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Nov 14, 2013 (4 years and 6 months ago)


Criminal Behavior

Theories, Typologies, and Criminal Justice

J.B. Helfgott

Seattle University


The Influence Of Technology, Media, & Popular Culture

On Criminal Behavior: Copycat Crime & Cybercrime

Life is like a video game.

Everybody’s got to die sometime.”


18 year
old Devin Moore

The Influence Of Technology, Media, & Popular Culture

On Criminal Behavior: Copycat Crime & Cybercrime

Related Risk Factors

for Criminal Behavior

Criminologists can no longer ignore the ways in which
media and computer technology shape criminal

With the unprecedented exposure to and influence of
media and popular culture it is increasingly important to examine
the unique role that technology
related factors play in motivating
and shaping criminal behavior.

Technology breeds false familiarity, blurs fantasy and
reality, and provides a virtual realm that mediates

This has important implications for the study of
criminal behavior.

Technology changes everything, crime included”

(Clarke, 2004)

Technological advances have impacted
criminal behavior in three ways:

Mass Communication Technology
has transformed media
and popular culture into a powerful influence on offender

Computer Technology
has created new avenues and
different opportunities for criminal behavior.

Investigative Technology
has altered methods used by
offenders and the types of crimes they engage in.

Related Subtypes

Copycat Crime


Copycat crime and cybercrime are likely to become a significant part of
the crime landscape in the 21


Copycat crime and cybercrime are
that can cut across all of
the major crime categories while maintaining distinct features.

In some respects, copycat and cybercrime represent more the process
by which criminal behavior occurs rather than a type of crime.

Both copycat and cybercrime can be violent, sex, economic, public
order, or political crimes. Copycat and cyber crime are unique in that
technology shapes their nature and presentation.

The Criminogenic Effects of Mass Media Technology

Electronic media presents greater concerns than print

because there is a larger at
risk pool of individuals who
can be criminally influenced (
, 1990)

We live in a
“Historically unprecedented context of


(Black, 1991,p. 136).

Technologies have become more culturally dominant
as an information source.

This increases the probability that
people (particularly adolescents) will use this information as a tool
to understand themselves and others (Lloyd, 2002).

National Survey Findings on Media Consumption

(Anderson et al, 2003)

Virtually all families with children have a TV with at least one VCR or
DVD player, and most (approx 75%) subscribe to cable or satellite TV.

7 in 10 families with children own a computer and have a video

In their bedrooms, the majority of American children have a TV (30% of
children age 0
3), 33
39% age 2
17 have a video
game player, 30%
have a VCR, and 6
11% have Internet access.

Children spend more time consuming entertainment media than
engaging in any other activity besides sleeping and school (avg. 4 hrs
per day in front of a TV or computer screen).

25% of 6th graders watch more than 40 hours of TV per week.

On any given Saturday morning at 10 a.m., 60% of American 6
11 year
olds are watching TV.

Hypotheses in the Research Literature on the
Influence of Mass Media on Criminal Behavior

Pop cultural artifacts are

contribute to real
life crime.

Pop cultural artifacts are

offer an
outlet for natural aggressive impulses.

Previous Work on Copycat Crime

Early references to the copycat phenomenon appeared in the
1800s involving behaviors thought to be inspired by books.

Sociologists in the 1970s examined the copycat phenomenon with
respect to suicide suggesting that the suicide rate increases with
the level of media coverage of suicide committed by a famous

The criminological literature has been surprisingly silent
on the subject of copycat crime in recent years

with the
bulk of the writing and research on the subject by

(1990, 1998,
2002) and a handful of others (Black, 1990; Coleman, 2002;
, 2005;
, 2002).

The Copycat Phenomenon and Criminal Behavior

Cultural technological changes may be risk
factors for criminal behavior.

Relevance of

the copycat phenomenon

to all types
of criminal behavior should be revisited.

Integrative theoretical models offer a foundation
for empirical investigation of copycat crime.
Research from multiple fields must be integrated to more fully
understand the role the copycat effect has on criminal behavior.

