According to Beirne and Messerschmidt (2015), Larceny is a crime in which property is taken from someone other than an employer through unlawful means. In this crime, the use of force and breaking and entering are not used. A subtype of larceny is shoplifting, where a perceived customer steals property from a retail store. There are two types of shoplifters. Boosters who sell the merchandise that they steal and snitches who steal merchandise for their own use (p. 248).
In the summer of 2007, I was eight years old. Every year it was an upstanding family tradition to go to Plymouth, Massachusetts for the Fourth of July. Like every year before, we packed the family car with sheets and a picnic dinner and headed to the waterfront at noon to beat the crowds and traffic. We put out our sheets in order to claim the optimal firework viewing spot on the hill. Plymouth is a quaint town filled with historic landmarks and little mom and pop shops. And naturally, due to the holiday, it was flooded with tourists. At about 3 o’clock the roads were closed off to all street traffic, so my cousins and I were given a free run of the waterfront of Plymouth until the warning shot for the fireworks went off.
Once released from parental supervision my cousins and I took to wandering through all of the shops along the main drag. These shops are the typical tourist traps filled with bright sweatshirts embroidered with Cape Cod and Plymouth, Mayflower memorabilia, and every lobster themed merchandise product imaginable. All these items bored me. I live about fifteen to 20 minutes away from Plymouth, so I already had my trademark sweatshirt and the Mayflower was nothing new to me. Going through the stores was a matter of tradition or habit not out of a true need for souvenirs.
The last store we went to before dark was the same as all the rest. Sweatshirts, cringy graphic tees, and salt water taffy. Then I saw it. Towards the back of the store, there was a display with silver charm bracelets. I remembered that all the popular girls in my class the previous year had one of these bracelets. I desperately wanted to fit in with these girls, I thought that perhaps this bracelet was my way into the friend group. They were $5.00. eight-year-old me did not have that kind of cash in her pocket so I moved on. I found my cousins on the other end of the store each with something cool in their hands. I thought back to the bracelet deciding that I’d really like to have it. I needed it. I went back to the bracelet display and slipped one of the shiny ones into my jean shorts pocket. After my cousins paid for their things, we left the store to meet back with my parents. I asked my older cousin to help me clasp the bracelet and she complimented my taste in jewelry. Later on, my parents asked when I got the bracelet. I lied and said it was from back home. At the end of this report, I have placed a picture of me from the following school year during a class play wearing the bracelet.
One criminological theory that can be used to explain why this crime was committed is the Strain Theory. Strain theory was developed by Robert Merton in 1938. He stated that strain is the lack of connection between culturally prescribed goals and the legitimate means of achieving them. He claimed that such strain arose from social fictions in society. Social fictions are concepts like the American Dream which are virtually unattainable for the majority of society. Merton asserted that social fictions led to strain which ultimately led to a person’s involvement in deviant behavior.
Robert Agnew built upon Merton’s theory by asserting the different ways that individuals respond to this concept of strain. These reactions are conformity, innovation, ritualism, retreatism, and rebellion (Beirne & Messerschmidt, 2015).
In the case of my shoplifting crime, in order to fit in with a particular group of girls, I needed to have a pretty bracelet. The goal was to get a bracelet, so I too could be popular, but I did not have the money to pay for the item. This mismatch is the strain of my situation. I responded to this strain through innovation. I accepted the goal of obtaining a bracelet in order to be accepted by a particular group of girls but was unable to accept the legitimate means of meeting this goal, paying for the bracelet, because I did not have enough money to buy it at the time. In order to still obtain my goal, I had to adopt innovative measures. I made the decision to steal the bracelet in order to ensure that I had it for the following school year. Although the action that I took was illegal, it resulted in the desolation of the strain in my situation.
According to 18 U.S.C.?§ 641, anyone who commits larceny willed be fined or imprisoned for not more than ten years or both. If the value of the stolen goods is less than or equal to $1000 then the defendant may be fined, imprisoned for not more than year or both.
