The Crime Rate Puzzle

Did incarceration reduce the crime rate, or did it get in the way?

“Crime Keeps on Falling, But Prisons Keep on Filling.” Conservative pundits have been poking fun at that headline ever since it appeared in The New York Times in 1997. For the law-and-order right, it typifies the clueless mind-set of elite liberals. Can they not comprehend that America’s soaring incarceration rate and the historic two-decade drop in crime that began in the mid-1990s might be connected?

The idea sounds straightforward enough: As we have put more people in jail, the violent crime rate has indeed dropped, from 758 victims per 100,000 people in 1991 to 429 in 2009. It’s intuitive to say that putting more murderers and rapists behind bars is the reason why. But on closer inspection, the causal link is far from clear. 

In a series of studies published in 2009, the University of Missouri-St. Louis criminol-ogist Richard Rosenfeld and the SUNY-Albany sociologist Steven Messner found that during the last 15 years, states with lower incarceration rates saw bigger drops in crime, on average, than those with lock-’em-up policies. Moreover, the historic increase in the prison population began in the early 1980s, a decade after the crime rate began to rise and a decade before it started to fall. The incarceration rate increased by more than 100 percent in the 1980s, but violent crime still increased that decade, by 22 percent.

If it wasn’t incarceration, what caused the drop? There is no shortage of theories: Scholars have pointed to everything from the legalization of abortion to the prohibition of lead-based paints. Other theories credit America’s aging population (the vast majority of criminals are under 30), President Bill Clinton’s program to put more cops on the street, and either stronger gun control laws or an increase in gun carrying by law-abiding Americans.

The studies behind all these theories claim to produce statistically significant results. Could they all be right?

“I don’t think any of them are right,” says Sam Walker, an emeritus professor of criminal justice at the University of Nebraska. Walker has studied crime for 35 years and has written 13 books on criminal justice. “You can alter variables to make them say whatever you want them to say,” he says. “Conservatives say the crime drop was because of incarceration. Liberals say it was programs like community policing. I don’t think there’s much convincing evidence for either.”

There is an academic consensus about just two factors: the ebb in the crack trade after its peak in the late 1980s and the growth of the economy since 1992. (While it is commonly thought that the drug itself made people violent, the vast majority of “crack-related” homicides resulted from disputes that arose as dealers fought over an emerging black market.) The crack theory suggests that the anomaly was not the crime drop but the preceding spike.

In his 2009 book This Is Your Country on Drugs, the journalist Ryan Grim makes the case that the crack wave may have been a side effect of the Reagan administration’s anti-marijuana policies, which drove the price of pot so high that many dealers switched to crack. It is certainly true that the broader policy of drug prohibition has contributed to crime. The homicide rate began its steep, 20-year ascent in the early 1970s, around the same time that President Nixon gave us the modern drug war. America hadn’t seen that dramatic a shift in the homicide rate since the early 1930s, when the homicide rate bottomed out after the repeal of alcohol prohibition.

There is also strong evidence for the other theory: that our ever-improving standard of living has been quietly nudging us toward ever-safer streets. In fact, were it not for drug prohibition, we could well be living in the safest era in American history. In a 2004 study, Randall Shelden, a criminologist at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, and William B. Brown, research director at the Pacific Policy and Research Institute, examined crime and incarceration rates going back to 1970. They found that while the incarceration rate during that period increased by an incredible 500 percent, the overall violent crime rate remained about the same. Once the effects of the crack trade subsided, we returned to the crime rates of the early 1970s. In cities such as Los Angeles, some crimes have dropped to levels unseen since the early 1960s.

In his 2004 book A History of Force, the Independence Institute economist James L. Payne argues that during the last few centuries, deaths from all forms of human violence—war, ritual killing, state executions, homicide, and so on—have shown a remarkable decline. Payne attributes this trend to a dramatic rise in global standards of living, particularly after the industrial revolution. Our lives are more valuable now. Harvard cognitive scientist Steven Pinker covered similar ground in a fascinating and counterintuitive 2007 lecture for the TED Talk series.

The same phenomenon Payne and Pinker describe globally could be what’s happening here in America. In his 2000 book It’s Getting Better All the Time, the late economist Julian Simon documented the remarkable, historic improvement in Americans’ standard of living, especially among the poor, during the last several generations. These improvements, unlike fluctuations in economic growth or the stock market, tend to be a one-way ratchet. The fact that 80 percent of poor households now have air conditioning, for example, is an astounding development; in 1970 just 36 percent of all households did. Perhaps not incidentally, homicides tend to rise with the temperature.

