Is a Crime Wave Coming?

By Thorsten Sellin
Is a Crime Wave Coming?Editor, Annals American Academy of Politics and Social Science
(Published January 1946)

Introduction

  • It’s plausible, but is it true?

What Is Crime?

  • How do we deal with these complications?
  • Who is a criminal?
  • How about crime waves?

What Causes Crime?

  • Slums aren’t the only crime breeders

How Does War Affect Crime?

  • The male is more deadly than the female
  • Along came the draft
  • The men who stayed at home

What Happened During World War II?

  • What do these figures mean?
  • Women and crime
  • How about juvenile delinquency?

What Is Likely to Happen Now?

  • What kind of world will you come home to?

What Can We Do about It?

  • What about the long-range problem?
  • Can we do anything about moral standards?
  • How about social sanitation?
  • What about our courts and jails?
  • Summing up

To the Discussion Leader

  • What can the discussion leader do?
  • What type of discussion is best?
  • Handbooks that may be helpful
  • Questions are the lifeblood of discussion

Introduction

NOW that the war is over, are the streets of our cities going to be filled any time now with flying tommy-gull bullets? Must our storekeepers live in dread of a visit from a masked young man who will threaten them with a gun while he empties their cash registers? Are we going to have more Valentine’s Day massacres, such as Chicago saw in the prohibition era? Will there be more kidnapings, like those that shocked the nation in the middle 1930’s; more Dillingers, Capones, Dutch Schultzes; more racketeering, graft, and corruption? That is what most of us wonder when we talk about the possibility of a postwar crime wave.

Many people, without having thought much about it, assume that we will have to endure such horrors. They argue that millions of men have been trained in the use of deadly weapons; that they have become calloused to pain and brutality, hardened to personal danger, and inured to killing by their war experiences. They take it for granted that many of these soldiers will find it easier, when they return to civilian life, to go looking for easy money with a gun than to settle down to a humdrum life of hard work.

It’s plausible, but is it true?

What do sociologists and criminologists who have studied the extremely complex problem of crime and criminals say about veterans and crime? They warn us against simple, snap judgments on the matter. After the Napoleonic Wars, for instance, there was a sharp, striking increase in crime in England, which led many people to predict a similar development after the first World War. Actually the predicted crime wave failed to appear.

Before we can discuss the problem intelligently there are a number of basic points that we must settle. We must know what crime is and who are criminals. We must decide how we can tell if crime is rising. We ought to know something about what causes crime in general and sudden changes in the volume of-crime in particular. Then we should have an idea of what war does to law observance. Only with such a background can we begin to make our plans for coping with the postwar problem.