Crime is breaking the social contract that people enter into with the state. People give up certain liberties in order for the government to lead more efficiently and protect its people. Giving up these individual rights in turn benefit and protect society. The government authority acts upon the behalf of its citizens to protect them and correct instances of wrongdoing. All punishments in the criminal justice system have an objective. Punishments of jail time and fines fall under the category of retribution.
The purpose of retribution is for the offender to receive a punishment proportionate to the crime that they committed. A system of measurement determines the magnitude of such punishment in order to have the punishment fit the crime committed. It is important for society to believe that an offender’s punishment fits their crime because it will ideally prevent victims and society from taking punishment into their own hands which will disrupt the order of society.
When a crime is committed it is not guaranteed the perpetrator will be punished. Although I was not caught when I shoplifted, if I had been, it would not have been likely for me to receive a punishment through the criminal justice system. The value of the bracelet I stole was 5 dollars. Many stores have a minimum loss that needs to occur before they press charges due to the fees associated with the legal system. The cost bracelet probably would not have justified legal action. The prosecutor has the most discretion in the legal system. According to the American Bar Association, if the prosecutor who would be trying my case was overloaded, they may have viewed my crime as a low priority and dismissed the charges.
Another possible outcome would be for the prosecutor could have viewed me as a young girl who made a mistake due to lack of judgement. They could argue that they did not want this mistake to follow me through life. In addition, the owner of the shop could have asked for no charges to be brought against me. Although the prosecutor ultimately decides whether charges are brought up, if the victim refuses to cooperate the case would prove difficult, so most prosecutors would likely drop the case. An extreme reason for my lack of punishment would have been if the prosecutor wanted to use me as a defendant. Suppose the prosecutor was interested in bringing down the local hypothetical childhood shoplifting ring. The prosecutor could agree to drop charges against me if I agreed to help them bring their other suspects to justice (ABA, 2016).
Labeling theory asserts that a person only becomes deviant because they are labeled as such. Deviance is a behavior that must be learned. A person obtains a label based upon how others view their actions and behaviors. These labels can either be accepted or rejected but they are hard to disassociate from. Labels influence how the perceived offender is treated and how they think of themselves. Criminal is a label given to many different types of people. Through criminalization behavior and individuals are transformed into crime and criminals.
The label of criminal is both meaningful and meaningless.
Every member of society has broken a law at some point in their lives. From felonies to misdemeanors even if the person was not aware at the time. Despite this universal spread, only some people in society are labeled as criminals. Individuals get charged with everyday crimes such as drug offenses and spend the rest of their life in prison or discriminated against, while others who commit those same crimes are allowed to walk free. The matter of whether or not an individual has committed the crime or not become irrelevant, once labeled, the damage is done.
When people walk into a store, they are evaluated for their threat potential by the security guard at the door. Do they fit the profile of the usual person who is labeled criminal? Are they a threat to the store? When I walked into that corner souvenir shop, I had another label on me, only in this case my label worked in my favor. I was a sweet white blonde girl, sporting a fourth of July t-shirt, with her hair tied back in pigtails. I was not a criminal I was a young girl who came to watch the fireworks with her upstanding family. As I wandered around the store the guard’s watchful eyes were not on me, they were on someone else who fit the criminal label a bit more obviously. This lapse in judgment caused him to miss a shoplifter who victimized the store that he was charged to protect.
There is not a concrete profile of a subject usually caught for committing the crime of larceny and specifically shoplifting. This is due to the fact that this is a crime capable of being committed by anyone. The National Association for Shoplifting Prevention estimates that there are approximately 27 million shoplifters in America today. (NASP, 2018). This works out to be about 1 in every 11 people in the United States having ever shoplifted (Blanco et al, 2008). In 2017 the Federal Bureau of Investigation Uniform Crime reports reported 5,519,107 larceny lefts nationwide. The crime of shoplifting specifically accounts for 20.8% of the reported figure (FBI, 2017). The majority of people who shoplift in the United States are categorized as nonprofessionals which means that they steal in response to social and personal pressures in life and not for economic gain (NASP, 2018).
