Why have crime rates fallen in the U.S.?
October 8, 2006 11:42 AM   Subscribe

Why have crime rates in the United States fallen over the last several years?
posted by davidgmarkham to Law & Government (33 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
Good economy. Low unemployment. Better law enforcement.
posted by letterneversent at 11:52 AM on October 8, 2006


Well, some say abortion, but that's nothing if not controversial.
posted by reklaw at 11:53 AM on October 8, 2006 [1 favorite]


The people who would otherwise commit these crimes are already serving draconian sentences in jail.
posted by Saucy Intruder at 11:53 AM on October 8, 2006


Video games?
posted by aye at 11:56 AM on October 8, 2006


At the risk of getting chased by a band of torch-toting villagers, I second the possibility of Steven Levitt's abortion theory.
posted by zoomorphic at 12:00 PM on October 8, 2006


Another reason is demographic. Young men, ages 17-25, are more likely to engage in criminal activity than anyone else of any age or sex. The "Baby Boom" generation (a demographic bubble) had its kids and caused a kind of echo bubble about 20 years later. That second bubble has now aged enough so that it's past that age bracket, so for the last few years the number of 17-25 year old men has been declining.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 12:12 PM on October 8, 2006


One reason that random violent crime (e.g. muggings) are in decline is because so many states have started issuing lots of "concealed carry" licenses to citizens. States which do that have a lot lower rate of muggings and other violent crimes directed at strangers than states which do not.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 12:14 PM on October 8, 2006 [1 favorite]


You get to choose! The choices are a) demographics, b) abortion, c) new models of policing (community policing, broken windows, etc.), d) end of the crack epidemic, e) tougher sentencing of criminals, f) a widespread, if poorly recognized, moral renaissance in the country, g) all of the above, h) some of the above.

Oh, and I forgot "more guns." Every one of these choices is controversial, as subsequent comments will demonstrate.
posted by LarryC at 12:23 PM on October 8, 2006 [1 favorite]


porn up, rape down, apparently.

http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=913013
posted by gmarceau at 12:25 PM on October 8, 2006 [1 favorite]


in the last couple of decades, there's been a trend towards sheltering children and structuring their lives, which has a tendency to make them more conformist and less likely to act out ... also, much of the violent crime had a lot to do with the crack epidemic of the 80s ... and i imagine quite a few kids saw what happened to their older relatives and decided they weren't going to go that way

not to mention that more of today's kids are out of shape ... it's kind of hard to raise hell when you're huffing and puffing for air ...
posted by pyramid termite at 12:33 PM on October 8, 2006


Isn't crime actually starting to inch back up?
posted by drezdn at 12:34 PM on October 8, 2006


This won't be terribly helpful, but I vaguely remember reading something about the sampling method changing, which leads to better looking figures. Or something like that. Wish wish wish I could remember what this was from.
posted by kookoobirdz at 12:42 PM on October 8, 2006


kookoobirdz, methods have indeed changed significantly. The only reliable indicator of violent crime over time is homicide rates, everything else is a nightmare of statistical collection methods.
posted by Jairus at 12:44 PM on October 8, 2006


While I agree with all the above I believe the "zero tolerance policies", while I am certainly against it, have helped keep repeat trouble makers off the street (obviously at the expense of those who get caught up in zero tolerance). But probably from a long-series of events, certainly having a good stable economy for so long helps a lot. If a strong economy keeps going past many generations it is easier to break the so-called cycle of poverty.
posted by geoff. at 1:17 PM on October 8, 2006


There's clearly some upward bound on the number of people who are criminally inclined, and when you triple the number of them who are in prison, and scare the daylights out of those who aren't yet in prison, you're going to reduce crime. All the other suggested causes may have had some impact, but there's good counter-arguments to each of them.
posted by MattD at 1:25 PM on October 8, 2006


Advanced medical technology has masked a tremendous rise in violent crime by being able to save more and more seriously wounded people from death. This has the effect of transforming murders into mere aggravated assaults on police statistics.
posted by thewittyname at 1:44 PM on October 8, 2006 [1 favorite]


