Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Chart of the Day

According to the FBI last month:
Preliminary figures indicate that, as a whole, law enforcement agencies throughout the Nation reported a decrease of 5.5 percent in the number of violent crimes brought to their attention for 2009 when compared with figures reported for 2008. The violent crime category includes murder, forcible rape, robbery, and aggravated assault. The number of property crimes in the United States in 2009 decreased 4.9 percent when compared with data from 2008.
This reflects a longer-term trend:

source: NOfP chart via FBI data

I've previously mocked "Fox Butterfield liberalism" -- which both views "a falling crime rate but a rising prison population" as a "paradox" and insists that poverty causes crime. The truth is nearly the opposite: that incarcerating criminals reduces crimes (which the New York Times still disputes) and crime causes poverty, not the reverse, even in a bad economy (despite the New York Times' "despite"). All while gun sales rose.

Even lefty WaPo columnist Richard Cohen is starting to understand:
Surprisingly, this has happened in the teeth of the Great Recession, meaning that those disposed to attribute criminality to poverty -- my view at one time -- have some strenuous rethinking to do. It could be, as conservatives have insisted all along, that crime is committed by criminals. For liberals, this is bad news indeed. . .

[I]t now seems fairly clear that something akin to culture and not economics is the root cause of crime. By and large everyday people do not go into a life of crime because they have been laid off or their home is worth less than their mortgage. They do something else, but whatever it is, it does not generally entail packing heat. Once this becomes an accepted truth, criminals will lose what status they still retain as victims. . .

A good deal of social policy was predicated on such an outlook. It made victims of criminals and criminals of victims (all wealth comes from theft, etc.) -- and in so doing, insulted the law-abiding poor who somehow lacked the wit to appreciate their historic plight. . .

Common sense tells you that the environment has to play a role and the truly desperate will sometimes break the law -- like Victor Hugo's impoverished Jean Valjean, who stole bread for his sister's children. But the latest crime statistics strongly suggest that bad times do not necessarily make bad people. Bad character does.
While Attorney General Holder sometimes promises to stay "tough on crime," his heart's clearly not in it--just last month, Holder said:
We don't want to get tough on crime. We want to get smart on crime.
This is a false dichotomy. Steady or increased law enforcement funding of good policing that locks up criminals is both smart and tough.


Anonymous said...

Roy says:
What factors do effect the decline? I'm not persuaded that the suggested factors of police work or incarceration rates have any actual (vs feel good) correlation. I do think population greying does.

Geoffrey Britain said...

Of course there are other relevant factors and an aging population is one of them.

A man in prison however is not free to commit another crime, is that not so?

Anonymous said...

Roy said:
Sure, Geoff. But follow the reasoning rather than simply responding. In order for prison to have caused x percent decline in crime, what would one expect as the correlating prison population change? Data does not support the claim. (Of course the sentencing unpredictability also complicates.)

I *don't* argue against incarceration per se (tho I suggest restitution even if it costs servitude more effective than charging the victim twice).

Assistant Village Idiot said...

There is also a drop in reported crime in Britain that seems to be only that - a drop in the reporting. I believe that on balance, more incarceration and an armed citizenry consistently lead to less crime. But I don't find it to be enormous. There's a lot else going on. The strongest part of the argument is not that there is a decrease, which we hope proves robust, but that there is emphatically not an increase, as was predicted for years.

A_Nonny_Mouse said...

Regarding Britains's crime rates: don't know where I saw it --maybe the InspectorGadget Wordpress blog a year or two ago??-- but somebody was complaining that crimes in Britain were being downgraded (example-- cursing out a shopkeeper while brandishing a knife gets the miscreant charged with "loitering") in order to make the statistics look good. I sort of recall that "whoever-it-was" claimed they were doing the numbers-rigging so that areas with "restive Muslim populations" didn't look so bad -- but of course I could be mis-remembering.