Home » SOC 101 Week 7: Deviance and Crime

SOC 101 Week 7: Deviance and Crime


Welcome to our seventh online lecture in this Introduction to Sociology course at the University of Maine at Augusta.  This week, we consider the twin subjects of deviance and crime.  Although we tend to think of deviants in the same breath as criminals, most deviance is not criminal and much crime is not deviant.  Regardless of this distinction, theories of crime and deviance hold much in common.

Deviance and Crime as Sociological Phenomena: An Overview

Please watch the following lecture video, which considers deviance and crime as a sociological phenomena.  Part 1 of the video considers crime and deviance from the point of view of sociology’s major paradigms.  Part 2 of the video discusses the age-crime curve, a strong social pattern in criminal behavior.

Where Do You Think the Danger Lies in Maine?

At the beginning of a previous semester during which I taught students in three locations across central and midcoast Maine, I asked students to complete a course survey in which you answered the question, “in what city or town in Maine do you think a person has the highest chance of becoming a victim of a violent crime?”  This is a test of the accuracy of what’s obvious to Mainers, what common sense about the most dangerous place in Maine would be. Indeed, when I asked you to explain why you chose the city or town you did, the phrases “everybody knows,” “everyone knows,” or “people say” appeared time and again.  In responses, three cities were named over and over again: 34 people guessed Portland is the one place in Maine where people have the highest chance of becoming a victim of violent crime.  In second place, 24 people guessed Lewiston is most dangerous, and in third place 13 people guessed that Bangor is the city with the most violent crime.  The rest of the guesses described just a few more cities and towns: Biddeford got just three votes, Augusta got just two votes, and Chesterville and Milbridge each received one vote.

What’s really going on in Maine?  To find out, let’s consult the FBI’s Crime in the United States report for Maine in 2013, the most recent year for which data is available.  The FBI takes the size of a place into account by measuring the number of violent crimes reported by police per 100,000 people.  Some very small places, like Chesterville and Milbridge, just aren’t on the FBI’s list because they’re too small.  In addition, I’m not going to report the crime rates for reasonably small places like Hallowell and Ashland, because just one crime in these small places can throw the crime right into very high numbers, which probably does not reflecting actual crime propensities.  In reasonably large places, sized 10,000 people or more, one crime won’t throw off the rate so much, making the crime rate more trustworthy.  The following is a list of all 19 cities with a population of at least 10,000 people.  Which is the city that actually has the highest violent crime rate?

City # Student Guesses for “most violent city” Violent Crime Rate (Crimes per 100,000) in 2014
Biddeford 3 558.057
Augusta 2 359.922
Sanford 0 334.72
Waterville 0 270.491
Portland 34 267.146
Lewiston 24 244.358
South Portland 0 238.796
Westbrook 0 215.334
Bangor 13 213.78
Auburn 5 139.446
Saco 0 127.334
Brunswick 0 113
Scarborough 0 88.3025
Gorham 0 83.5123
Kennebunk 0 63.5036
York 0 63.0169
Windham 0 51.8344
Falmouth 0 43.5996
Orono 0 28.1347

The three cities most often picked to have the highest violent crime rate — Portland, Lewiston, and Bangor — aren’t on the bottom of this list, but they aren’t on the top of it, either.  They are outpaced in violent crime reports by Biddeford, Augusta, Sanford and Waterville — two cities that only received a few student nominations and two other cities that no student named as most criminal.  Our perceptions of the criminality of a place, of the danger of a place, are not necessarily an accurate reflection of reality.  It is important to keep that social fact in mind.

Time and Crime

Visit the Trulia Trends blog and you can find a visualization of federal arrest data at various times of day for cities across the United States. Here’s a sample, with graphs for each city starting at 12 midnight and progressing through the hours of the day:

Trulia Trends Blog time of day data for crime

It’s no fluke: visit the Springfield, Missouri police department’s homepage and you’ll be shown a similar pattern of police calls received by hour:

See any pattern in those trends? They have the same general pattern as auto traffic by hour (source: U.S. Department of Transportation):

… or of website visits by hour:

or of citizens’ calls to the New York City Municipal services phone number by hour (thanks, Wired Magazine):

Or calls and texts by Glasgow, UK high school students using mobile phones, again by hour (McDiarmid, unpublished paper):

These are all activities whose rhythm is driven by the availability of human beings to engage in voluntary pursuits. We wind down and go to sleep during the late evening, we don’t tend to commit crimes when we’re likely to be asleep, and it takes us a bit of time to get going in the morning. These are all routine activities shaped by our availability in the biographical sketch of our daily lives. Can crime be a routine activity, just like watching TV or making phone calls? Marcus Felson and Lawrence E. Cohen articulate just this idea in their Routine Activities Theory of crime (Cohen and Felson 1979).  This theory asserts that just like any other activity, crime occurs when people have the time for it, where targets present themselves, and when defenders of the targets are busy elsewhere.  Criminal flows, therefore, can be thought of as similar to traffic flows; if one can understand the timing of the habits of people, one can predict when and where crimes will tend to take place.

The idea that criminals get sleepy and go to bed just like the rest of us may seem uncontroversial… but we should remember the push for curfews for juveniles in communities across the United States in the 1980s and 1990s, buoyed by a wave of popular opinion and of TV shows featuring menacing teens hiding in alleyways late, late at night. The problem was, while these curfews were popular they didn’t seem to have a demonstrable effect on crime (Adams 2003). In response to the curfew wave the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention has looked at patterns of juvenile delinquency and determined that the highest spike in offending for teens is the hour after school gets out — the hour when kids are most free and looking for something to do before their parents get home. After-school diversion activities, the OJJDP asserts, may therefore be much more effective in preventing youth crime (Snyder and Sickmund 2006):


Adams, Kenneth. 2003. “The Effectiveness of Juvenile Curfews at Crime Prevention.” The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 587: 136-159.

Cohen, Lawrence and Marcus Felson. 1979. “Social Change and Crime Rate Trends: A Routine Activity Approach.” American Sociological Review 44(4): 588-608.

Snyder, Howard & Sickmund, Melissa 2006. “Juvenile Offenders and Victims: 2006 National Report.” Washington, D.C.: Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.

1 Comment

  1. James Cook says:

    P.S. A direct link to the PBS video referenced in my video lecture, regarding Wackenhut and CCA, is here:

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