Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Crime Rate Still Falling

Liberals and the media often hypothesize that crime is "caused" by economic hardship. Related is the "Fox Butterfield" effect--the failure to connect falling crime rates with rising prisoner populations. This stems from an erroneous distinction between "despite" and "because." (See also the justly famous third sentence of this 2009 SF Weekly article.)

In any event, though stuck in an economic slump, crime rates in America keep dropping:
According to the FBI’s Preliminary Annual Uniform Crime Report released today, the nation experienced a 5.5 percent decrease in the number of violent crimes and a 2.8 percent decline in the number of property crimes in 2010 when compared with data from 2009.
Why is crime falling? Last year, commenter Roy suggested population aging: crimes are thought mostly to be committed by the young. Yet this might be overstated; studies of criminals show a broad peak from late teens to early 30s, and the percent of the population in that range hasn't varied that much.

Rather, as socialogist James Q. Wilson says in the Wall Street Journal, it's culture and cops:
One obvious answer is that many more people are in prison than in the past. Experts differ on the size of the effect, but I think that William Spelman and Steven Levitt have it about right in believing that greater incarceration can explain about one-quarter or more of the crime decline. Yes, many thoughtful observers think that we put too many offenders in prison for too long. For some criminals, such as low-level drug dealers and former inmates returned to prison for parole violations, that may be so. But it's true nevertheless that when prisoners are kept off the street, they can attack only one another, not you or your family.

Imprisonment's crime-reduction effect helps to explain why the burglary, car-theft and robbery rates are lower in the U.S. than in England. The difference results not from the willingness to send convicted offenders to prison, which is about the same in both countries, but in how long America keeps them behind bars. For the same offense, you will spend more time in prison here than in England. Still, prison can't be the sole reason for the recent crime drop in this country: Canada has seen roughly the same decline in crime, but its imprisonment rate has been relatively flat for at least two decades.

Another possible reason for reduced crime is that potential victims may have become better at protecting themselves by equipping their homes with burglar alarms, putting extra locks on their cars and moving into safer buildings or even safer neighborhoods. We have only the faintest idea, however, about how common these trends are or what effects on crime they may have.

Policing has become more disciplined over the last two decades; these days, it tends to be driven by the desire to reduce crime, rather than simply to maximize arrests, and that shift has reduced crime rates. One of the most important innovations is what has been called hot-spot policing. The great majority of crimes tend to occur in the same places. Put active police resources in those areas instead of telling officers to drive around waiting for 911 calls, and you can bring down crime. The hot-spot idea helped to increase the effectiveness of the New York Police Department's Compstat program, which uses computerized maps to pinpoint where crime is taking place and enables police chiefs to hold precinct captains responsible for targeting those areas.
(via Instapundit)


Anonymous said...

Don't forget concealed carry which swept the nation during the crime decrease and abortion which may have had the effect of killing off some of the potential criminals before they could become criminals, a more positive unintended consequence for once.

Carl said...

Anony: I'm not sure I buy the so-called "Roe effect" -- last time I looked, the R squared result wasn't sufficiently high to convince me of correlation -- but you have a point about concealed carry.