Street Crime vs. White-Collar Crime: Definitions & Examples

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  • 0:01 Types of Crime
  • 1:37 Street Crime
  • 3:58 White-Collar Crime
  • 6:44 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Ashley Dugger

Ashley is an attorney. She has taught and written various introductory law courses.

Different types of people tend to commit different types of crimes. This lesson takes a sociological look at the differences between street crime and white-collar crime and the differences between street criminals and white-collar criminals.

Types of Crime

When a 74-year-old Boston University calculus professor was arrested for running a meth lab, many people were surprised. Irina Kristy didn't seem like a criminal and certainly didn't seem like someone who'd be involved with drugs. She's an elderly, white, highly educated woman.

Crimes and criminals come in many forms. Simply put, a crime is any act that is against a legal code or law. Is talking on your cell phone a crime? No. Is talking on your cell phone while driving your car in a school zone a crime? In many cities, it is. The main difference being that lawmakers thought the act was important enough to officially prohibit it by making it against the law. Though there are many different types of crimes, crimes generally fall into one of two broad categories:

  • Street crime
  • White-collar crime

From a sociological perspective, it's helpful to understand these categories so we can explore the different types of people who commit those crimes and why. Crime data supports clear trends regarding criminals' race, gender, education level and economic class. When sociologists examine this data, they hope to understand how these demographic factors influence crime. Let's take a closer look at the two broad categories of crime.

Street Crime

When you think of crime, you most likely think of street crime. Street crime is any criminal offense that typically takes place or originates in a public place. There are many different types of street crime. Some types are violent and some are non-violent. For example, crimes against persons are all crimes involving bodily harm, the threat of bodily harm or other actions committed against the will of the victim. Assault, battery, sexual assault, homicide, domestic violence and robbery are crimes against persons.

Let's say Polly is walking through a parking lot on her way home from a play. Peter walks up from behind her and grabs her purse off her shoulder, knocking her to the ground. Peter then runs away with the purse. Polly is the victim of a robbery and has just experienced a crime against persons.

Now let's say Polly returns to the parking lot after the play to find that her car has been stolen. This is a crime against property. Crimes against property are all crimes involving the theft of or damage to property. Crimes against property don't involve bodily harm or the threat of bodily harm to a victim. Crimes against property include burglary, arson, auto theft, shoplifting and vandalism.

Other types of street crime include drug crimes, which are all crimes involving the manufacturing, possession, use or sale of illegal substances. Drug manufacturing and trafficking are popular activities of street gangs. Gang activity often involves property crimes and personal crimes. Statistics kept through the Bureau of Justice Statistics and the FBI show that most street criminals are:

  • Young
  • Urban
  • Under-privileged
  • Racial minorities
  • Male

But sociologists struggle with these demographics. Some wonder: are young, minority males disproportionately committing crimes or are they disproportionately targeted for arrest and prosecution?

White Collar Crime

Now let's take a look at white-collar crime. White-collar crime refers to non-violent crimes committed by business or government professionals for financial gain. White-collar crime involves lying, cheating or stealing. Fraud, embezzlement, forgery, money laundering, Internet scams, tax evasion, environmental law violations and security violations are all forms of white-collar crime.

White-collar crime occurs in the course of the criminal's legitimate job or profession. For example, let's say Polly is a bank teller. Peter comes by to deposit $1,000 in cash in his account. Polly takes the money, but she purposely records the deposit as only $100. She then puts $900 cash in her purse. Polly has committed a type of theft known as embezzlement. Because Polly committed the theft in the course of her job, it's a white-collar crime.

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