Learn About the Different Types of Crimes

An Overview

Police tape hangs before a crime scene. There are several types of crimes that are studied within sociology.
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A crime is defined as any act that is contrary to legal code or laws. There are many different types of crimes, from crimes against persons to victimless crimes and violent crimes to white collar crimes. The study of crime and deviance is a large subfield within sociology, with much attention paid to who commits which types of crimes and why.

Crimes Against Persons

Crimes against persons, also called personal crimes, include murder, aggravated assault, rape, and robbery.

Personal crimes are unevenly distributed in the United States, with young, urban, poor, and racial minorities arrested for these crimes more than others.

Crimes Against Property

Property crimes involve theft of property without bodily harm, such as burglary, larceny, auto theft, and arson. Like personal crimes, young, urban, poor, and racial minorities are arrested for these crimes more than others.

Hate Crimes

Hate crimes are crimes against persons or property that are committed while invoking prejudices of race, gender or gender identity, religion, disability, sexual orientation, or ethnicity. The rate of hate crimes in the U.S. remains fairly constant from year to year, but there have been a few events that have caused surges in hate crimes. In 2016, the election of Donald Trump to president was followed by ten days of hate crimes.

Crimes Against Morality

Crimes against morality are also called victimless crimes because there is not complainant, or victim.

Prostitution, illegal gambling, and illegal drug use are all examples of victimless crimes.

White-Collar Crime

White-collar crimes are crimes committed by people of high social status who commit their crimes in the context of their occupation. This includes embezzling (stealing money from one’s employer), insider trading, tax evasion, and other violations of income tax laws.

White-collar crimes generally generate less concern in the public mind than other types of crime, however in terms of total dollars, white-collar crimes are even more consequential for society. For example, the Great Recession can be understood as in part the result of a variety of white-collar crimes committed within the home mortgage industry. Nonetheless, these crimes are generally the least investigated and least prosecuted because they are protected by a combination of privileges of race, class, and gender.

Organized Crime

Organized crime is committed by structured groups typically involving the distribution and sale of illegal goods and services. Many people think of the Mafia when they think of organized crime, but the term can refer to any group that exercises control over large illegal enterprises (such as the drug trade, illegal gambling, prostitution, weapons smuggling, or money laundering).

A key sociological concept in the study or organized crime is that these industries are organized along the same lines as legitimate businesses and take on a corporate form. There are typically senior partners who control profits, employees who manage and work for the business, and clients who buy the goods and services that the organization provides.

A Sociological Look at Crime

Arrest data show a clear pattern of arrests in terms of race, gender, and class. For instance, as mentioned above, young, urban, poor, and racial minorities are arrested and convicted more than others for personal and property crimes. To sociologists, the question posed by this data is whether this reflects actual differences in committing crimes among different groups, or whether this reflects differential treatment by the criminal justice system.

Studies show that the answer is “both.” Certain groups are in fact more likely to commit crimes than others because crime, often looked to as a survival strategy, is linked to patterns of inequality in the United States. However, the process of prosecution in the criminal justice system is also significantly related to patterns of race, class, and gender inequality.

We see this in the official arrest statistics, in treatment by the police, in sentencing patterns, and in studies of imprisonment.

Updated by Nicki Lisa Cole, Ph.D.