We live longer, more comfortably, more richly, and with more leisure than ever before. During the same period when the crime rate has dropped, other social indicators also have shown remarkable improvement: Rates of abortion, divorce, and teen pregnancy in America have all plummeted since the early 1990s. It seems that as we live better…we live better. The crime rate has continued to drop even in the most recent recession, though the drop has slowed. But while recessions obviously make life more difficult for many people, they don’t walk back the broader standard-of-living trends that Simon describes.

Walker worries that the lack of consensus about specific policies behind the crime drop indicates a failure of academic criminology. “If we could find a cause,” he says, “then we would have a prescription.”

But of the two causal explanations that have found the most support, one—the economy—had nothing to do with crime policy. The other, the petering out of the crack epidemic, was simply a return to normal after weathering the effects of a bad policy. Once distributors of the new drug had established turf, levels of violence returned to normal. 

It could be that we have less crime now not because of any brilliant anti-crime initiatives dreamed up by academics and politicians but because civil society has quietly churned out benefits independent of those policies. Maybe the real lesson of the last two decades is that anti-crime policies at best have little effect on the crime rate. When you factor in the drug war, they may make it worse. 

Radley Balko (rbalko@reason.com) is a senior editor at reason.

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • ||

    Fun fact: violent crime rates are higher in Europe than they are in the United States.

    For reference, Britain's got around 2,000, Canada's got around 900, and the United States has fewer than 500 violent crimes per 100,000 people.

    Same shit with things like grand theft auto.

    Just thought I'd throw that out there.

  • Mike M.||

    For reference, Britain's got around 2,000.

    It's rather ironic that the biggest police state in advanced western civilization today also has the worst violent crime problem!

  • GILMORE||

    At least no one can own a gun! (/sarcasm)

    I was going to try and be clever and post something in Nadsat... but don't have the imagination today.

  • The Derider||

    It could be that the extensive police state in Britain results in more crimes being reported, and has nothing to do with the actual violent crime rate.

  • Untermensch||

    He's talking about violent crimes. You should be hard pressed (but inexplicably are not) to argue with a straight face that a police state would account for a 300% higher rate of crime reporting unless you want to argue that ≤ 25% of violent crimes are reported in the U.S. because we don't have enough police and CCTV cameras to capture all of it.

  • GILMORE||

    Derider =
    It could be that the extensive police state in Britain results in more crimes being reported

    Well, that, and the borstal chavs who, unprovoked, smash your gob in for a laugh when passing you in the street. Which does in fact happen from time to time.

  • some guy||

    Can't get the full picture without knowing the casualties involved. 2000 bar scuffles is much better than 500 murders. How does each country define "violent crime?" How proactive are police and DAs at following the letter of the law? How proactive are DAs at piling on multiple charges for a single incident? Have these factors (and others) been controlled for?

  • ||

    It only includes universal categories (assault, murder, rape, etc) as far as I can remember, firstly.

    Secondly, imagine the most super-crusader-like District Attorney in the United States, multiply him by 100, and you've got the typical British crown prosecutor. There's much less leeway in Britain for prosecutors than in the United States, and it shows in the results.

    British cops, for that matter, are also pole-up-your-ass dispensaries of justice, I can assure you from personal experience.

    Watch this space, and I'll comment with the stats in a few minutes. Have to find them.

    Also, if anything, British police are notorious for under-reporting crime of all sorts, and grouping together crimes (i.e. some dipshits rob a whole floor of apartment, it gets counted as a single crime), especially violent crime. If I recall correctly, certain of these violent crimes aren't even recorded (counted) if the perpetrators are never convicted.

  • ||

    Here's summaries of statistics and facts I saved a while ago --

    1) 26 percent of the English population and 30+ percent of Australians have been victims of violent crime. Australia tops this category of listing, while the United States does not make the top 10.

    2) The percentage of the population of England and Wales that suffered crimes such as assault, rape, and murder (major "contact crimes") was 3.6 percent, while it was 1.9 percent in the United States.

    3) Burglary rates -- Australia 3.9 percent, Denmark 3.1 percent, England and Wales 2.8 percent, United States 1.9 percent.

    4) Victimization rates references -- Netherlands 25 percent, Sweden 25 percent, Canada 24 percent, United States 21 percent.

