Property crime

Property crime is a category of crime that includes, among other crimes, burglary, larceny, theft, motor vehicle theft, arson, shoplifting, and vandalism. Property crime involves the taking of property, and does not involve force or threat of force against a victim. Crimes against property are divided into two groups: destroyed property and stolen property. When property is destroyed, it could be called arson or vandalism. Examples of the act of stealing property is robbery or embezzlement. 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.[1] "Hot products" tend to be items that are concealable, removable, available, valuable, and enjoyable, with an ease of "disposal" being the most important characteristic.[2]

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.[3] Though, up to 50% of burglaries are not reported to the police.[3] The clearance rate for burglary is low, with only 12.7% of cases being solved in the United States in 2005,[4] and 23% in the United Kingdom.[3]

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.[3] Fall and Winter are peak seasons for burglary in Denmark.[5] 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.[3] 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.[6]

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.[7] In the United States, equipment worth $300 million to $1 billion is stolen each year.[8] Large-scale tract developers are hardest hit by this form of crime.[9]

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.[10] The elderly are particularly vulnerable to distraction burglary.[10]

Some crime prevention programs, such as Neighborhood Watch, have shown little effectiveness in reducing burglary and other crime,[3] 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.[11]


Theft of cash is most common, over everything else, followed by vehicle parts, clothing, and tools.[2]

In 2005, only 18% of reported cases of larceny/theft were cleared in the United States.[4]

Shoplifting is a specific type of theft, with products taken from retail shops without paying. Items popular with shoplifters include cigarettes, alcoholic beverages, and fashionable clothing.[2]

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.[12] 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.[12]

Only 13% of reported motor vehicle theft cases were cleared in the United States in 2005.[4]

Some car types are more popular with thieves, with sports cars often being preferred by those stealing cars for joyriding.[2] 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.[13]

Construction vehicles are also often stolen, as they can easily be re-sold in the second-hand market.[2]

Bicycle theft

Bicycle theft is a crime involving theft of a bicycle. Those looking to steal bikes can use a variety of different methods in order to do so.


Arson involves any intentional fire setting or attempting to set fire. It is also considered arson if one burns one's own property. A frequent motive for arson is insurance fraud, with the fire staged to appear accidental.[14] 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.[15] The Church Arson Prevention Act of 1996 was established to protect places of worship.


Vandalism is the willful destruction or damage to a person's property. There are millions of damage every year. Some examples include: breaking windows, ripping down mailboxes, throwing eggs, graffiti, etc.

Mailbox baseball

A mailbox (left) that was damaged by a game of mailbox baseball.

Mailbox baseball or mailboxing is an activity in which a baseball bat or other object is used to knock over, dent, or smash roadside mailboxes by a passenger in a car. It can be played either as a game, with score kept in a manner similar to baseball, or played simply for aimless fun. In either case it is an act of vandalism and destruction of other peoples' property.

Mailbox baseball is depicted in several films and television shows such as Stand by Me, The Benchwarmers, Dazed and Confused, Freaks and Geeks, 21 Jump Street, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, Ghost Whisperer, The Simpsons, Family Guy, and The X-Files.

Damaging, destroying or tampering with mail boxes or with the US mail is a federal crime, punishable by a fine and/or up to three years of imprisonment.[16]


Larceny is the unlawful taking of another person's property with the intention to deprive the owner of it. If the stolen object is above a large value, then it is considered a felony and is called a grand theft. A petty theft is stealing and object with a small value which would pass as a misdemeanor. If a person has a lost item in possession, and a reasonable method exists for finding the owner, they must return it or it would be considered larceny. For example, if one finds a wallet with an ID in it, it is their duty to find a method to return it to the owner. Shoplifting and attempted shoplifting fall under this category.


Embezzlement is the unlawful taking of property by someone who it was entrusted. For example, if an named person trusts their friend enough to allow them to hold their wallet, and the friend goes home without returning the wallet with the intention of keeping the money, the friend would have committed embezzlement.


Robbery is the unlawful taking of property from a person's immediate possession through using force of intimidation.


Extortion is the use of threats to obtain the property of another person. Some threats may include: future harm, destroying one's property, injuring one's character or reputation, or death.


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.[17][18]

In the United States, burglary is considered a felony, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation counts burglary, larceny-theft, motor vehicle theft, and arson in Uniform Crime Reports statistics.[19]

Juvenile Vandalism Penalties


To pay for the damages for repair. The judge may direct the offender to find or maintain employment.


Money paid to the victim which can range from hundreds to thousands.


Must perform specific tasks (school, work, see a counselor etc.).


Similar to probation.


This can be full-time, weekends, or enhanced supervision.