According to the 2016 FBI UCR reports of the 833,558 people arrested for Larceny, 69% of the arrested were white and 27.7% were black or African American. 12.7% of those arrested were under the age of 18 (FBI, 2016). The majority of active shoplifters tend to be teenagers. Of the 17-year olds surveyed 39% of males and 23% of females admit to having shoplifted in the past year. This statistic has been shown to decline rapidly with age (Kivivuori, 2007; Klemke, 2001). When 4,422 adult shoplifters were surveyed In a United States National Survey it was revealed that gender split was about 60% men to 40% women offenders.
Through this survey, it was also determined that shoplifters can be from any economic group regardless of income. Of those surveyed 60% of offenders had some college, 56% were currently married or partaking in cohabitation living arrangements, 82% lived in urban environments, 78% were white and 9% were black (Blanco et al, 2008). Most importantly though 73% of shoplifters regardless of age do not plan to steal before they enter a store (NASP, 2018). This statistic reveals that shoplifting is a crime of opportunity the majority of the time.
This report was built on both official and unofficial data. Official Data is data from the government. The two types of official data utilized in this report are Uniform Crime Reports (UCR) and Federal Regulatory Agency data. The UCR is a collection of 8 crimes compiled by the FBI based on crimes reported by law agencies. The benefit of this type of data is that society and law enforcement agencies can access the data once it is processed. This UCR has a large number of shortcomings though. First of all, only the most severe crime is used in the report. This means that of the crimes reported to the FBI only a select few are used to tabulate the UCR via the hierarchy rule. This often leads to a misrepresentation of the number of crimes being committed. Secondly, the UCR does not take into account the number of crimes the go unaccounted for each year.
This number is known as the dark figure. There are a number of reasons why crimes are not reported to the authorities. Variables such as race, gender, class, and relationship to the person all play a role in whether a crime will be reported or not. The five levels of subjectivity also need to be addressed in order for a crime to be reported. Someone needs to identify the incident as a crime. A person needs to choose to act and report the crime to the police. The police need to choose to show up at the scene of the crime. The police must choose to send a report of the crime to the UCR and the FBI must also choose to include the crime in the UCR. Another drawback to using UCR data is that the report relies on voluntary reporting. It is up to police officer’s discretion as to whether a crimes information is sent to the FBI. The police department can choose to under-report in order to make their jurisdiction appear better than it actually is. The final problem with UCR data is that they are not federal crimes.
Another type of official that was used to build this report is Federal Regulatory Agency data. These organizations compile data sets that are specific to their cause. The National Association for Shoplifting Prevention, NASP, is a program that works with the court systems in order to educate the public and offenders about the consequences of shoplifting and offer programs in order to help reform those convicted. This type of data is beneficial because it is typically more descriptive than UCR data which is helpful when attempting to predict trends. This type of data does have shortcoming though.
These agencies all have a goal in mind. This prevention association’s goal is to convince the public that shoplifting in a pressing problem in the United States to courts will start enforcing their programs. If the public, no longer believes there is a problem these people will be out of a job. This notion could lead to the association presenting bias statistics in order to make their case.
The other category of data is unofficial data. This is data that does not come from the government. The type of unofficial data utilized in this report was self-report data. In this type of data collection, surveys are conducted and offenders anonymously speak out about the offenses that they have committed. Using this type of data is beneficial because it gives insight into the dark figure. When offenders report anonymously, they are likely to be more truthful about the crimes that they committed which can help authorities gain insight into how many crimes are actually committed in a year. One drawback to using this type of data is that it can be under-representative. As with all surveys, it is impossible to reach all the members of the population that is trying to be defined. Since not all offenders or victims will be reached the true amount of shoplifting crime will not be known.
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