    5) Vehicle theft -- England and Wales 2.5 percent victimized (first place), Australia 2.1 percent victimized, France 1.9 percent victimized; the US did not score in the top 10.

    Also, here's an example of what nanny statism can do, especially pertinent to gun control:

    6) Australia's overall crime victimization rose from 27.8 percent in 1988 to 28.6 percent in 1991, following with an increase to over 30 percent in 1999 (comprehensive gun control passed in 1996).

    7) The ICVS report shows Australia leading 3 out of 4 categories -- burglary (3.9 percent victimized of total population), violent crime grouped (4.1 percent), and overall victimization (31 percent).

    8) The Australian homicide rate increased by 3.2 percent between 1996 and 2000, assaults increased by 8.6 percent, armed robberies increased by 45 percent, the state of Victoria saw a firearms homicide rate increase of 300 percent, and home burglaries on the elderly were also up "dramatically".

    Additionally:

    "- Since 1997, the number of recorded violent attacks soared by 77 per cent to 1.158 million - or more than two every minute.

    - The UK has the second highest overall crime rate in the EU.

    - In the UK, there are 2,034 offences per 100,000 people, far ahead of second-placed Austria with a rate of 1,677.

    - The U.S. has a violence rate of 466 crimes per 100,000 residents, and has Canada 935."

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/new.....a-U-S.html

    There are all European and UN-obtained statistics, by the way.

  • ||

    Also consider that the first set of percentage is from a while ago (2001) -- violent crime in places like Britain has been periodically either steady or creeping up in considerable segments, while it has been dropping in the United States. Imagine how much bigger the difference would be today I'd love to get the statistics for this year, and I'm sure they'll be released soon.

  • ||

    The homicide rate began its steep, 20-year ascent in the early 1970s, around the same time that President Nixon gave us the modern drug war.

    Do we know what percentage of homicides are related to the drug trade, or to drugs at all?

  • ||

    America’s soaring incarceration rate and the historic two-decade drop in crime that began in the mid-1990s might be connected?

    Did they forget about abortion?

  • cannabisal||

    Never! Unborn fetususes are delicious, as is the afterbirth.

  • ola||

    According to de Rugy's article the other day.
    "America’s enormously high incarceration rate is a relatively recent phenomenon. According to a 2010 report from the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR), U.S. incarceration rates between 1880 and 1970 ranged from about 100 to 200 prisoners per 100,000 people. After 1980, however, the inmate population began to grow much more rapidly than the overall population, climbing from about 220 per 100,000 in 1980 to 458 in 1990, 683 in 2000, and 753 in 2008."

    Looking further into the data, the per capita murder rate was at a peak at the end of the 1930's (prohibition) then fell until the late 60's early 70's. Then began to rise again, leveled and then began to fall in the 90's.

  • ||

    I know lots of things are counterintuitive, but then lots of things aren't too.

    Sure, there are all sorts of other contributing factors to everything, but putting away repeat offenders for longer periods of time? Surely keeping those people off the streets is a big contributing factor to why so many of those people aren't on the streets.

    I seem to be the kind of libertarian that ticks off other libertarians for some reason--but it shouldn't be that way...

    I'm willing to accept the possibility of more crime--if it means I get more freedom in the balance.

    If having more freedom means suffering with more crime, then I'm not willing to pretend otherwise.

    This is why some people say libertarians don't live in the real world. Many of us do! It's just that the real world expects us to sugarcoat everything for them.

    So what if more freedom means more crime? So what if more freedom means more danger from terrorism? So what if more freedom means more people losing their homes?

    I want more freedom anyway. That's what make me libertarian.

  • GILMORE||

    Surely keeping those people off the streets is a big contributing factor to why so many of those people aren't on the street

    I find your ideas intriguing and I wish to subscribe to your newsletter

  • ||

    in nearly every community i have seen, a VAST majority of the crime (especially stuff like burglaries and auto thefts) is done VERY prolifically by a relatively small percentage of criminals.

    it really IS a "usual suspects" thing. i go to a # of such cases , where one can be reasonably confident that one of a group of about 10-15 people did the crime.

    on several occasions i have seen where we lock up a particularly egregious offender and the calls for service on the radio literally drop off to next to nothing. it's amazing.

    to me, libertarian law enforcement means (generally speaking), if you are only doing shit that affects yourself (drugs, etc.) the "man" shouldn't be able to fuck with you.

    iow, the 4th amendmentm, and our system of govt. should boil down to right to be left the fuck alone

    however, when people are predatory fucksticks who steal other people's shit - fuck them. sure, first offense might get them probation, but if they persist in being predatory fucksticks- lock em up

  • ||

    "however, when people are predatory fucksticks who steal other people's shit - fuck them. sure, first offense might get them probation, but if they persist in being predatory fucksticks- lock em up"

    It speaks to the legitimacy of government too.

