Of course our site – www.ukcrimestats.com – is about British crime statistics, but we can’t ignore what’s happening in America. The big picture is that nationwide in the USA, crime has fallen a lot and continues to fall even through the recession and on the way out. The hard question is why?
As this flies in the face of conventional wisdom, with rising unemployment and declining living standards, plenty of academics have got egg on their faces. Perhaps then, in the face of such inaccurate forecasting, criminologists are becoming the new economists?
Well a couple of guests on this must listen to and well-balanced radio discussion programme on America’s NPR on falling crime in the USA have some pretty firm views of why it happened – a couple of which I’ve reproduced here. You can freely download the mp3 too – so much easier to listen to in the car than sitting in front of your pc.
Bill Bratton weighs in and argues that better Policing in NY and LA should take the majority of the credit because they targeted behaviour rather than “causes” like poverty and weather etc. which he downgrades to partial influences (quite rightly in my view). Charles Lane of the Washington Post points out that in the 90s the prison population grew 5 times faster than the population itself at 6.5% per annum. The challenge for the decade ahead though would be not just dealing with fewer resources dedicated to crime-fighting and law enforcement, but also how to get a large proportion of these inmates back into society and not relapse into crime as they would be released over the coming decade.
Many of us Brits will already have heard of Bill Bratton, his work and quest to become the first foreign-born head of the London Metropolitan Police. For background on Charles Lane, read this detailed piece by him from late last month here that highlights the peace dividend from falling crime.
The discussion came about because academic criminologist, Franklin E. Zimring, wrote this book The City that Became Safe – New York’s Lessons for Urban Crime and its Control. There seems be to an abridged pdf of 29 pages here too if you don’t want to buy the book – I haven’t read it yet.
It strikes me that the level of debate on crime and more importantly, the freedom of Police Forces to experiment, is far more advanced in America than it is here. For all that, based on a national arithmetic mean – almost totally useless as that is ! – recorded crime is still generally lower in Britain than America.