Surette on Copycat Crime

See Surette, R. (1998).
Media, crime, and criminal

justice: Images and realities.
Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

To be a copycat, a crime

must have been inspired
by an earlier, publicized crime … there must be
a pair of crimes linked by the media”

1998, p. 137).

Copycat phenomenon affects crime in two ways:

1) As a


creating crime that wouldn’t otherwise occur
turning law abiding citizens into criminals.

As a


giving ideas to already active criminals, molding
rather than triggering crime.

Copycat Crime Revisited

It’s time to revisit and revive

and others’ work on
copycat crime to develop an integrated theoretical
framework for empirical research

examining the influence of the
copycat effect on criminal behavior.

Copycat crime is often thought of in terms of crimes that mimic news
representation of actual events. However
fiction may be more
powerful than reality in terms of its power to inspire copycat

(Black, 1990;
, 2005).


A crime inspired by another crime that has been publicized in the news media or
fictionally or artistically represented whereby the offender incorporates aspects of
the original offense into a new crime.

Anecdotal Evidence of Copycat Crime


film associated with rape of a 17 year
girl by male youths singing “singing in the rain” and string of brutal rapes and
murders in Britain by men dressed similarly to the characters attributed to either the
film or the book. Kubrick pulled the film in Britain in 1972 and it wasn’t re
there until 2000.




Mark David Chapman believed himself to be
Holden Caulfield the main character in the book. He murdered John Lennon in 1980
after years of fixation on both Lennon and Caulfield. He is believed to have
murdered Lennon because he viewed him as a “phony,” a term Caulfield used to
refer to people.



John Hinckley’s

1981 assassination attempt on Ronald
Reagan was associated with the film. Hinckley was found not guilty by reason of
insanity after his attorneys argued he was fixated on the film, its characters, and
actors (Jodi Foster), and that his obsession with the film was evidence that he had
lost the distinction between reality and fiction. Hinckley was said to have used Taxi
Driver as a primary script and John Lennon’s murder by Mark David Chapman as a
secondary script in his assassination attempt. The film was played for jurors at his

Anecdotal Evidence of Copycat Crime



linked to a dozen murders in the U.S, Canada, and
Europe and to school shooter cases including Columbine. Three copycats involved
male/female pairs who went on murder sprees including the 1995 robbery/murder spree of 18
old Benjamin Darras and Sarah Edmondson that led to a civil suit against NBK director
Oliver Stone that went to the U.S. Supreme court before it was dismissed in 2001; Four
murders committed by 19 year
old Florence Rey and 22 year
old boyfriend Audry Maupin
dubbed “France’s Natural Born Killers"; and 1998 case involving Veronique Herbert and
Sebastien Paindavoine who murdered a 16 year
old boy in a sex set
up right out of the film.


(1999, 2003)

Associated with a half a dozen murders. In several of the
offenders’ trials (including D.C. Sniper shooter John Malvo), the Matrix was woven into the
defendant’s insanity defense. In at least two cases (Lynne Ansley in Ohio in 2002 and Vadim
Mieseges San Francisco in 2003) the “matrix defense” resulted in a finding of not guilty by
reason of insanity.



18 year
old Devin Moore allegedly played the
game for hours before stealing a car and gunning down two police officers and a 911
dispatcher in 2003. When captured he said “Life is like a video game. Everybody’s got to die
some time.” At trial, it was revealed that he was a compulsive violent video game player who
suffered from childhood abuse
related Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Moore’s attorney’s
argued the “GTA defense”

that he lost touch with reality and was acting out the virtual
violence in GTA. Despite his attorney’s efforts, the GTA defense was unsuccessful and Moore
was sentenced to death in 2005.

Cultural Artifacts Associated with

Copycat Crime

Examples …

Heathers (film)

Taxi Driver (film)

Catcher in the Rye (novel)

The Secret Agent (novel)

Ice T’s Cop Killer (music/lyrics)

Dungeons & Dragons (role
playing game)

Slayer (heavy metal band)

Beavis & Butthead (cartoon)

Jack Ass (TV show/film)

The Basketball Diaries

Sopranos (TV show)

Scream (film)

Doom/Doom II (computer

Grand Theft Auto (computer

Thelma & Louise (film)

Mapplethorpe (photographer)

Gone in 60 Seconds (film)

Money Train (film)

Burning Bed (TV movie)

Marilyn Manson (musician)

Starsky & Hutch (TV show)

Menace II Society (film)

TV news and print news media

Child’s Play 3 (film)

Battle Royale (film)

Empirical Research on Copycat


(2002) surveyed 68 incarcerated male serious
and violent juvenile offenders and found
indicated they had committed a crime they had
seen or heard about in the media.

