Saturday, June 11, 2011

Good news that goes unreported: The end of crime 

The rate of violent crime in the United States is at its lowest level in 40 years, and is at 1/3 the rate of 1994. This is an astonishing improvement in national well-being, yet it has gone substantially unreported, a point well-documented in the linked post. I respectfully suggest, in no particular order, why the media has done such a poor job of reporting the end of crime:

  • The media loves reporting on crime because people love hearing about it. The absence of crime is, well, boring.

  • Crime has declined simultaneously with a surge in incarceration. It would appear that the view of American conservatives -- that bad people commit crimes and that we will have less crime if we remove the bad people -- is as true as these things ever are. The media hates it when conservatives are right.

  • Crime has continued to decline notwithstanding a terrible economy and rising poverty. Recent evidence suggests that, in fact, poverty does not cause crime. Again, the media hates it when conservatives are right, or at least appear right.

  • The decline in crime has occurred under Democrats and Republicans, so there is no partisan advantage in taking credit for it. If politicians are not talking about it, the media loses interest very quickly.

  • There may be other reasons.

    One other observation, which troubles me: The big decline in crime, especially violent crime, has occurred during the "war on drugs," which many of us (including me) believe is bad policy. Perhaps we need to reconsider our point of view, at least insofar as we oppose the war on drugs because we believe it encourages crime, rather than discourages it.

    Release the hounds.


    By Blogger mdgiles, at Sat Jun 11, 07:17:00 PM:

    What the War On Drugs, has allowed us to do is export our violence overseas. The "dealerships" within the US have pretty much sorted themselves out. Now the problem has become all out war among suppliers. But that happens where the "product" is produced, and along the smuggling routes into the country.  

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sat Jun 11, 08:02:00 PM:

    Cool, so all of our sitting inside (in front of a screen) getting fat & self-absorbed is paying off! :-)  

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sat Jun 11, 08:17:00 PM:

    TH, I'm sure you realize that it's simplistic to suggest that there is no conservative momentum in criminal justice reform: See, e.g., http://www.rightoncrime.com/

    Also, your bullets 2 & 3 are to some
    extent in conflict, as incarceration is heavily skewed to the lower end of the socioeconomic ladder.

    Violent crime is down, but economic crimes like identity theft are way up. Who would hold up an ATM if they could hack your account instead?

    Also, there have been huge strides in forensics and evidence (DNA) in this timeframe - so maybe we need to thank our scientists and stop turning everything into party politics.  

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sun Jun 12, 12:55:00 AM:

    Just a minute!! I have no facts, but before we celebrate great reductions in crime, I want to see how "crimes" are defined, over time, and how Obumers political operatives manipulate the data, BEFORE I'm willing to approve. We've got a black-racist running DoJ, blessing black criminals, why wouldn't the crime rates go done?  

    By Blogger Southern Man, at Sun Jun 12, 02:18:00 AM:

    Well, I see these statistics all the time. I also see how police and politicians manipulate statistics to make it appear that crime rates are low - for example, at the campus where I work "suspects" are routinely escorted off campus to be arrested by city cops, to keep the campus crime stats low. And my personal experience is that before 1990, I had never been the victim of a crime. And since 1995, it's a yearly event - mostly property crime like vandalism and theft. THIS year isn't even over and I've had one vehicle vandalized, another stolen, and my place burglarized. In all three the police gave me forms that they claimed would satisfy my insurance company (and they did) but did NOT file police reports. My view? Property crime is way, WAY up - and way, WAY under-reported.  

    By Anonymous Bird of Paradise, at Sun Jun 12, 02:25:00 AM:

    Crime gose down where more guns are avalible to the public without all the redtape and regulations and when the 2nd AMENDMENT is followed  

    By Blogger Gary Rosen, at Sun Jun 12, 04:49:00 AM:

    There is an overwhelmingly obvious reason for the decline in crime - demographics. Most violent crimes are committed by younger adults and the population is aging. This trumps everything else - war on drugs, gun control or lack thereof, police tactics and practices etc.  

    By Blogger Dan Kauffman, at Sun Jun 12, 08:54:00 AM:

    Maybe this has something to do with it

    Progress in Right-to-Carry


    By Blogger Aegon01, at Sun Jun 12, 10:21:00 AM:

    I don't really think the logic should be: "Violent crime went down when we were waging war on drugs, so that means that continuing to wage war on drugs makes sense." It makes more sense to wage war on organized crime, which really causes violence. It just happens that since drugs are illegal, it's their bread and butter.

    In the 20s, if someone had called it the "War on Alcohol" and noticed that, as they locked up criminals, crime went down, it still wouldn't make sense to keep alcohol illegal, because even though it's part of what makes organized crime violent, it still funds them for as long as it's against the law.  

