Building codes and crime prevention

Two interesting explanations for the rise and fall of crime in Western societies are the crime opportunity theory and lead crime hypothesis. Though both approach crime from a different angle, there are not mutually exclusive and in fact I believe both provide usual insights for a sensible government policy aimed at crime reduction.

The crime opportunity theory is a victim-centered approach to crime. It basically holds that criminals tends to select easy targets and that people can reduce the probability to become victim of crime by taking certain measures.

In particular situational prevention is believed to be effective in achieving crime reduction. The idea behind situational prevention is to make it harder for would-be criminals to commit crimes. For instance if it would take several minutes to break into one’s home, most aspirant-burglars will simply give up their attempts.

The lead crime hypothesis, on the other hand, is an offender based approach to crime. According to Richard Nevin, who developed this hypothesis, childhood lead exposure negatively affects brain development, resulting in lower IQ and behavioral problems. The consequences of low intelligence and/or behavioral problems are, for instance, dropping out of school, being unable to hold a job and so on. All of these are typical characteristics of many offenders.

Proponents of this hypothesis believe that by eliminating lead from our environment, crime rates will sharply decrease after time. Nevin’s research has shown high correlation between the abolition of leaded gasoline and reduction of crime rates in multiple countries.

Save from gasoline lead is present in paint, water pipes, windows and soil. This is especially true for older houses. Because the wide presence of lead, many children are exposed to this dangerous neurotoxin. By removing lead from our environment we could several issues at once.

Here we arrive at the point where both the crime opportunity theory and the lead crime hypothesis come together, at least from the perspective of government policy. Both situational prevention (for instance by mandating security locks or roller shutters) and lead removal could be enforced through building codes.

Since the main duty of any government is to protect its citizens against crime, such building regulations could be easily justified. Also by investing in adequate crime prevention, society can save money due to lower levels of incarceration – which could be used to fund tax cuts.

Of course, these measures will not completely eradicate crime but any significant reduction of crime rates will be a huge gain for society.