The most
common copycat practice is borrowing media crime


(2002) compared homicides from
1994 (9,442 cases) with news reports of murder
and found that the
numbers of homicides were
significantly greater in the two weeks following
front page news articles covering homicide.

Integrating Theoretical Models

Surette (1998)

Copycat Crime

Coleman (2002)

The Copycat Effect

Black (1990)

The Aesthetics of Murder

Ferrell (1999)

Cultural Criminology

Ferrell & Hamm (1998)

Criminological Verstehen

Bryant & Zillman (2002)

Media Effects Research

Gerbner (1994)

Cultural Indicators Project

Anderson et al (2000, 2003)

Media/Video game violence

Harvey (2002)

Celebrity Obsession

Manning (1998)

Media Loops

Newman (1998)

Decoding Film Violence

Jhally(1999); Katz (2006)

Gender, Violence, and Media

Media Effects Research: Theoretical Mechanisms

Sparks & Sparks,2002)


Social Learning/




Cultivation and

Media effects research has shown that
media violence
produces short
term increases in aggression by
triggering an automatic inclination toward imitation,
enhancing autonomic arousal, and priming existing
cognitive scripts

(Anderson & Dill, 2000; Anderson et
al, 2003)

Factors that Influence Media Effects

Individual Differences

(Oliver, 2002)

Media Source

(Manning, 1998; Newman, 1998)

Relationship to Media Source


Affinity between
images and viewer (Black, 1990;
1994; Katz, 1999, 2006).

Cultural and


(Ferrell &
Sanders, 1998; Newman, 1998)

The Importance of Individual
Analysis from Multiple Perspectives

“The precise psychological role media played [in
documented media
mediated crimes] is never clear

nor can it be, until we are able to map a brain like a
computer hard drive”

(Atkinson, 1999, ¶8).

Critics of media violence watchdogs argue that many people consume violent
media every day and do not mimic the violent media images they see.

Cognitive scripts are individually
learned cultural products that serve as guides
for future behavior (Anderson, et al, 2003). Cognitive scripts play an important
role in determining who is and who is not influenced by specific stimuli including
media images.

Research from cognitive psychology coupled with phenomenological
perspectives (e.g., Katz, 1989; Ferrell’s, 1999/ “Criminological
enable researchers to understand the meaning of behavior to a particular

Factors that Influence Copycat Crime

Characteristics of

Media Source





Relationship to






Continuum of Influence of Media and
Popular Culture on Criminal Behavior



Minor influence

(e.g., idea from film or news regarding

minor aspect of modes operand,
minor shaper)

Major influence

(e.g., Loss of boundary between
fantasy and reality, severe
psychopathology, major trigger )

The Criminogenic Effects of
Computer Technology

Computer technology has also had a major influence
on criminal behavior.

Computer technology, in particular the Internet, has
created a virtual space to commit a new type of crime


Activities in which computers and other technological devices are used
for illicit purposes..

4 Elements of Cybercrime


Where offender is in relation to crime.


Target of offense

corporation, organization, individual


Who the offender is in terms of
demographics, motivation, level of sophistication.


What is necessary to eliminate threat

Features of Cybercrime

Cybercrime is distinct in that:

The offender is not present at the crime scene

The primary victim is most often an institution

Offender characteristics and motive are heterogeneous

Control involves global, technologically sophisticated, and political
and indirect strategies.

Cybercrime is harder to detect than traditional crime and as a
result most cybercriminals are never caught.

What distinguishes cybercrime above and beyond other features
is the
intangible environment

within which such offenses are
committed which creates unlimited opportunities of offenders.

Two Categories of Cybercrime

Theft of computer
hardware and software copyright infringement.

Computer used as means to commit crime or for
storage for crime
related activities that involve
technology only to the extent that information is
digitalized and contained within a computer.

