Rise in Crime
According to the deputy police chief of Iran, during the first five months of the Iranian calendar year that started in March 2020, reported burglaries from homes and shops increased by nearly 30%, while vehicle thefts and muggings increased by 10%, compared to the same period in 2019. Also, according to Iranian media, in 2019 armed robberies in Tehran province increased by nearly 30% over the previous year.
Mobile phone theft, or “mobile snatching,” is also an increasing problem in Iran. The devaluation of the rial and the increase of customs tariffs for mobile handsets led to a significant price increase for mobile phones and accessories, which in turn has expanded the market and demand for second-hand and stolen items. Mobile phones stolen in Iran are reportedly often sold in Afghanistan, where the market for smart phones is expanding.
Fraud and forgery have also been on the rise in Iran. For example, popular scams involving selling properties and fake head-hunting services have increased by 30% over the past two years. Online fraud increased by 200% between 2018 and 2019.
The rise in various types of crime has created a sense of insecurity among the public. In a 2019 press conference, the deputy police chief of Iran said that more than “20% of people’s sense of insecurity” is caused by fear of burglary. Risks of breaking and entering, vehicle theft, mugging, and pickpocketing are also causing public anxiety.
Socioeconomic Links to Crime
Several academic studies and government-sponsored reports indicate a significant increase in the crime rate in Iran, and the research points to a link between the country’s deteriorating socioeconomic conditions and this rise in crime. A study from the University of Isfahan showed that, between 1981 and 2011, the number of reported violent crimes doubled from one case to two cases per 1,000 people. During the same period, reported thefts increased from five to 12 cases per 1,000 people. The study highlighted the links between crime rates and factors such as youth unemployment, inflation (especially in food prices), income, and drug abuse. At the same time, it pointed to the relationship between government expenditure and reduced crime: In provinces where there was greater government spending on job creation and industrial production, serving to reduce male unemployment, burglary decreased.
A recent study by the Economics Department at Azad University in Tehran of crime rate data between 1994 and 2018 also showed that unemployment and inflation had a significant impact on the increase in the crime rate across the country. According to the Statistical Center of Iran, by February 2021, only about 37% of Iranians over the age of 15 were employed.
Similar to other crimes, research indicates a link between honor killings and socioeconomic factors. Historically, provinces with the highest rates of unemployment and poverty have had high rates of violent incidents against women.
The Iranian government’s failure to devise appropriate or sufficient policies to address the economic challenges facing Iranians has directly contributed to the rise of crime in Iran.
For example, police policies have failed to reduce the crime rate. Police officials are targeting policies toward catching those responsible for crimes, and they have claimed that more than 76% of investigations related to reported crimes find those who are responsible. However, despite this purported success in investigations, the crime rate has continued to increase.
The country has harsh penalties for burglary under the sharia law, including amputation and whipping. In September 2020, three Iranian teenagers from the city of Urmia who were tried in a special court for children and adolescents reportedly faced a verdict that required amputation of their fingers on charges of robbery. The continued rise of crime suggests such harsh penalties have no real deterrent effect for first-time offenders, neither do they reduce recidivism.
Senior police officials have recently talked about plans for allowing citizens to use private investigators to accelerate investigations and help understaffed police forces. The head of the Tehran police said that involvement of private investigators can reduce the initial calls to the police. Also, the use of private bodyguards has become common among wealthier Iranians. The practice is only allowed, under Iranian law, with court and local council approvals. However, reports indicate that the number of private bodyguard companies that provide such services without those approvals has increased. The privatization of citizens’ protection, by allowing or tacitly permitting the employment of bodyguards and private investigators, seems aimed to diminish the responsibility of the government in providing adequate services to protect citizens. Since the majority of Iranians cannot afford to pay for bodyguards or private investigators, this threatens to deepen divisions in society rather than tackling the root causes of the rise of insecurity.
Deteriorating economic conditions caused by a combination of sanctions and inadequate government policies have led to a rise of unemployment, inflation, and poverty in Iran that, taken together, have had an impact on the crime rate. The government’s failure to provide sufficient social services and maintain support for the livelihood of average Iranians has increased people’s worries about their financial stability. Considering such challenges, one of the key demands for Iran’s next president will be to improve economic conditions in Iran to help job creation and reduce poverty, which should increase the overall sense of security for Iranians.