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The “Gray” Spectrum

Criminality is a spectrum.

Generally speaking predators come in two sizes: high order and low order. At least that’s what the industry touts but frankly, I’m of the mind that this does not adequately describe predators sufficiently enough to help in understanding them.

We love our binary ideas. You know…. “left or right,” “yes or no,” “forward or backward,” and my all time favorite “right or wrong?” Oh and another culturally classic one right now is “Democrat or Republican.” Life is easier when you only have two realities to deal with, but I often find this binary approach to be so blatantly wrong as to cause wonder.

I think it’s the general simplicity of the approach that allows us to get this false sense of understanding and therefore gratification but it’s just rarely that simple. A person is good or bad—period.

The reality is that most everything is gray and very rarely does something that is black or white appear. In fact, I‘d say that black or white is more the anomaly than the standard.

How many times have you heard it said about a criminal, “He seemed quiet, friendly, and he was always nice to me. I‘m shocked….” I‘ve heard that often enough, or some variation of it, that it should just be a loop that is played before every interview about a criminal—imagine the time and resources that could be saved!

Don’t get me wrong, I think there are low and high order criminals.

So before we go too long into this, what is meant by high order and low order?

High Order criminals utilize research, planning, adaptation, and go after higher value targets.

Low Order criminals are essentially relegated to crimes of opportunity, brute force, little or no planning, and low target value in most cases.

And while I generally agree with these ideas, I think it’s worth considering that these are very very broad strokes. There is no question that even bank robbery’s can vary quite widely from Low Order to High Order. And that might be disputable, but the point is that there are at least two additional factors that I think need to be added to this in order to have a more useable picture of just what these look like in real life: Time and Target Value.

The reality is that High Order and Low Order crime is more of a matrix and takes place on a spectrum and I’m 100% sure that this is not the final word on the topic. But from my perspective there is quite a difference in target value from an armed robbery of a bank and an IT based robbery of that same banks resources. There’s quite a difference between acquaintance sexual assault and spousal rape. There’s a difference between criminals who can rape your child, in your house, while you‘re eating dinner in another room as compared to the daycare worker who serially abuses your child.

The following is a Criminality Spectrum that I think more realistically represents crime and criminals. Now, please understand that most of the examples on the spectrum are just examples. They could adjust accordingly to how the specific crime unfolded. For example, a Car-Jacking might be primarily property specific until something goes wrong and the driver or another passenger is killed or injured. Then the car-jacking might find it’s way to the PEOPLE side of the spectrum.

So what’s the value of this Criminality Spectrum? Is it merely more inter-web information vomit? Or is there value beyond what you see? Well, I’m going to overlay this with another spectrum because I cannot emphasize enough the reality of what the issues are that the average person in a self-protection course might be dealing with. And likewise what a self-protection instructor should be considering when they formulate any curriculum that they intend to have value.

And again, the point of these spectrums and the examples is not to suggest that any of these crimes will always fall within a given quadrant, but more to suggest that there is more to criminal behavior than just high-order and low-order. Also the considerations and associations between planning and time and even whether an event will be emotionally charged or generally more threat based.

We can never know, except in the moment.

Stay safe,
Coach Sean

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