I think it's because we have a terrific and highly capable government that has dutyfully addressed all the problems we used to have: unemployment has been replaced by universal whealth, crime has been dealt with by astonishingly funded rehabilitation programs and with the outlook being so rosy, we just wouldn't want to screw it up.

errr... no, wait.

did you know that more people than ever before are rotting in our prisons?

says wikipedia: As of 2004, the incarceration rate in prison and jail, in the United States was 724 inmates per 100,000. [1]. For the most part, the U.S. rate is three to eight times that of the Western European nations and Canada. The rate in England and Wales, for example, is 139 persons imprisoned per 100,000 residents while in Norway it is 59 per 100,000.

(source)
posted by krautland at 2:16 PM on October 8, 2006


I remember reading an article about this a while ago on the statistical side of the matter, suggesting it is possible a rise in crime causes a drop in reported crime because:

1. as crime goes up, police forces' ability to deal with relatively minor crime goes down, so those are reported less
2. people in crime-infested areas (where a disproprotionate amount of crimes occur) are afraid to report crimes of any and all severity (leading to expanding of the areas of criminality, leading to less reporting of crime)

But I'm going from shaky memory, and may be making it up.
posted by MetaMonkey at 2:57 PM on October 8, 2006


>so many states have started issuing lots of "concealed carry" licenses to citizens. States which do that have a lot lower rate of muggings and other violent crimes directed at strangers than states which do not.

Funny how you don't have a link for that.

Amusingly, in Freakonomics, they say the murder rate went down just because gangsta types began literally "popping a cap in your ass" rather than shooting someone in the head or torso. In other words, it became fashionable to shoot an enemy in the buttocks rather than killing them. Now there's an interesting meme...
posted by AmbroseChapel at 3:05 PM on October 8, 2006


I also credit cell phones. Haven't looked for data to back that up -- just a hunch. If Joe Mugger is getting ready to mug you - or carjack - or something else illegal - and every person around him has a cell phone (most with cameras), well, then maybe Joe Mugger will find something else to do.
posted by davidmsc at 3:46 PM on October 8, 2006


"One reason that random violent crime (e.g. muggings) are in decline is because so many states have started issuing lots of "concealed carry" licenses to citizens. States which do that have a lot lower rate of muggings and other violent crimes directed at strangers than states which do not."

Do you have anything solid to back that up? Not to impugn out of hand, Steve, but that's the sort of talking point that immediately sets off my bullshit detector, especially when it's unsourced. That, combined with the fact that you're kinda known as an ideologue around these parts, makes me feel even more skeptical.
posted by klangklangston at 3:55 PM on October 8, 2006 [1 favorite]


Damn lies and statistics?
posted by popcassady at 4:32 PM on October 8, 2006


Short answer: abortion was legalized in 1972, and the black 16 - 24 year olds who commit most of the crime in the United States are not around today, as their mothers' pregnancies were terminated, as mentioned above. Crime has been falling since the early to mid 1990s, when the first wave of post abortion perps would be around 20 years old.
posted by four panels at 4:51 PM on October 8, 2006


How does the abortion argument apply to Europe?

I think most Western European countries legalized abortion around the same time as the USA did and their crime rates have been increasing, not decreasing.
posted by jason's_planet at 4:59 PM on October 8, 2006 [1 favorite]


One reason that random violent crime (e.g. muggings) are in decline is because so many states have started issuing lots of "concealed carry" licenses to citizens. States which do that have a lot lower rate of muggings and other violent crimes directed at strangers than states which do not.

[Citation needed]
posted by Afroblanco at 8:34 PM on October 8, 2006


Don't forget CompStat and related programs. Computerized statistical analysis of crimes led to several total revolutions in the way police departments did business in the 1990's.
posted by ikkyu2 at 11:16 PM on October 8, 2006


Strauss and Howe have a book called "Generations", which talks about the cultural shifts that occur every 20 years or so... it's an interesting concept that may explain current trends.
posted by arrhn at 1:28 AM on October 9, 2006


>Short answer: abortion was legalized in 1972, and the black 16 - 24 year olds who commit most of the crime in the United States are not around today, as their mothers' pregnancies were terminated, as mentioned above.

