"Sorry, boss, but I may not be in to work today; I've been the victim of a crime."
A new study from the Justice Department's Bureau of Justice Statistics suggests that call gets made close to 2 million times a year -- a seldom-considered cost of crime in the United States. And the relationships between the kind of crime and the victim's work loss contains some surprises.
For instance, only 7 percent of the victims of what is classified as "simple assault" lost any work time, but a whopping 23.7 percent of those whose cars were stolen had to take off from work because of the crime.
The data comes from a survey the bureau has been carrying out for a decade that tries to present a fuller picture of crime than can be culled from police statistics. Interviewers called on 60,000 households, and projected from their findings that there are literally millions of victims who never bothered to report to the police.
The latest report suggests that no more than one-quarter of all theft victims, for instance, make an official record of crimes.
There were a lot of reasons why victims did not tell the police about crimes, but a feeling that the incident was "not important enough" was the one most frequently given to the pollsters.
Even when $1,000 or more was involved -- the highest value category in the study -- a significant number of victims gave this reason. And family income seemed to make no difference: Households with a total income of less than $7,500 were as apt to say that a crime was not important enough to bother with the police as were those earning more than $50,000.
Those who did go to the police most often made the effort in hopes of getting back lost property, but other explanations -- a desire to see the offender punished, to prevent such crimes from happening to others, or simply a sense of civic duty -- also were offered. Just over 11 percent of the theft victims said they told the police so they could file a claim with their insurance carrier.
As would be expected, a large percentage of the employes who have been seriously injured in a robbery -- 32.7 percent -- lost work time because of the crime. But other violent crimes seem to bring out the stoic: Only 14.5 percent of the 154,000 women who the study suggests are raped each year took time off because of such incidents. That's almost the same percentage as was reported by those who suffered from a burglary due to forcible entry of their home.
A black victim is more likely to lose work time because of the crime than a white one, the bureau says. But that pattern does not hold up for all kinds of crimes. White victims of assault are somewhat more likely than blacks to miss work, and car theft is much more likely to lead to a white auto owner taking off than it is for a black victim.
The work loss reported by crime victims is not likely to be of very long duration: five days or fewer for almost all victims, and for some crimes -- theft, household larceny -- a majority of those who lost work time took off less than a whole day. But 15 percent of all assault victims lost more than a week of work.
The study of victimization is primarily a statistical exercise, and the statisticians offer no reasons behind their findings. The report gives no clue whether workers stayed away from the office because they were too shook up to come in, were tied up in the red tape of insurance and police reports, or -- in the case of car thefts -- simply had not worked out a way to get to the office or plant.
There's no measure in the study of just how much the lost hours cost the employer -- or the employe. But for a significant number of the victims, the lost work probably outweighs the economic loss from the crime itself.
Half of the household larcenies involved losses of less than $50, as did almost half of all personal thefts; in only 7 percent was more than $500 lost. When a burglar used force to get into a house, however, much more was likely to be lost: in 37.3 percent of those cases items worth more than $500 were taken, the victims said.