U.S. Cities With the Highest Theft Rates

Source:Forbes.com Author:Michael Maiello Date:03/25/14 Click:

Imitation's not the sincerest form of flattery. Theft is.

Anyone can dress like you, talk like you or copy your hairstyle. But they really have to want what you've got if they're willing to risk their limbs to get the shirt off your back. Or the car from your driveway.

That's the case in the 10 cities we've identified as America's most envious. These are places, among the country's 50 most populated cities, with the highest per capita incidences of property crimes, as measured last year by the FBI.

Memphis, Tenn. leads the list. For every 100,000 people, there are 8,358 property crimes committed--about 19% higher than in runner-up Charlotte, N.C.

Rounding out the top five are San Antonio (6,084), Seattle (6,771) and Providence, R.I. (4,893).

"Property crimes" include burglary, larceny and auto theft. The inclusion of burglary and larceny as separate categories might seem redundant to the non-criminal reader but here's a quick primer (hardened criminals should skip the next paragraph):

Burglary involves unlawfully entering a building or structure with the intent to steal and then stealing something. In a larceny, one takes something that they don't own, but without breaking and entering to do it.

Here's a simple guide: If you're shoplifting in a store during business hours, you're enjoying the crime of larceny. If you're in that same store after it's closed, and there's a security guard that you've knocked out with an ether-soaked rag drooling on your three-toed ninja shoes as you launch into a series of Tai Chi Chuan-inspired acrobatics to avoid the laser alarm system, you're a burglar. In Memphis, Tenn. and elsewhere, larcenies far outnumber burglaries, probably because shoplifting is the easiest theft to pull off (and ninja shoes are expensive).

But larcenist or burglar or car thief, are you envious?

Some might say yes.

Cities With the Most Property Crimes*

1. Memphis, Tenn.
2. Charlotte, N.C.
3. San Antonio, Texas
4. Seattle, Wash.
5. Providence, R.I.

*per capita

In a May 2007 working paper, Daniel John Zizzo of the School of Economics at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, England, attempts to build an economic model for jealous behavior. “Mainstream economics predicts that, if you were given a choice to spend your own money to eliminate the money of other people," he says, "without a chance of getting a profit sometime in the future out of it, there is no way you would do it.”

Problem is, says Zizzo, decades of social science research proves that mainstream economics is wrong. In fact, he has found, if people feel jealous they'll, “reduce the earnings of other people at a cost to their own (earnings).”

Zizzo's paper isn't about thievery, and most thieves do hope to profit from their crimes. But if Zizzo is right about human nature then a thief gets some emotional satisfaction just in ripping off a $50,000 Cadillac Escalade (the most stolen luxury car in America) even if they get caught stripping that beauty down for parts. At least the car had been liberated from some lucky jerk that didn't deserve it, right?

Any thief takes a tremendous financial risk. Fines and imprisonment can wreak havoc on one's income stream. But Zizzo argues that doesn't deter people intent on harming another.

It's not always all that risky either. Consider this recent burglary chronicled by The Commercial Appeal, a Tennessee newspaper: A man walked into a business in a Memphis suburb and asked the owner for details about her shop's security cameras. The shop owner answered all of his questions. The man went away. Two hours later, apparently deciding that the security system wasn't up to snuff, he returned to pull off a successful heist.

Beware the “green-eyed monster.”

Additional reporting by Annie Hamm.
Copyrighted, Forbes.com. All rights reserved.

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