You've got the abortion argument correct in principle, but you appear to think that aborting black people is what turned the statistics around.

It's "unwanted children born to poor single mothers" that we have fewer of, and yes, of course a lot of them would have been black. But the way you put it makes me uncomfortable.
posted by AmbroseChapel at 2:44 AM on October 9, 2006


It is a flat-out racist canard to attribute falling crime rates to a decrease in the African American population, as Steven Levitt, one of the authors of the original source of the theory and of Freakonomics attests:

As an aside, it has been both fascinating and disturbing to me how the media have insisted on reporting this as a study about race, when race really is not an integral part of the story. The link between abortion and unwantedness, and also between unwantedness and later criminality, have been shown most clearly in Scandinavian data. Abortion rates among African-Americans are higher, but overall, far more abortions are done by whites. None of our analysis is race-based because the crime data by race is generally not deemed reliable (emphasis mine).

In addition, the general accuracy of the abortion/crime link has itself been convincingly challenged, not least in the second part of the linked exchange. Levitt also states that the best proof of the theory's soundness his its predictive value; if the study's correct, crime should continue to fall. Shall we wait and see?

In any event, crime rates are historically linked to diverse data, not merely population. Studies have linked higher youth employment to lower crime; in general, there is much more supported data linking economic downturns to crime increases. Leavitt and Dubner also attribute falling crime to longer prison sentences and tougher gun laws.

In sum: there's a variety of causes for crime, and a variety of opinions, some well supported and some not, about the relative importance of each. The widespread misunderstandings that surround the abortion/crime theory, and its bastardization in the media to confirm the most base assumptions about race and crime in America, is not a good place to start to comprehend the phenomena.
posted by melissa may at 5:06 AM on October 9, 2006


(Apologies, reklaw; I failed to notice you linked the Slate exchange first. Obviously, I wasn't alone.)
posted by melissa may at 5:18 AM on October 9, 2006


afroblanco - here's one. "We also examined violent-crime data in California, where permit policies vary widely by county. Counties that issue permits liberally had lower violent-crime rates than counties with restrictive policies;" from here. The article is now 10 years old, but the facts & figures are still interesting.

I disagree that tougher gun laws are helping anybody. Perhaps it depends on where you are, but our extremely strict gun laws here in the Bay Area hasn't lowered the homicide rates in SF and Oakland.
While I don't really see the link to abortion, I also disagree with Steven Leavitt saying that race-based data is unreliable. If it's so unreliable, why do we have the FBI keeping data on it and showing us that black men kill black men, and white men kill white men?

Maybe our falling crime rates have to do with increased law enforcement. Or better forensic science, meaning that more crimes are solved and people think twice before committing a crime. Maybe it's because the economy is doing a bit better. Who knows, maybe it's because we have a growing population of illegal immigrants. More Mexicans = lower crime! (that's a joke for those of you that have no sense of humor)

Lies, damn lies and statistics.
posted by drstein at 1:38 PM on October 9, 2006


The crime rate has been dropping for 13 years. But the proportion of young men who grow up unsocialized and who, given the opportunity, commit crimes, has not.

A rough operational measure of criminality is the percentage of the population under correctional supervision. This is less sensitive to changes in correctional fashion than imprisonment rates, since people convicted of a crime get some sort of correctional supervision regardless of the political climate. When Ronald Reagan took office, 0.9% of the population was under correctional supervision. That figure has continued to rise. When crime began to fall in 1992, it stood at 1.9%. In 2003 it was 2.4%. Crime has dropped, but criminality has continued to rise.
Charles Murray - The Hallmark of the Underclass
posted by dgaicun at 3:11 PM on October 9, 2006


Because prison population has increased.
posted by kc0dxh at 10:05 AM on October 10, 2006


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