    By Blogger Aegon01, at Sun Jun 12, 10:24:00 AM:

    Also, I agree with BoP. Even though many drug dealers have automatic weapons, they would still be deterred from doing harm (to some extent) if they knew the people they were contending with also had guns.  

    By Anonymous Ignoramus, at Sun Jun 12, 11:39:00 AM:

    You have to be careful drawing inferences from statistics. The data sets can be skewed, or even fundamentally flawed. Correlation doesn’t mean causation. Can you say “Anthropomorphic Global Warming”?

    Rather than asking why did crime come down from the early 1990s, the better question might be why it went up from the 1960s in the first place. The drug trade was part of this, but not the only driver.

    Inner city anarchy in the 1970s was a big driver. This fed on itself. In NYC, we famously had spontaneous looting all over the city during the 1977 blackout. In our more recent big blackout, there was none. I don't think anyone thought to steal a TV on 9.11.01.

    Echoing Gary Rosen above, demographics have been a big driver. The drop in crime has a quite high correlation to “Roe v Wade” reaching voting age and then growing into a ripe middle age. Go figure.

    The only way to cut down on the violence associated with drug trafficking is to take out the profit margin. But we’ve built a huge police state apparatus that’s just as dependent on the status quo as any junkie.

    More guns doesn’t always equal less crime. A big part of the Giuliani-era reduction in NYC murders was getting guns off the street. Under Dinkins every street thug thought he needed to have a gun because all the others did too.


    By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sun Jun 12, 01:40:00 PM:

    Lots of comments of the sort "x does, or does not, explain the drop in crime. Why can't it be "x, y, z, and maybe a few other things together explain the drop in crime?  

    By Anonymous tyree, at Sun Jun 12, 04:39:00 PM:

    Irnoramus said, "The only way to cut down on the violence associated with drug trafficking is to take out the profit margin."

    uhh, no.

    The people who buy the drugs could stop buying them out of moral outrage at the violence their recreational use causes. That would cut down the violence. It would also require the right choices from people who don't care about the consequences of their actions. Probably easier to give them what they want, but no necessarily better.  

    By Anonymous Ignoramus, at Sun Jun 12, 05:03:00 PM:

    "The people who buy the drugs could stop buying them"

    And we should all eat our vegetables.  

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sun Jun 12, 09:04:00 PM:


    By Anonymous Ignoramus, at Sun Jun 12, 10:08:00 PM:

    Less snarky response to Tyree:

    We shouldn’t smoke cigarettes either. I don’t. Personally I’m glad they’ve been banned in bars. But we’ve gotten ourselves in the position that the real owners of our cigarette companies is government, which milks it for tax revenue. Would you justify a total ban on cigarettes? Especially if all it did was create an ineffective black market?

    Mothers Against Drunk Drivers had an initial noble purpose, but the way they achieved their legislative goals was a bad precedent that undermined federalism.

    We subverted the tax code to federalize drug enforcement.

    Our War on Drugs has been an ineffective disaster in several respects. It only guarantees a high profit margin on hard drugs to the fiercest dealers. And I repeat my point that we’ve built a huge police state apparatus to enforce our drug laws that’s just as dependent on the status quo as any junkie. And undermined our civil liberties.

    I caught part of a TV program that showed Kentucky troopers using helicopters to bust poor locals growing a marijuana cash crop. Only in America.

    One answer is to ban things to make moralists happy, keep bad stuff away from kids within reason, and otherwise go light on enforcement. Most people won’t do bad things, with or without laws.  

    By Anonymous tyree, at Sun Jun 12, 11:01:00 PM:

    Thanks for the new, improved, less snark version.

    You ask, "Would you ban cigarettes?"

    No, I think people should be informed of the risk and take their chances.

    I think the people who buy illegal drugs should stop buying them from any source that murders people to provide them. In a free society we need to be aware of the consequences of our actions and avoid doing things that leads to mass graves in border towns. If the drug addicts did that, and in doing so showed some sense of responsibility, I would vote for drug legalization in a heartbeat.
    It's very complicated, but there would be few negative "unintended consequences" to mass voluntary drug law obedience. It won't happen in this political climate, but it would mean a lot less problems for society. Some people keep campaigning for more and more drug use to get them legalized, I take the opposite approach. The drug users should show they can be trusted with the responsibility, and I would feel a lot better about backing off on enforcement. Too many times in my life I have seen the promise of legal change fail miserably. Remember when the campaign to allow two or more incomes on a mortgage was going to get us more affordable homes?  

    By Blogger dmoelling, at Mon Jun 13, 11:51:00 AM:

    There seems to be a difference with a drunk and a druggie (even with marijuana). Drunks rarely turn to crimes other than begging or very minor thefts to support their habit (perhaps because booze is/was cheap). The drunk's violence seems to be limited (they pass out first).

