It is a common notion that most street crime in New York City is driven by cash…or at least the need for it. Unlike other objects of wealth, such as cell phones, mp3 players or jewelry, cash can easily be hidden by being spent quickly on other things, including illegal items. The need for cash, or at least the prospect of quickly obtaining it, also makes vulnerable people easy marks for robberies.
However, the world of commerce has been changing ever since debt cards were introduced nearly 30 years ago. Swiping a card to pay for goods has become so prevalent that trillions of dollars in electronic transactions are completed every year. Even welfare and food stamp benefits are provided through Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) cards.
With that, the question may be: does the lack of cash lead to less crime? According to a study conducted in Missouri, the answer appears to be yes. Researchers found that electronic payments led to a 9.8 percent drop in crime overall, with the rates of burglary and larceny falling as well. Moreover, fewer people were arrested for theft crimes. Unfortunately, the rates of drug crimes, prostitution and sex crimes were not affected, but it points to an overriding trend that debit cards are a safer means of distributing welfare benefits.
It also suggests that aggressive policing may not be the answer when it comes to reducing crime. This is an important consideration that gives credence to the continuing problem of racial profiling as well as vehicle and personal stops without proper justification.