Crime doesn’t pay, unless it’s online

This morning’s Observer column:

Now I know that there are lies, damned lies and crime statistics, but everyone in the UK, including the Office for National Statistics, seems to agree that recorded crime is decreasing – and has been for quite a while. This is one of the arguments the government is using to justify its savage cuts in police budgets. Given that we’ve got crime on the run (so the argument goes) all we have to do now is to get the coppers to become more efficient – working smarter, making better use of information technology and computers, etc. Reduction in crime means we don’t need so many police officers. QED.

The only fly in this rosy ointment is that it’s based on a false premise. Recorded crime is declining, but that’s largely due to the fact that crime has moved on – specifically from the physical world to cyberspace. And there’s a very simple reason for this: cybercrime is a much safer and more lucrative activity than its real-world counterpart. The rewards are much greater, and the risks of being caught and convicted are vanishingly small. So if you’re a rational criminal with a reasonable IQ, why would you bother mugging people, breaking into houses, nicking cars and doing all the other things that old-style crooks do – and that old-style cops are good at catching them doing?

Read on