    For small government libertarians--the vast majority of us--the only legitimate function of government is protecting our rights.

    That means protecting our property rights from criminals too!

    If the government can't protect our property rights from repeatedly reconvicted reoffenders, then what the hell IS government for?!

    People will never buy into a libertarian style government if a libertarian style government wouldn't keep repeately reconvicted reoffenders off the streets.

  • ||

    yea, and i've seen a reflexive tendency amongst many to automatically side against the state (law enforcement) even in obviously legitimate shit - like property crimes, DUI etc.

    i want law enforcement to be aggressive when it comes to shit like this. i want them to leave people the fuck alone when they are doing stuff that is clearly 1st amendment protected (despite the fact that legislators keep passing unconstitutional cyberspeech laws out of concern for "the children"), or only affects their own body

  • ||

    I'm right there with you--I think!

    It's like gun rights for me.

    Just because I think guns should be freely available to non-felons who want one? Doesn't mean I have to kid myself that no one will ever use one to commit a crime.

    Really, it's possible for a gun rights libertarian like me to fully support the right of people to own and carry guns--and still be very much against those who use them to commit crimes!

    I'm not a little kid any more. I don't need big eyed bunnies to feel compassion, and I don't need things sugarcoated. I'm all for more freedom even if that means more crime--but I'm still for coming down hard on the criminals.

    Anybody who gets convicted of a violent felony more than twice--gets no sympathy from this libertarian. ...not for havin' to go away for a long time.

  • JoshInHB||

    however, when people are predatory fucksticks who steal other people's shit - fuck them. sure, first offense might get them probation, but if they persist in being predatory fucksticks- lock em up

    That attitude separates the men from the cosmo libraltarian douchebags.

  • ||

    I think you'll find plenty of self-described cosmo libertarians who think reoffenders should be locked up for a long time.

    You may have found one already!

  • ALERT||

    ATTN REASON EDITORS/CONTRIBUTORS: Please read and respond to this pathetic hand-wringing about Robert Nozick at Slate: http://www.slate.com/id/2297019/

    END ALERT.

  • GILMORE||

    Oh, god, that was awful...

    I also would like to see Reason apply the following critique to Metcalf's piece =

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v.....re=related

  • JoshInHB||

    Good lord, that screed is so wrong on so many levels it's hard to where to start.

  • ||

    There has never been any evidence that a good economy lowers the crime rate. Crime plummeted during the Great Depression, as well as the recent great recession. It shot up during the booming 60s and early 70s.

  • ||

    There may be some kind of correlation to people committing more crime when they imagine the people they're stealing from as being better off than they are.

    It's the Robin Hood analogy. If you steal from the relatively rich, it's not really a crime! You're a folk hero!

  • 35N4P2BYY||

    Although, in Crusades era Britain, the rich were almost without exception agents of the state or church.

  • ||

    [There has never been any evidence that a good economy lowers the crime rate.]

    You better fucking hope so for the next decade or so.

  • GILMORE||

    Thank god Balko still contributes at least

    I don't remember all the specifics of the data, but in Freakonomics and Tipping Point and some third pop-socioeconomic book I can't remember, they point out that the drop in crime rates starting in the early 90s (1992 was the start of the big drop I think) happened rapidly and in specific regions where crime had been at historical peaks, not in a broad way across the country gradually... basically what they pointed out was that the major drops in overall violent crime in particular had nearly zero correlation to many 'get-tough-on-crime' initiatives, in fact in specific cases (e.g. NYC) it actually predated them, and continued to drop at rates that did not correlate with any increased incarceration or policing activity/initiatives.

    what none of them had the same answer for was "Why?"; but all pretty much agreed that the 1990s drop in crime across the US was largely independent of various crime-prevention metrics.

