Crime Trends in Western Europe from 1990 to 2000


This paper analyses the evolution of police recorded crime rates for nine offences (intentional homicide, assault, rape, robbery, theft, vehicle theft, burglary, domestic burglary, and drug offences) over the period 1990–2000 in 16 Western European Countries. The analysis shows that there was an increase in drug and violent offences, while property offences reached a peak at the beginning of the 1990s and started decreasing afterwards. The evolution of property offences can be related to the emergence of a large black market for stolen goods in Central and Eastern Europe at the beginning of the time series, while by the end of it that market was saturated and there had also been a reinforcement of police measures in the frontiers and of security measures in Western European households. The increase in drug offences is correlated to the rise of drug use in Europe shown by other indicators, and can be related to an increased availability of drugs in European markets. Finally, the upward trend in violent offences can be explained partially by gang struggles over the control of illegal markets and by the consolidation of problematic neighbourhoods, but seems also due to a large extent of increase in the reporting of violent offences by their victims and the recording of such offences by the police. The analysis shows that opportunity-based theories provide a satisfactory explanation of the trends in recorded crime, and that the crime opportunities are heavily influenced by socio-economical factors.

Key Words

comparative research crime trends European Sourcebook historical-comparative research immigration and delinquency police statistics routine activities approach Western Europe 