Property crime rates in the United States, 1986-2005 (Source: FBI UCR data, which only shows reported crime)

In 2004, 12% of households in the United States experienced some type of property crime, with theft being the most common.[20] The percentage of U.S. households that experienced property crime dropped from 21% in 1994 to 12% in 2004.[20] In Finland, a marked decrease in adolescents committing property crimes also occurred from 1995 to 2004.[21]

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.[22] 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.[23]

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.[24] The peak age for property crime arrests in the United States is 16, compared to 18 for violent crime arrests.[25]



Situational factors or characteristics of the building environment may make it a more tempting target for offenders.[26] 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.[27]

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.[28]

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.[29]

Crime control

Property crime control strategies in most English-speaking democracies take a Bentham approach, with focus on punishment and deterrence.[30] Imprisonment punishment also serves to incapacitate offenders for some period of time from re-offending.

United Kingdom

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:


In the application of the section 3 of the 1952 Act to Scotland it means any of the following offences:

See also


  1. Freiberg, Arie (December 1996). "The Property Crime Market: A Regulatory Approach" (PDF). Burglary and Car Theft: Is Your Property Safe?, Melbourne, Australia.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 Clarke, Ronald V. (1999). "Hot Products: understanding, anticipating and reducing demand for stolen goods" (PDF). Police Research Series, Paper 112. Home Office, Policing and Reducing Crime Unit.
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Weisel, Deborah Lamm (July 2002). "Burglary in Single Family Houses" (PDF). COPS. Archived from the original (PDF) on May 13, 2015.
  4. 1 2 3 "Clearances - Crime in the United States, 2005". FBI. Archived from the original on 2006-11-01. Retrieved 2006-11-03.
  5. Sorensen, D. (2004). "Temporal Patterns of Danish Residential Burglary". Justitsministeriet. Retrieved 2006-11-03.
  6. Ratcliffe, Jerry H. (2001). "Policing Urban Burglary" (PDF). Trends and Issues in Crime and Criminal Justice, no 213. Australian Institute of Criminology.
  7. Boba, Rachel (August 2006). "Burglary at Single-Family House Construction Sites" (PDF). COPS.
  8. "Law Enforcement Focuses on Construction Site Theft". Construction Equipment Guide. March 2, 2005.
  9. "Building frenzy spurs rise in home site theft". February 6, 2005.
  10. 1 2 "Distraction Burglary". Home Office. Retrieved 2006-11-03.
  11. Thomas, Shane R. "Crime Forecasting & How It Can Prevent Burglaries". Your Home Security Watch. Retrieved 4 November 2015.
  12. 1 2 Sutton, Adam (December 1996). "Property crime prevention : the future" (PDF). Burglary and Car Theft: Is Your Property Safe?, Melbourne, Australia.
  13. "Cadillac Escalade SUV is top theft target & has worst overall insurance theft losses" (PDF). Highway Data Loss Institute. August 21, 2001.
  14. Douglas, John E., Allen G. Burgess, Robert K. Ressler (2006). Crime Classification Manual. Wiley. pp. 41–42.
  15. Douglas, John E., Allen G. Burgess, Robert K. Ressler (2006). Crime Classification Manual. Wiley. pp. 261–287.
  16. "18 USC § 1705 - Destruction of letter boxes or mail". Cornell University Law School. Retrieved May 23, 2009.
  17. Siegel, Larry J. (2003). "Chapter 2". Criminology. Wadsworth.
  18. Hall, Jerome (1952). Theft, Law and Society (2nd ed.).
  19. "Property Crime". Crime in the United States. Federal Bureau of Investigation. 2004. Archived from the original on 2008-07-09. Retrieved 2008-11-10.
  20. 1 2 Klaus, Patsy (April 2006). "National Crime Victimization Survey - Crime and the Nation's Households, 2004" (PDF). Bureau of Justice Statistics. Archived from the original (PDF) on September 27, 2006.
  21. Kivivuori, Janne, Venla Salmi. "Trends of Self-Reported Juvenile Delinquency in Finland, 1995-2004" (PDF).
  22. "Crime in England and Wales 2004/2005" (PDF). Home Office. July 2005.
  23. Vancouver Bc Canada has the highest percentage of property crime in North America Moffatt, Steve, Suzanne Poynton (January 2006). "Long-Term Trends in Property and Violent Crime in New South Wales: 1990-2004" (PDF). NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research.
  24. "Table 32 - Crime in the United States 2005". Federal Bureau of Investigation.
  25. FBI Uniform Crime Reports, 2000
  26. Brantingham, P.J. & P.L. Brantingham (1981). Environmental criminology. Sage Publications.
  27. Bennett, T., R. Wright (1986). Burglars on Burglary. Gower.
  28. White, Garland F. (1990). "Neighborhood Permeability and Burglary Rates". Justice Quarterly. 7 (1).
  29. Poyner, B, B. Webb (1991). Crime Free Housing. Butterworth.
  30. Weatherburn, Don, Peter Grabosky (March 1997). "Strategic Approaches to Property Crime Control" (PDF). Second National Outlook Symposium: Violent Crime, Property Crime and Public Policy, Canberra, Australia.
  31. Paragraph 3(m), inserted by the Fraud Act 2006, Schedule 1, paragraph 2
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