    Between 1992-1998 violent crime in the US dropped from ~750 per 100,000 to 500= 50% in 6 years. Thats pretty bonkers, enough so that it is pretty convincing that while enforcement may have played a part, it was not a particularly significant driver of the drop at all.

    re: What caused it then? - I sort of agree with Sam Walker's comment above ("Nobody's right" -also, how can you disagree about crime with a guy named Sam Walker...aka the Texas Ranger?); but also sort of think there's no way you can entirely discount any particular element. The simplest explanation that I think is reasonable as an over-riding theory is the idea included in the "Crack Theory" (which was Stephen Levitts second idea next to abortion?) which is that it wasn't so much about the Drop in crime as the fact that the growth between the 60s-80s was in fact what was unusual, and we've since been reverting to a historical mean. But even that by itself isn't completely sufficient by itself (particularly considering the rate of decline). If anyone knows of a good single book that's tried to tackle this specifically, let me know. A bunch are mentioned above in Radley's piece, but if anyone could recommend any one in particular, I'd appreciate it.

  • Mike||

    A lot of the problem is that looking at national violent crime statistics makes so little sense. Violent crime is so predominantly a local phenomenon - just a couple parts of specific cities create more than half of the murders in the US. It really doesn't describe what life is like in the whole rest of the country, even in the moderately dangerous parts.

  • GILMORE||

    right - I noted that.

    A good analysis of this issue would probably take 5-10 areas of high declines in crime (e.g. East NY, East SL, North Philly, Newark... all of it :) and try and identify what all areas had in common.

    (.... a kid in the back of the class raises his hand, going, 'ooh! ooh! oooh! I know!' = "Black people!"...)

    Seriously though - the 800lb gorilla in this debate is the race deal. Some people touch on it, but its something academics generally avoid. Levitt got some serious heat for his Abortion Theory, which some critics construed as ultimately racist. But you can't ignore the fact that the lion's share in the drop of violent crime has been among African Americans. No one's really done a 'cultural' analysis that looks at attitudes towards violence AFAIK. All I know is that in NYC in the 1980s, what was considered 'normal' then is positively unheard of now. Getting jacked or stabbed on the street was commonplace. Recently I've heard a few anecdotes of people getting mugged in some neighborhoods, mostly by gangs of young teenagers.... but I think thats simply a consequence of the gentrification thing. Hell, I myself would mug a skinny hipster who decided to live in Bushwick. Just to make a point.

  • Sidd Finch||

    Here's a back and forth with Levitt taking the abortion side and Steve Sailer (of all people) taking the culture side. IIRC Sailer won and Levitt admitted to some mistakes.

    "Recently I've heard a few anecdotes of people getting mugged in some neighborhoods, mostly by gangs of young teenagers"

    AFAICT none of the "flash mobs" in Chicago and Philly were in gentrifying neighborhoods.

  • Sidd Finch||

  • ||

    Hardly, levitt evidence still showed that abortion did reduce crime, so we really should kill the little fuckers before they kill us.

  • Sidd Finch||

    What's the "theory" in the "Crack Theory?" Crack was just a new way of smoking cocaine, so I don't see why the dealer network had to be re-established. Maybe junkies became crackheads and more prone to violence?

  • GILMORE||

    In short: crack sort of burned itself out as a business, and violence declined along with the industry.

    Heres his actual paper on crime decline =

    http://pricetheory.uchicago.ed.....me2004.pdf

    pp 179-181 is the nut.

    This is also cute.

    http://www.ted.com/talks/steve.....omics.html

    There's a few LOL moments. I liked the Crack-Dealing Gang Questionnaire @ 7:13

  • Sidd Finch||

    Thanks for the links, I'll check them out later.

    I understand the time line of the crack "epidemic," and it makes sense. But what's the theory for the spike in crime? There were already dealers for cocaine and making crack is really simple. There were also smack dealers who could move to crack in the same way coke dealers just added MDMA to the inventory. IOW I haven't heard a theory that explains how crack was the underlying problem and not just the worst symptom.

  • Ornithorhynchus||

    I don't know if this is true or not, but I once read that a lot of the established drug dealers in several major cities were arrested in the early and mid '80s, and that that combined with the new markets for crack (which was more popular amoung the poor than powder cocaine had been) is what led to the sharp increase in gang violence. It was two things-- the new demand for crack, and the loss of many old gangs-- that just happened at the same time by coincidence.
    Anyway, if the part about the old dealers disappearing is true, it would definitely explain the young ages of the new crack dealers. Traditionally, teenagers and very young adults had been small-scale dealers and low-level gang-members, but rarely did they occupy high levels in major gangs, as they reportedly did in the late '80s.

