With an economy founded on agriculture and industry, and few blighted urban centers, Indiana's crime rates in all indexed categories have historically been lower than the national average. However, data collected between 1995 and 2005 shows a disturbing trend: the crime rate for many categories is declining in the rest of the country faster than in the state of Indiana. This data is shown in Figure 1, below.
Indiana Crime Index Rate per 100,000 Residents Compared to National. From Indiana Criminal Justice Institute.
Currently, Indiana's cities are suffering from the loss of jobs in the state and the region, especially the northern cities like Gary and Hammond. Trends in urban crime are different from trends in rural crime, and it is also helpful for business owners and community leaders to understand the answer to the question "who commits crimes?" Community members and prospective Indiana homebuyers need to be aware of trends in crime that have affected the state over the last 10 years. The following report details trends in property crimes and how they are distributed across demographics and geographical variations. I am focusing on property crime today because it is the most relevant category to address during the current economic recession. Understanding property crime is the first step in reducing its impact on our economy and our communities.
What Are Property Crimes?
Property crimes include burglary, larceny/theft, and motor vehicle theft. Larceny includes crimes like embezzlement, extortion, blackmail, and fraud. These crimes damage the value of a community by removing resources from their owners and transferring these resources to individuals who did nothing to earn them -- in many cases, individuals outside the community. Globally, retailers spent $26.2 billion in 2010 on loss prevention strategies like improving product tracking systems or installing security cameras (Checkpoint, 2010). In Indiana in 2009, there were over 3,100 property crimes per 100,000 inhabitants: a total of 200,160 acts of burglary, larceny, and theft (FBI, 2010).
How Does Indiana Differ?
Indiana is somewhat similar to its closest neighbors: Illinois, Michigan, Kentucky, and Ohio. All of these neighboring states fall within the range of 2,500-3,500 property crimes per 100,000 people living in the state (FBI, 2010). The region is also fairly homogeneous in its distribution of small and larger cities within a post-industrial, large-scale agricultural matrix. It more closely resembles Ohio than any of its other neighbors in terms of the proportion of property crime committed in cities outside metropolitan areas vs. those committed in rural areas. However, it greatly differs from Ohio in the number of burglaries committed per capita. The table below shows a regional comparison of rates of property crime in each of Indiana's neighbor states. These rates are on par with national rates, and we have no reason to suspect a statistically significant difference from the national average for property crime.
Table 1. Property Crimes per 100,000 Residents in Indiana and Neighbor States. From Federal Bureau of Investigation, 2009, "Crime in the United States."
Urban vs. Rural Crime
Indiana ranks 16th in population density among all 50 states. This puts it only slightly above its northern neighbor Michigan, and below Illinois and Ohio. Indiana's major metropolitan areas include Indianapolis, Fort Wayne, Evansville, South Bend, and the suburban area outside Cincinnatti. The area around Indianapolis is particularly affluent, and the median household income of Hamilton County is $35,000 above the state average (Justis, 2006). On the other hand, Gary and Hammond, both in the northwest corner of the state, have declining populations and lower than average household income figures.
As you can imagine, the distribution of crimes in these areas, particularly property crime, is different. For example, comparing Gary to Indianapolis shows that residents of Indianapolis, the more affluent region, are actually more at risk for property crimes than in Gary. However, Gary's residents are at much higher risk for violent crime. These figures, compared to national medians, can be seen in Figures 2a-2d.
Figure 2a. Violent Crimes in Indianapolis. Retrieved from NeighborhoodScout.com, compiled from FBI crime data.
Figure 2b. Violent Crimes in Gary. Retrieved from NeighborhoodScout.com, compiled from FBI crime data.
Figure 2c. Property Crimes in Indianapolis. Retrieved from NeighborhoodScout.com, compiled from FBI crime data.
Figure 2d. Property Crimes in Gary. Retrieved from NeighborhoodScout.com, compiled from FBI crime data.
Rural patterns of crime are somewhat harder to characterize. The most prevalent and destructive crime issue in rural Indiana is probably the production and use of methamphetamines. Like many rural areas of the U.S., Indiana law enforcement has had to deal with the increasing use of drugs in rural communities, particularly the production of methamphetamines. Meth has a devastating effect on communities and individuals, and has been linked to increases in both violent and property crimes (Rodriguez, 2006). Meth lab busts in Indiana are not centered on the highest crime-rate areas, however, but are most common in some of the least populated counties. Below, we can compare the population density map of the state with a map of the number of clandestine meth labs operating in that state, as reported by law enforcement.
Figure 3. Population density map of Indiana and map of reported clandestine meth labs. From Indiana Criminal Justice Institute.
The high concentration in the southwest corner of the state can be linked to the influence of the large metropolitan areas of Louisville and Memphis, but the cluster of Bartholomew, Jennings, Jackson, and Decatur counties diverges sharply from the common impression that crime follows high population density. The county with the highest number of clandestine meth labs -- Bartholomew County -- is demographically unremarkable. Property values are slightly higher than the state median, as are household income, homeownership rate, and education rate (U.S. Census, 2010). Indiana's meth-targeted law has used the dynamics of property crime, in particular the theft and illegal purchase of methamphetamine components like ephedrine, to slow the production of this drug statewide. State law makes it illegal to purchase products containing more than a small amount of ephedrine or pseudoephedrine without showing photo ID and signing a log that is submitted to the state police monthly (ICJI, 2008). Indiana justice professionals -- police, detectives, judges, and social service workers -- have an uphill battle to root out the underground meth economy that has taken root in small-town Indiana (McFeely, 2005).
As we saw in Figure 1, Indiana's overall crime rate has dropped over the past 15 years, just as the national crime rate has dropped. Trends in property crime also follow this general pattern. However, as previously mentioned, Indiana's crime rate is not dropping as fast or as far as the national rate. The contour of crime rate change peaked in 1990, a year remembered as a turning point in the War on Drugs and the beginning of an urban renewal movement that has finally restored previously blighted city centers across the country. Property crimes then dropped around 1993 due to renewed investment in justice and a "tough on crime" platform for many state legislators during the midterm 1992 elections. However, this reduction in crime rates was short-lived, and Indiana did not see consistent reductions in crime rates until 1996-97. From that year until 1999, crime rates plummeted, and have since leveled out in Indiana. On a national level, there was a slower decline, followed by a small rise in 2001 that has been recuperated. The leveling out and small rise that Indiana has experienced since 1999 can be attributed to economic strains due to job losses and a declining agricultural sector.
These movements in the property crime rate in Indiana may be related to a number of different social, economic, and political changes. The "strain theory" of criminal behavior…