or group is to play defensively creating an environment where continuous demonstrations of ‘superiority’ cost more than their produced benefits and the lack of direct retaliation does not produce vengeance motivation. It is difficult for an individual or group to continue to devote resources to an action when those resources are wasted based on the result. If defensive techniques are not sufficient then the weaker party should request assistance from another party to bolster defense.

Overall negative actions will need to be dutifully addressed by society as with an expanding population characterized by no resource ceiling and unequal distribution resource acquisition opportunities are becoming fewer and far between. Therefore, continuing to educate the population as well as provide alternatives along with adequate and appropriate punishments are imperative to an evolving society.

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