  • Sidd Finch||

    That's really good stuff. Thanks, I'm definitely going to check into that.

    As far as a theory of everything goes, I was thinking about a generation removed from the civil rights movement, Nixon's drug war, progressives dominating academia and public policy, and the Vietnam War. An accident-of-history plague of young kingpins definitely satisfies Occam's Razor though.

  • Sidd Finch||

    The TED talk is bullshit. Any reasonably smart 15 year old exposed to gangs could make the exact same points. Even stupid adults notice the similarities b/t OG and CEO salaries.

  • Fatty Bolger||

    I don't understand why "all of the above" isn't a perfectly acceptable answer.

    Three strikes laws started locking up repeat offenders permanently.

    The drug war probably put many violent people in jail who otherwise would have been caught much later. (That's not a justification - "thoughtcrime" convictions would have the same effect.)

    An increasing standard of living made crime a much worse risk/reward proposition vs. regular employment. (Except, of course, in the case of drugs, which is one of the reasons the drug war was doomed to failure.)

    Demographics may have helped, with fewer young people relative to the overall population.

    More guns in homes and even concealed carry made many violent crimes more risky.

    Neighborhood patrols driving criminals inside probably lowered the number of "crimes of opportunity."

  • hmmm||

    One could argue that the drug war pushed people into taking on violent, illegal professions due to the attractiveness of the black market over a regular, lower paying menial labor job. People rarely have turf wars over tomatoes.

  • Untermensch||

    Maybe the real lesson of the last two decades is that anti-crime policies at best have little effect on the crime rate. When you factor in the drug war, they may make it worse.

    Not to detract from the article, but isn’t the statement, in effect, a tautology? If you define a new class of offenses, then the crime rate will ipso facto increase. Just like if I suddenly define ham sandwiches as weapons I'll find an increase in weapons arrests because I'll be finding ham sandwiches, which previously wouldn’t have registered in my weapons arrest rates.

    Whether that categorization makes sense is another issue, but many people (especially on the conservative side) tend to understand “crime” as a natural category rather than an artificial one. (I understand it if we think of things like murder, rape, robbery, etc., but so many of our crimes aren’t obviously crime in the same way.)

    Of course, I’d also agree that the drug war increases rates of non-drug crimes, and the bit about “America [not seeing] that dramatic a shift in the homicide rate since the early 1930s, when the homicide rate bottomed out after the repeal of alcohol prohibition” really supports the notion that creating an artificial category of “crime” and pursuing it causes other ancillary crimes to ratchet up.

  • GILMORE||

    I don't understand why "all of the above" isn't a perfectly acceptable answer.

    it is, insofar as you have some criteria or method for determining how much each element contributed. If you don't, its' just like hedging on a multiple-choice question when you dont have the first freaking clue what the differences between the answers are.

  • Cytotoxic||

    While NYC's "Shattered Windows" may not be wholly responsible for its drop in crime, it surely would be a less-violent shithole without it. Washington DC also saw a drop in violent crime but nobody wants to live there because its still a hood. Petty crime has to be fought. That's what we have law enforcement for.

  • GILMORE||

    While NYC's "Shattered Windows" may not be wholly responsible for its drop in crime, it surely would be a less-violent shithole without it.

    "Broken Windows" - FYI

    And I'm not sure that sentence makes sense. Or at least you screwed up the second clause.

    And why do you assume that it had any real effect by itself? I have lived in NYC most of my life, and I can attest that the Broken Windows policy was much more about creating arrest-statistics to make themselves look good, basically piggybacking on the already extant trend of declining crime.

    It's basically like Al Gore talking about his contribution to the evolution of the internet. The only correlation is, "he was there at the time". Broken Windows was an idea they had *while* crime was declining precipitously. Its fair enough to say that simply putting more boots on the ground had 'an effect'; however, its hard to connect the magical dots between arresting street merchants and graffiti taggers to why Rape dropped by 50%.

    oh, p.s. Where do you live? I may have visited there, and found it a "Shithole" myself.

  • GILMORE||

    pps.

    The main takedown of "broken windows" was the fact (mentioned above) that between 1992-1994 was the largest drop in NYC crime ever. Guiliani wasn't even elected until 1993 (and Bratton was head of Transit Police prior to his election); the actual 'boots on the ground' initiatives weren't even significantly in motion until 1994. I think its fair to say, 'it did something!' = but then, almost *anything* does something.

    Basically, it's a case of seeing a parade and getting in front of it. What politicians do.

