Publicity by Association: Having Already Reinvented Mobile Music Culture, Apple's Iconic iPod Also Caused a Crime Wave, Say Researchers

It’s easy to see why iPods would be alluring targets for criminals: The music players are valuable and easy to resell, and people absorbed in their personal soundtracks can be vulnerably oblivious to their surroundings. But could the temptation for stealing iPods be so strong that they’re behind an increase in the crime rate? Researchers at a public policy institute say yes, the AP reports.

They argue that the tantalizing gadgets are perhaps the main reason U.S. violent crime rose in 2005 and 2006 after declining every year since 1991 — although a close look at the findings suggests the hypothesis has holes, reports AP writer Brian Bergstein .

The Urban Institute , a Washington think tank, first raised the subject of an “iCrime wave” last September, and held a panel discussion this week to explore it further. The researchers don’t blame iPod maker Apple or any other device maker for crime, but they do say consumers should demand technologies that would render stolen gadgets useless.

A key point in the Urban Institute’s argument is that robberies — the taking of something by force or the threat of it — had seen dramatic reductions since the 1990s, but jumped in 2005 and 2006. FBI statistics show the robbery rate went from 137 per 100,000 people in 2004 to 141 per 100,000 in 2005 and 149 in 2006. That helped boost the overall rate of violent crime in those years, even as rape rates fell and aggravated assault was generally flat.

During those years, iPods were going mainstream. In late 2004, Apple had sold about 5 million iPods. By the end of 2005 that had ballooned to 42 million, and in 2006 the number neared 90 million.

One widely accepted theory holds that crime happens when three things come together: A motivated offender encounters a suitable victim and perceives a high chance of getting away with it. And the Urban Institute researchers believe the sudden prevalence of iPods increased all three factors.

The rate for robberies by juveniles increased during this “iCrime Wave” to a much greater degree than the rate for adults, Urban Institute researcher John Roman pointed out. And if economic woes could explain the jump — a traditional place to look in crime research — Roman doesn’t believe the overall rates of property crimes would have dropped in ’05 and ’06, as they did.

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