  1. Aebi, M.F., Crime trends in Europe from 1990 to 2000. In: K. Aromaa and S. Nevala (Eds.), Crime and Crime Control in Europe: Plenary Presentations held at the Third Annual Conference of the European Society of Criminology, Helsinki 2003, pp. 39–60. Helsinki: HEUNI, 2004a.Google Scholar
  2. Aebi, M.F., Tourisme et sécurité en Andalousie: résultats d’une enquête de victimation auprès des touristes. Déviance et Société, 28(3), pp. 353–368, 2004b.Google Scholar
  3. Aebi, M.F., Immigration et délinquance: Le mythe du conflit des cultures. In: N. Queloz, et al. (Eds.), Migrations and ethnic minorities: impacts on youth crime and challenges for the juvenile justice and other intervention systems. Bern: Staempfli, in press.Google Scholar
  4. Aebi, M.F., M. Killias and C. Tavares, Comparing crime rates: The international crime (victim) survey, the European Sourcebook of crime and criminal justice statistics, and interpol statistics, International Journal of Comparative Criminology, 2(1), pp. 22–37, 2002.Google Scholar
  5. Aebi, M.F. and A. Kuhn, Influences on the prisoner rate: Number of entries into prison, length of sentences and crime rate, European Journal on Criminal Policy and Research, 8(1), pp. 65–75, 2000.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Audenino, P. and P. Corti, L’emigrazione italiana. Milano: Felice 2000, 1994.Google Scholar
  7. Barclay, G.C., The comparability of data on convictions and sanctions: Are international comparisons possible? European Journal on Criminal Policy and Research, 8(1), pp. 13–26, 2000.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Barbagli, M., Immigrazione e criminalità in Italia. Bologna: Il Mulino, 1998.Google Scholar
  9. Barbagli, M., A. Colombo and E. Savona, Sociologia della devianza. Bologna: Il Mulino, 2003.Google Scholar
  10. Blackwelder, J.K. and L.L. Johnson, Changing criminal patterns in Buenos Aires, 1890 to 1914, Journal of Latin American Studies, 14(2), pp. 359–379, 1982.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Clarke, R.V., Hot products: Understanding, anticipating and reducing demand for stolen goods. Police Research Series No 112, London: Home Office, 1999. Available online at:
  12. Cohen, L.E. and M. Felson, Social change and crime rate trends: A routine activity approach, American Sociological Review, 44, pp. 588–608, 1979.Google Scholar
  13. CoE – Council of Europe, European Sourcebook of Crime and Criminal Justice Statistics. Strasbourg: Council of Europe, 1999.Google Scholar
  14. CoE – Council of Europe, Council of Europe Annual Penal Statistics: Survey 2002. Prepared by M. F. Aebi. Strasbourg: Council of Europe, 2003.Google Scholar
  15. Digneffe, F., Durkheim et les débats sur le crime et la peine. In: C. Debuyst, F. Digneffe, and A. P. Pires, Histoire des savoirs sur le crime et la peine. Volume 2: La rationalité pénale et la naissance de la criminologie, 357–398. Montréal: Les Presses de l’Université de Montréal; Ottawa: Les Presses de l’Université d’Ottawa; Bruxelles: De Boeck Université, 1998.Google Scholar
  16. EMCDDA – European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction, Annual Report 2003: The State of the Drugs Problem in the Acceding and Candidate Countries to the European Union. Lisbon: EMCDDA, 2003a. Available online at:
  17. EMCDDA – European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction, Annual Report 2003: The state of the Drugs Problem in the European Union and Norway. Lisbon: EMCDDA, 2003b. Available online at:
  18. Entorf, H. and H. Spengler, Crime in Europe: Causes and Consequences. Berlin: Springer, 2002.Google Scholar
  19. EORG – European Opinion Research Group, Public Safety, Exposure to Drug-Related Problems and Crime: Public Opinion Survey. Brussels: European Commission, 2003. Available online at:
  20. EUCPN – European Crime Prevention Network, Annual Report 2002. Brussels: Directorate-General Justice and Home Affairs, Secretariat European Crime Prevention Network, 2003. Available online at:
  21. Eurostat – Statistical Office of the European Communities, Health Statistics: Key Data on Health 2000 - Data 1970–2001. Luxembourg: Office for Official Publications of the European Communities, 2002. Available online at:
  22. Eurostat - Statistical Office of the European Communities, Health Statistics: Atlas on Mortality in the European Union - Data 1994–1996. Luxembourg: Office for Official Publications of the European Communities, 2003. Available online at:
  23. Felson, M., Technology, business, and crime. In: M. Felson and R.V. Clarke (Eds.), Business and Crime Prevention, pp. 81–96. Monsey, New York: Criminal Justice Press, 1997.Google Scholar
  24. Felson, M., Crime and Everyday Life, 3rd ed., Thousand Oaks: Sage, 2001.Google Scholar
  25. Gerber, J. and M. Killias, The transnationalization of historically local crime: Auto theft in Western Europe and Russian markets, European Journal of Crime, Criminal Law and Criminology, 11(2), pp. 215–226, 2003.Google Scholar
  26. Gould, L.C., The changing structure of property crime in an affluent society, Social Forces, 48(1), pp. 50–59, 1969.Google Scholar
  27. Guerette, R.T. and R.V. Clarke, Product life cycles and crime: Automated teller machines and robbery, Security Journal, 16(1), pp. 7–18, 2003.Google Scholar
  28. Gruszczyńska, B., Crime in Central and Eastern European countries in the enlarged Europe, European Journal on Criminal Policy and Research 10(2–3), 123–136, 2004.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Harrington, V. and P. Mayhew, Mobile Phone Theft. Home Office Research Study No 235. London: Home Office, 2002.Google Scholar