  • Big Apple||

    Hey, its the 99% of me that is a shit hole that gives the other 1% a bad name.

  • Repo Man||

    Debbi: Duke, let's go do some crimes.
    Duke: Yeah... Let's go get sushi and not pay.

  • ||

  • ||

    I certainly can't prove it, but I have a suspicion that it's a combination of easily accessible illegal marijuana combined with home video game systems.

    People inclined to go out and commit violent acts instead get stoned and play violent video games. If I'm right, any successful attempt to ban all violent video games will lead to a sudden surge in violent crime rates...

  • ||

    ...if anything, British police are notorious for under-reporting crime of all sorts,...


    Having lived in two Commonwealth counties, I have heard this anecdotally, and have over time come to my own, less than perfectly founded, conclusions.

    I think this might have something to do with different political incentives, together with the public's perception expectations of what the law can do.

    In the British world governments fall on crises and a public perception of an increase in crime would certainly be exploited by the opposition to attack the government. At the very least a Justice Minister might have to resign; and in the parliamentary system that means a screeching halt to any political advancement, if not the end of one's career. Police officials, ever mindful of keeping their political masters happy cooperate by suppressing any data that might make it look like they are failing in their mission to keep the peace.

    On the other hand in the US a crime wave can be a handy crisis to be exploited by a sherriff or a police chief to lobby for budget increases and new draconian powers (British cops already have powers that would make American cops drool) and for the crusading mayor or DA to get a boost in his political career (governor's mansion, here I come).

  • ||

    I heard a story on the radio once about how in New York, when the Mayor needed the headline to say that crime was still falling, the police officers who took crime reports would actively discourage people from filing reports for various crimes.

    "So this wasn't a rape--it was a date rape? Do you have any idea how hard that will be to prove in court? How traumatic this is going to be? You should spend this time on healing yourself! If I file this report, there won't be any turning back. Are you sure you want me to do that? If you were my daughter, this isn't what I'd want you to do."

    "Somebody mugged you? We get hundreds of muggings every day--all over the city! You want me to find a needle in a haystack?!"

    Victims of crime are often reluctant to insist that law enforcement officers do--what they're actively telling victims they don't want to do.

  • ||

    Yeah, I'll link to what I posted earlier and add a couple of things --

    http://reason.com/archives/201.....nt_2349186

    Read that post and the ones I made directly below/following it, and then this:

    ""Since 1996, in Australia armed robberies rose by 51%, unarmed robberies by 37%, assaults by 24% and kidnappings by 43%." A little more detail."

    Apparently, British police tamper with crime data -- a great example being the approximately 20-percent under-recording rate seen in 2000. I wonder how much more they've screwed around with since.

    Also:

    "* Underreporting murder data: British crime reporting tactics keep murder rates artificially low. "Suppose that three men kill a woman during an argument outside a bar. They are arrested for murder, but because of problems with identification (the main witness is dead), charges are eventually dropped. In American crime statistics, the event counts as a three-person homicide, but in British statistics it counts as nothing at all. 'With such differences in reporting criteria, comparisons of U.S. homicide rates with British homicide rates is a sham,' [a 2000 report from the Inspectorate of Constabulary] concludes." An example, again.

    Another:

    "* Underreporting crime data: "One former Scotland Yard officer told The Telegraph of a series of tricks that rendered crime figures 'a complete sham.' A classic example, he said, was where a series of homes in a block flats were burgled and were regularly recorded as one crime. Another involved pickpocketing, which was not recorded as a crime unless the victim had actually seen the item being stolen."

  • ||

    Take a guess as to how many Europeans I've had mysteriously vanish from whichever thread we're discussing crime in on whichever forums I happen to find misinformed dipshits.

  • ||

    As far as the statistics are concerned, some clever fellow - Mark Twain? George Wallace? MalcolmX? - once said, "There are liars, damned liars and statisticians." Who knows from causes? Maybe the length of transvestites' skirts cause the changes.

    This sentence from the article tells us something: 'Our lives are more valuable now.' I am always pleased when one of you members of that infinitely superior class of beings who rule the rest of us here in the U.S. write something that might be considered as reflecting some shred of a thought that us scum are capable of reason, but I think he has the wrong end of the stick grasped firmly. We - that is to say, the low-class, low-life scum of the earth who always have infested both your prisons and your armies - have always valued our lives highly. The change is that now it is cheaper and easier to survive - and I mean that literally not as a figure of speech - and so there is a reduction in the rate of resort to crime. Perhaps a comparison in the rate of property crime in cities with falling literacy and numeracy rates might support such an idea?