Crimes of the Future

How Technology
Shapes Criminal Behavior

Technology has changed the modus operandi of criminal
elements throughout history and current technological advances
have changed the physical environment in which crime occurs.

Media and computer technology have changed the nature of
social life in such profound ways that no behavior is immune to
its influence.

Technology shapes M.O. behavior, exacerbates some
types of offenses, and creates entirely new motivational
influences and categories of criminal behavior.


Identify the

risk factors for copycat crime and

and the types of crimes and criminals
most influenced by media and pop culture.

Understand the
nature and dynamics of

mediated crime and cybercrime.

Sort out the
constructive and destructive media

that mediate or exacerbate
copycat crime.

Important Questions Left Unanswered

How does technology specifically alter, minimize, or
exacerbate the potential for mimetic crime?

As computer technology
becomes more sophisticated and video and other virtual reality games more realistic, is there
more/less potential for cathartic versus

effects of virtual violence?

Does the technological sophistication of today’s and future
youth increase or decrease the likelihood of mimetic crime
and violence?

Are children who are born and grow up with mass media technology more or
less likely to be

influenced by it?

What individual, social, cultural, phenomenological factors
determine level of severity along the continuum of pop
culture and media influence?

Is there an empirically identifiable cluster of factors that
constitute an individual, culture, or context at high risk for
copycat crime?

How can quantitative and qualitative methods be combined to examine
the pop culture
crime relationship at individual and aggregate levels?

Suggestions for Future Empirical Research

Lloyd, B.T. (2002). A conceptual framework for examining adolescent identity, media influence, and
social development.
Review of General Psychology, 6

(1), 73

Psychometrically sound instruments that quantify media

Measures should assess range of media technology (e.g.,
film, music videos, Internet) to assess nature/extent of influence.

Identification of individual and ecological variables
predictive of consumption patterns and differential views
of media.

Individual factors (e.g., gender, age, ethnicity) and ecological factors
(e.g., peer culture) likely play a key role in the perception of media images and their
integration into an individual’s personal identity.

Increased precision in conceptualizing media influences
on specific developmental tasks and behavio

(such as risk
taking behavior, maladaptive cognitive processing, criminal aggression).

Examination of individuals who identify with

media messages

to understand the range of positive and negative outcomes.


Technology, media, and popular culture shape offender motivation, modus operandi,
and play a role in neutralizing guilt and providing justification for offenders’ actions.

It is important to consider technology as a potential risk factor for criminal behavior for
some individuals.

Technological influences on criminal behavior exist along a continuum.

Copycat crime and cybercrime as two distinct subtypes of criminal behavior that
involve technological influence.

Technology will play an increasingly salient role in influencing offender motivation and
modus operandi in a segment of offenses and it is important that criminological theory
and research examine technology as a risk factor for criminal behavior..

Discussion Questions

Explain how technology influences criminal behavior and discuss whether
or not you agree/disagree that it is important for criminologists to focus
attention to the role of technology in shaping crime in the 21


Are copycat crime and cyber crime meaningful (and homogeneous) crime
categories? Are these types of crime best viewed theoretically as
subtypes or supertypes of criminal behavior?

Review the different cultural artifacts that have been linked to copycat
cases in Box 10.1. What, if any conclusions can be drawn from examining
this list of anecdotal evidence? If you were asked to design an empirical
study to examine the copycat phenomenon, how would you design such a
study? In other words, how can criminologists move beyond anecdotal
accounts of copycat crime to study the phenomenon empirically?

Discussion Questions


One interesting question to consider is whether or not children who are
born and grow up with mass media technology in the 21

century are
more or less likely to be negatively

influenced by it. Do
you think children who grow in a world where media technology is a
normal part of everyday life have a healthier relationship to media than
individuals who grew up in the 20

century (e.g., such as such as John
Hinckley who committed his copycat offense what Joel Black has
referred to as the 1980s “aesthetic age of
”)? Discuss.

As computer technology becomes more sophisticated and video and
other virtual reality games more realistic, do you think there will be
more/less potential for cathartic versus

effects of virtual
violence? Discuss.