Crime still falling in the USA – why?

Posted: January 7th, 2012  Author:   1 Comment »

Of course our site – –  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.


Bill Bratton on falling US crime and rising unemployment

Posted: June 8th, 2011  Author:   3 Comments »

Read it here – along with a number of other useful contributions organised by the excellent Freakonomics team.

Bill Bratton, former head of NYPD and LAPD says;

“There is no immediate causal relationship between poverty or economic downturns and crime. An increase in employment or a decline in GDP usually will not lead to a commensurate increase in criminal activity. This is because most poor people are not criminals and never will be, even if their circumstances grow markedly worse. They are more likely to take the pressures of bad times out on themselves and their families: suicide rates and domestic violence rates often rise faster in downturns than property crime and violent crime against strangers.
This statement comes with a major proviso, however. Extended and severe downturns that engender long-term unemployment rates of 15 or 20 percent in poor and minority communities can have criminogenic effects, not only because they foreclose economic opportunities, but also because they perpetuate an underclass culture that fails to educate and socialize young men. As these young men grow, they become the foot soldiers for crime of all kinds, including drug dealing, robberies, burglaries, auto theft, and other larcenies, as well as targeted and random shootings in the public square”

Some years ago, there was a hope Bratton would take over the London Metropolitan Police Force but that now seems to have faded – a great shame.

I remember going to a lecture of his in London back in 2003 organised by Civitas and being fascinated by his use of Compstat in mapping crime and crime spots and moving a concentration of Police officers to the time and location of where these crimes most happened in order to prevent crime – read about it here. He likened it to radar in the Battle of Britain – sending the Spitfires and Hurricanes to where the incoming Germany planes were meant to be, before they got to their target rather than try and shoot them down on the way back.

A nice touch, although some of us dare to think the real Battle of Britain was the Battle of the Atlantic and that was won by the Royal and US Navies.

Stil, the whole crime-mapping and stats idea that he put forward that day so convincingly stayed with me and eventually led to this website.



Hard times, fewer crimes in the USA – what about Britain?

Posted: May 31st, 2011  Author:   No Comments »

A must read in-depth article in today’s Europe edition of the Wall Street Journal (online a few days ago) about the recession in America not leading to an increase in crime when unemployment doubled from 5 to 10% and exploring the reasons why. Some of the answers; a lot more people in prison, a decline in lead-fuelled petrol, less cocaine use and more hot-spot policing.

Our monthly data only goes back to December 2010 so we would not be able to display a relationship or not between rising unemployment and crime. If anything, over the last 5 months – see National Picture – we have seen crime rising during the economic recovery with a small drop in April, I suspect due to the number of public holidays and the Royal Wedding. Unemployment actually fell in the UK for the first 3 months of 2011.  However, in the near future, we would like to explore the static relationship between unemployment rates in constituencies and their overall crime rates. I’m wondering how much of a relationship there would be there either – we already know that some of the richest constituencies have some of the highest number of crimes.