  • ||

    "The change is that now it is cheaper and easier to survive - and I mean that literally not as a figure of speech - and so there is a reduction in the rate of resort to crime. Perhaps a comparison in the rate of property crime in cities with falling literacy and numeracy rates might support such an idea?"

    This is sociology's favorite meme. Except the data does not agree. It doesn't stop anyone from spouting that crap though.

  • Jersey||

    Great post,I will read your post time to time.thank you!

  • Joseph Davidson||

    Every time the homicide rate goes up or down, we all cast about for causes. The usual suspects, the economy, policing, and number of prisoners, do not work out. The changes are usually national, while policing and prison policies differ over the country. Crime rates were low in the Depression, are low now, in our deep recession and were high during the prosperous 80's.

    The historian David Hackett Fischer, in his book "The Great Wave" using over 700 years of British records shows that the homicide rate and inflation are closely correlated. High inflation, high crime, low inflation low crime. It certainly holds for the examples above. Fisher himself concedes that correlation is not causation, but it rules out the usual explanations.

  • jersey||

    i must to say it's hard to replay

  • Edwin||

    the claim that the scarcity of pot led to more crack use is absurd

    ain't no pothead going to switch to fucking crack as a subtitute

  • ||

    1. Radley Balko makes the same logical error that Progressives made for decades in their attempts to down-play individual responsibility; poverty 'causes' crime. He honestly admits his error by acknowledging that crime has not increased in the recession years, but tries to cover for the inexplicable data by saying you can not 'walk back' advancements. This is bull shit and I am surprised to find him so firmly in the irrational and contrived world of sociologists and Hollywood.

    The fact is that culture is a definite and significant variable in crime. It was one of Sailor's most significant arguments regarding crack when he utterly destroyed Leavitt's simplistic abortion argument that made him famous.

    2. From the comments, it appears folks are generally unaware of the large physical and mental differences between crack and cocaine. Repeated experiment will demonstrate.

    The popular opinion is that crack's onerous sentences compared to cocaine were just a racist ploy to put blacks in prison. Maybe it was. Except that simpletons who view the world in such fairy tale fashion must also account for the fact that crack inspires a much more elementally violent response.

    The fact is that the crack epidemic and its violent sub-culture almost totally explains the violence and murder graph, despite Leavitt's rather pathetic statistical attempt to prove that abortion still matters a little.

    All the other reasons, while perhaps contributing to a complex world, do not add up to a hill of beans in the face of local data.

  • Sidd Finch||

    There's a reason the HBDosphere considers you an idiot. You add inane comments to every post everywhere yet you haven't learned to spell Steve's last name correctly.

    "it appears folks are generally unaware of the large physical and mental differences between crack and cocaine. Repeated experiment will demonstrate."

    Shoot yourself now for the good of humanity.

  • Crystal Jewelry||

    Do you want to reduce crime? OK!

    www.aimengcrystal.com

  • ||

    Levitt and others have found that crime was reduced by abortion, increased prison populations, more cops, decrease of violence in the crack war and lead exposure.

  • ||

    "They found that while the incarceration rate during that period increased by an incredible 500 percent, the overall violent crime rate remained about the same."

    But the crime clearly didnt remain the same? As prison populations have gone up the crime rate has gone down.

    It clearly is one of the factors invloved.

  • قبلة الوداع||

    ThaNk U

  • Saints Jerseys||

    The article is very good, I like it very much.Here I learned a lot, then I will pay more attention to you
    Your post is an excellent example,I keep on reading this attractive blog.

  • Packers Jerseys||

    Thanks for giving me Knowledge about,In this article you have told about Brute Force SEO.

  • Steelers Jerseys||

    Good Suggestion,With the help of tis article i have learned many fact of improving sales.

  • iphone 4 cases ||

    thank you

  • دردشه عراقية||

    Thanks

GET REASON MAGAZINE

Get Reason's print or digital edition before it’s posted online

  • Progressive Puritans: From e-cigs to sex classifieds, the once transgressive left wants to criminalize fun.
  • Port Authoritarians: Chris Christie’s Bridgegate scandal
  • The Menace of Secret Government: Obama’s proposed intelligence reforms don’t safeguard civil liberties

SUBSCRIBE

advertisement