  30. Harris, A.R., S.H. Thomas, G.A. Fisher and D.J. Hirsch, Murder and medicine: The lethality of criminal assault 1960–1999, Homicide Studies, 6(2), pp. 128–166, 2002.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Hibell, B., B. Anderson, T. Bjarnason, A. Kokkevi, M. Morgan and A. Narusk, The 1995 ESPAD Report: Alcohol and Other Drug Use among Students in 26 European Countries, Stockholm: Swedish Council for Information on Alcohol and Other Drugs/Strasbourg: The Pompidou Group at the Council of Europe, 1997.Google Scholar
  32. Hibell, B., B. Anderson, S. Ahlstrom, O. Bakalireva, T. Bjarnason, A. Kokkevi, M. Morgan, The 1999 ESPAD Report: Alcohol and Other Drug Use among Students in 30 European Countries, Stockholm: Swedish Council for Information on Alcohol and Other Drugs/Strasbourg: The Pompidou Group at the Council of Europe, 2000.Google Scholar
  33. Hirschi, T., Causes of Delinquency. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1969.Google Scholar
  34. Hobbs, D., Criminal collaboration: Youth gangs, subcultures, professional criminals, and organized crime. In: M. Maguire, R. Morgan, and R. Reiner (Eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Criminology, 2nd ed. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1997.Google Scholar
  35. Jehle, J.-M., Prosecution in Europe: Varying structures, convergent trends, European Journal on Criminal Policy and Research, 8(1), pp. 27–41, 2000.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Killias, M., Précis de criminologie, 2nd ed. Berne: Staempfli, 2001.Google Scholar
  37. Killias, M. and M.F. Aebi, Crime trends in Europe from 1990 to 1996: How Europe illustrates the limits of the American experience, European Journal on Criminal Policy and Research, 8(1), pp. 43–63, 2000a.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Killias, M. and M.F. Aebi, The impact of heroin prescription on heroin markets in Switzerland. In: M. Natarajan and M. Hough (Eds.), Illegal Drug Markets: From Research to Policy, pp. 83–99, Crime Prevention Studies No 11. Monsey, New York: Criminal Justice Press, 2000b.Google Scholar
  39. Killias, M., G. Barclay, P. Smit, M.F. Aebi, C. Tavares, B. Aubusson de Cavarlay, J.-M. Jehle, H. von Hofer, B. Gruszczynska, V. Hysi and K. Aromaa, European Sourcebook of Crime and Criminal Justice Statistics 2003. The Hague: Home Office, Ecole des Sciences Criminelles, Boom Juridische Uitgevers, WODC, 2003. Available online at:
  40. Killias, M., J. van Kesteren and M. Rindlisbacher, Guns, violent crime and suicide in 21 countries, Canadian Journal of Criminology, 43(4), pp. 429–448, 2001.Google Scholar
  41. LaFree, G., A summary and review of cross-national comparative studies of homicide. In: M.D. Smith and M.A. Zahn (Eds.), Homicide Studies: A Sourcebook of Social Research, Thousand Oaks: Sage, 1999.Google Scholar
  42. LaFree, G. and K.A. Drass, Counting crime booms among nations: Evidence for homicide victimization rates, 1956 to 1998, Criminology, 40(4), pp. 769–800, 2002.Google Scholar
  43. Lamon, Ph., Crime trends in thirteen industrialized countries. In: P. Nieuwbeerta (Ed.), Crime Victimization in Comparative Perspective: Results from the International Crime Victims Survey, 1989–2000, pp. 29–52. The Hague: Boom Juridische Uitgevers, 2002.Google Scholar
  44. Lewis, C., G. Barclay, B. Aubusson de Cavarlay, M.J. Costa and P. Smit, Crime trends in the EU, European Journal on Criminal Policy and Research, 10(2–3), 187–223, 2004.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Mansfield, R., L.C. Gould and J.Z. Namenwirth, A socioeconomic model for the prediction of societal rates of property theft, Social Forces, 52(4), pp. 462–472, 1974.Google Scholar
  46. Melossi, D., In a peaceful life: Migration and the crime of modernity in Europe/Italy, Punishment and Society, 5(4), pp. 371–397, 2003.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Merton, R.K., Social structure and anomie, American Sociological Review, 3, pp. 672–682, 1938.Google Scholar
  48. Ministero dell’Interno [Italian Ministry of the Interior], Rapporto del Ministro dell’Interno sullo stato della sicurezza in Italia. Bologna: Il Mulino, 2001.Google Scholar
  49. Shaw, C.R. and H.D. McKay, Juvenile Delinquency and Urban Areas, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1942.Google Scholar
  50. Tournier, P., Nationality, crime, and criminal justice in France, Crime and Justice, 21, pp. 523–551, 1997.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Scarzanella, E., Italiani malagente: immigrazione, criminalità, razzismo in Argentina, 1890–1940. Milano: Franco Angeli, 1999.Google Scholar
  52. van Kesteren, J., P. Mayhew and P. Nieuwbeerta, Criminal Victimisation in Seventeen Industrialised Countries: Key Findings for the 2000 International Crime Victims Survey. The Hague: WODC, 2001. Available online at:
  53. von Hofer, H., Crime statistics as constructs: The case of Swedish rape statistics, European Journal on Criminal Policy and Research, 8(1), pp. 77–89, 2000.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Wacquant, L, Suitable enemies: Foreigners and immigrants in the prisons of Europe, Punishment and Society, 1(2), pp. 215–222, 1999.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Wittebrood, K. and M. Junger, Trends in violent crime: A comparison between police statistics and victimization surveys, Social Indicators Research, 59, pp. 153–173, 2002.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 2004

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Andalusian Institute of CriminologyUnviersity of SevilleSevilleSpain

Personalised recommendations