    Druggies seem to move up the scale more rapidly and it involves more potent drugs. They also seem to tend more to violence.

    Putting drug users in the can takes up and coming violent criminals off the street.  

    By Anonymous Jim Miller, at Mon Jun 13, 12:52:00 PM:

    TH - If you are interested in this problem, you should definitely read James Q. Wilson's recent piece in the WSJ.

    (And all the single-cause folks should read it -- and study it -- carefully.)

    Incidentally, the lack of a relationship between crime and poverty is not new -- though some criminologists are resisting the obvious.

    For example, the murder rate soared in the US during the prosperous 1920s and began to fall during the 1930s.

    (Some single-cause people will immediately suspect Prohibition, but the pattern of the changes does not fit that explanation. The murder rate rose from 1.2 per 100,00 (!) in 1900 to about 6 per 100,000 before Prohibition and then continued to rise to almost 10. It fell gradually to less than 5 in the late 1950s and then soared again in the prosperous 1960s to almost 10, during a time when prohibition was not exactly being enforced anywhere.)

    Incidentally, a regular reader of my site would know these things, since I discuss them from time to time.  

    By Anonymous Ignoramus, at Mon Jun 13, 01:02:00 PM:

    "Druggies seem ..."

    Sounds like you haven't actually seen much of the world. You should get out more. Here's a few pointers:

    Some would say that drunks are the most violent of all, as they passively-aggressively kill thousands on the road every year.

    I've never met a violent stoner. In fact, if I'm California Governor Jerry Brown I want the populace to use a lot of medicinal marijuana in the next few years. It may be the only way to get through without wholesale insurrection.

    My teenage daughter asked me about her temptation to try pot. I told her it wasn't that big a deal, but to wait. I'll tell her the same thing next year. I suspect that she asks her Mom similar questions about sex, and gets a similar answer.

    I also told her what South Park's Matt Stone and Trey Parker would say: Kids smoke pot to deal with their boredom. But that's the easy way out. Kids should instead explore their creativity, etc etc to answer boredom. Stone and Parker are actually really smart, insightful guys. Can't wait to see "The Book of Mormon".

    Real "druggies" don't do much more than petty crime. Dealers can be a different kind of cat, but even they aren't always Ultra-Violent. The higher-ups are, but it's driven by the insane profit margins. Take that away, and the game changes.

    I don't think throwing them all in prison for lengthy terms -- let God sort them out! -- has been constructive, let alone englightened. Instead, it's been downright stupid. Also racsist ... something that Chris Chambers and I can finally agree on.


    By Blogger Georgfelis, at Mon Jun 13, 04:54:00 PM:

    Some of the distortions you are seeing in these stats is due to a drug crime is normally much easier to prosecute from the basic evidence involved. Thug A is arrested off the street and charged with assault, battery, larceny, threatening a police officer, jaywalking, criminal damage to property and robbery. Thug B is arrested on robbery and possession of 3 grams of crack. Which one goes to trial and to the pen faster?

    Answer: B. Why? The DA will let B “cop a plea” on possession and drop the robbery charges, whereas thug A is going to have a long, slow trial with lots and lots of witnesses. Thug B has almost no chance of walking because there is physical evidence, where thug A is has a chance of getting a jury to support him or at least not want to deal with him. Both went into the system on violent crime arrests, only one shows up in the stats. The other is a “drug crime”  

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sat Jun 18, 09:03:00 AM:

    Not to sound to negative but it might also be some people realize there's little point in reporting some crime. If your car is stolen then call the cops, maybe they'll catch the guy driving it.

    However many times the criminals are locals, not some guys 30 blocks away. So if they harass you outside your house, or take your wallet without beating you (mugging without the lumps) and you call the cops they know where you live. And real life isn't like a cop show, one simple robbery doens't put someone away for life, plus those people have friends on the outside. It's not Walker Texas Ranger where a small family can put a whole gang away. And any trial takes time.

    Many years ago in Chicago my roommate and I had a misunderstanding with a neighbor in our apartment over parking. He was a little drunk, and I advised my roomie to move his car and we can clear things up with the landlord in hte morning (landlord had some work done, so parking was changed a little). He refused to move, but checked his car later and all 4 tires were flat. He called the cops, who talked to the guy, but of course he didn't confess.

    Cops said they couldn't do anything, but people like that will 'get' whats coming to them. They mess with to many people, so the feel good idea of karma paid for the new tires. Awesome.

    So really, most people know it doesn't matter to much to report small crimes. There was a time people felt calling the cops over a stolen grill left outside would mean they'd go to the grill chop shop and they'd get it back in a few hours. Most people know if someone steals from your yard there's no way to know who did it. You may suspect the local shady character, but cops do need evidence.  

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