Overall property crime was down in 2010, according to the latest statistics from the Federal Bureau of Investigation -- a piece of good, if puzzling, news for economists and crime watchers, who typically expect crime to rise when the economy is bad. The FBI reported that all categories of property crime, including burglary, larceny theft and motor-vehicle theft, declined 2.8% overall from 2009, with the biggest drop of 7.2% for stolen cars.
Yet for some smaller American towns, local statistics tell a different story. Larceny and burglary increased slightly in non-metropolitan areas, according to the report, and burglary in the northeast region is up 3.5%. Other mid-sized cities like Erie, Pa., Fresno, Calif., and Evanston, Ill., also reported increases in property crime.
Factors like high unemployment, drug-related burglaries and perhaps a sense that "crime only happens in the big city" can contribute to property crime in non-metropolitan areas, says Robert Siciliano, a home security expert and consultant with ADT Security Services. Foot traffic is a factor too: Homes in less-populated areas simply don't have the same surveillance as urban areas.
If you don't know what the property crime rate in your area is, you can map local crimes. (Also see 15 Most Dangerous Neighborhoods for Property Crime.)
Siciliano also adds that convenience stores, gas stations and other suburban and rural targets are increasingly using security systems, which can leave unsecured homes as more tempting targets. City dwellers tend to be more vigilant, have home-security systems and keep doors locked, he says. All these factors can funnel crime to the points of least resistance.
Gary Kleck, a criminology professor at Florida State University, says that security measures, including home alarms, can have the effect of shifting crime from one area to another.
"If it's like most situation-specific measures, it's effect is to displace crime from protected premises to unprotected ones, without necessarily reducing the aggregate number of crimes," says Kleck.
Studies show that even something as simple as a security sticker or lawn sign can deter a criminal from breaking into a house. But what is more important, according to Chris E. McGoey, a security expert based in Southern California, is a "mindset of caution." That means an having an awareness of your surroundings, never opening the door for strangers, talking about a plan should a robbery happen with your family, and preparing the documentation to file an insurance claim.
"Burglars love people who are oblivious and leave windows open or a door open," he says. "Or if you have someone come over for repairs, don't let them wander around without knowing anything about them."
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