iPods and Crime

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Violent crime increased in 2005 and 2006, around the time that iPods infiltrated the U.S. market. In a new paper, researcher John Roman of the Urban Institute argues that the iPod created an environment ripe for robbery. He speaks to Scott Simon about his conclusions.


Two researchers at the Urban Institute noticed that around the time those white iPod ear buds seem to sprout from every other hipster's ears, violent crime in the United States also increased. Violent crime rates rose in 2005 and 2006 according to FBI statistics, after more than a decade of decline. Those researchers have proposed that the explosions in sales of the iPods and other portable media devices have created what amounts to an iCrimewave.

John Roman is a senior research associate to the Urban Institute Justice Policy Center and joins us in the studio. Thanks very much for being with us.

Mr. JOHN ROMAN (Senior Researcher, Urban Institute Justice Policy Center): Thanks for having me.

SIMON: Now are we talking about all violent crimes or just stick-up style robberies?

Mr. ROMAN: No we're talking about robberies what people commonly refer to as muggings. So it's sort of taking something by force or threat of force. So it's a real violent crime.

SIMON: And what makes the iPod so appealing?

Mr. ROMAN: It's easy to tell that you have it. They can see the ear buds in your ears, so that you sent them a signal that you're carrying something that's very expensive, and has no security sort of devices on it whatsoever, and it's really easy to get rid of an iPod or at least it was in 2005 and 2006, which is the period we're really talking about. And most importantly, while you're walking down the street displaying this expensive piece of electronics, you're tuned out. So it's sort of the perfect lightning rod for a criminal.

SIMON: You suggest in your report that this crime wave might have been predictable and possibly even preventable.

Mr. ROMAN: Well the characteristics that make an iPod something that's going to be targeted by a lot of muggers, we already know what they are. So the same things that made Air Jordans targets, that made North Face jackets targets. The marketing campaign is one about gaining status from owning this product and it's particularly targeted at youth. They are the ones who are going to gain the most status at least initially from owning these things.

There aren't a lot of kids who have $400 for an iPod. I'm sure there's some. So you create this tremendous demand that cannot be met because they can't afford to buy it legally. And then they see people with this iPod that they really want. And they know that if they take it, they can grab it off of you, slip it into their pocket, run away and then go use it or sell it, and all that - all those characteristics were known in advance.

SIMON: I hate to think that we've become the kind of society where we have to fear the introduction of some kind of new technology because it will just create more street crime.

Mr. ROMAN: The criticism that we've gotten has been along those grounds. But that's the reality of the world that we live in. There are all sorts of very expensive pieces of electronics that are going to be coming out, that are going to be very appealing to the consumer, but they actually raise your risk of being victimized. So we start with the iPod. Now it's Sidekicks, TPS. There'll be something else that comes down the road that shares the same characteristics as the iPod, and as these things get introduced, they are going to make people targets for muggers. And it's sort of unavoidable, but we can identify it in advance. And hopefully manufacturers can build in technology into these new products that will make them much harder to steal.

SIMON: John Roman of the Urban Institute. Mr. Roman, thank you very much.

Mr. ROMAN: Thank you for having me.

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