« Somewhere On The Dark Side... | Main | Confirmation Bias in Action »

October 29, 2014

Why Has Violent Crime Dropped More in the US than Elsewhere?

Fascinating article on crime rates by Heather McDonald:

From 2000 to 2012, the U.S. violent crime rate fell over 23 percent. Such an improvement in the social fabric would be cause enough for celebration. But the crime drop of the 2000s followed an even larger decline in the previous decade: 32 percent from 1993 to 2000. The 1990s crime drop (in both personal and property crime) was so sharp and so unexpected that by 2000, most criminologists were predicting that an uptick was all but inevitable. Instead, after a brief pause, the crime fall again picked up steam, extending the longest and steepest crime decrease since World War Two.

America’s two-decades-long victory over crime reversed what had seemed to be an inexorable increase in lawlessness since the 1960s. The murder rate had more than doubled from 1964 to 1974, spiking again in the late 1980s and early 1990s. But just as crime was peaking in 1993, it reversed and went into freefall. The greatest beneficiaries of that crime drop have been the residents of minority neighborhoods, where crime was (and still is) highest and where the bulk of the recent crime decrease occurred.

The fact that the American crime drop encompassed every category of serious violent and property offense makes this transformation virtually unique among Western countries. Particular crimes went down by sometimes comparable amounts in other G7 countries, but those nations experienced increases in other serious offenses. And the fact that crime went down everywhere across America makes the phenomenon particularly puzzling, since crime is a local condition.

violent_crimes.png


Neither liberal nor conservative root-cause theories of law-breaking have fared well over the past two decades.

...So what happened? No consensus exists. Favored explanations among criminologists include the collapse of the crack cocaine trade, a shrinking youth population, and a better job market, but none of these theories perfectly fit the data. The spread of New York–style policing and increased incarceration are better, but by no means exclusive, explanations for the national crime drop.

New York’s crime decline over the past two decades has been twice as deep as the national average and greater than in every other large American city.

Read the whole thing. There's a lot of food for thought there.

Posted by Cassandra at October 29, 2014 07:29 AM

Trackback Pings

TrackBack URL for this entry:
http://www.villainouscompany.com/mt/mt-tb.cgi/5365

Comments

Couple notes.

1) Historically crime rates in the US have always been high relative to Europe. Thus starting from a higher number makes it easier to reduce the crime rate. A drop from 20% to 15% is easier on margin than a drop from 4% to 3%.

2) The way Europe reports crimes is very different. One reason why Brittain reports a lower homicide rate than the US is that Brittain only declares a death a homicide if there is a conviction in court. The US declares a homicide if the death is not from natural causes.

So a body in the streets with a bullet wound is a homicide in the US, but isn't in Brittain if there is no conviction.

This brings about a silly consequence. If you want to lower the homicide rate in Brittain, hire prosecuters who are bad at their job.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at October 29, 2014 12:53 PM

I didn't know about #2 - still, the rate per 100K has still dropped quite a bit - from 750 to about 380-380 in a 20 year period is still pretty impressive.

I think it's interesting in light of the current debates over the drug war and policing tactics.

Posted by: Cass at October 29, 2014 03:21 PM

Yu-Ain Gonnano actually understates the case in England, not only a conviction but also exhaustion of appeals. this is a problem when trying to compare statistics of almost any stripe across systems. In another example, a baby that dies within two weeks of birth is often labeled a miscarriage, not an infant death.
.
When I first heard of the homicide difference a while back, I was a bit amused at thinking technically none of the "Ripper" victims had been murdered. OTOH, I suspect this particular rule is relatively recent.

Posted by: John A at October 29, 2014 04:39 PM

Oh, the drop is certainly impressive. I'm just saying that a 50% drop from 20% to 10% is easier than a 50% drop from 2% to 1%.

Diminishing marginal returns and all that.

That doesn't take anything away from an impressive drop, it only explains why the US' drop would be larger than Europe's. It had further to fall.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at October 29, 2014 04:52 PM

Neither liberal nor conservative root-cause theories of law-breaking have fared well over the past two decades.

Which is always the problem of looking at data in a univariate fashion. You make the assumption that the one attribute you're looking at is changing and that all else remains equal. This is rarely true outside of lab experiments.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at October 29, 2014 04:54 PM

You make the assumption that the one attribute you're looking at is changing and that all else remains equal. This is rarely true outside of lab experiments.

...or the Blogosphere :p Lord how we love to oversimplify things.

Posted by: Cass at October 29, 2014 05:55 PM

If it wasn't for the crack epidemic, I might still be living in New York City today. It was bad, folks, a slow motion nightmare. In a perverse way, it was crack that turned the city around. It was the devastation wrought by crack that finally snapped the city out of its decades-long liberal slumber and brought Rudy Guiliani to Gracie Mansion. What criminals crack didn't kill it helped incarcerate until, slowly, the epidemic ebbed, but the cost in lives lost and wasted was nearly unbearable. Crack was the worst horror I've ever witnessed. I'd like to keep it that way, too.

Posted by: spd rdr at October 29, 2014 09:44 PM

Would it be too obvious to note that the graph inversely reflects:
1. Imprisonment numbers
and
2,Lawful firearm ownership/ability to legally concealed carry?

Thought so.

Posted by: Capt Mongo at October 30, 2014 09:18 AM

I've never understood people who want to legalize drugs.

They look around at the present-day world and say, "See? Those drug laws aren't doing any good!" whilst at the same time complaining that gazillions of addicts are in jail.

I'm not convinced that jail time is the best way to combat drug addiction, but I find the notion that drug addicts don't hurt anyone but themselves to be almost willfully delusional. I remember DC and Baltimore in the 80s and things were not pretty in either city. I also question the notion that treatment alone is enough.

And then you have people like Charles Rangel, who (when he headed up the House Select Committee on Narcotics Abuse and Control in the 80s, not only supported but DEMANDED harsher sentencing laws for crack cocaine to protect his black, urban dwelling constituents from the crime waves they were experiencing). That bill was written by a Democrat and co-sponsored by scores of Democrats.

The same bill, today, is supposedly "racist". Who did they think was preying on their constituents? Affluent white college students???

Good Lord.

Out West were a lot of my cousins live, meth is causing terrible problems. Meth is mostly used by whites, and it's causing all the same problems cocaine did in the 80s. Race has nothing to do with it.

Sometimes I fantasize about send all those toffee-nosed, well to do white drug war opponents to live in poor neighborhoods with drug problems for a year. Then they could report back on how drug use is a personal choice that doesn't affect anyone else.

Posted by: Cassandra at October 30, 2014 09:39 AM

Would it be too obvious to note...

The article itself notes the first exactly.

The spread of New York–style policing and increased incarceration are better, but by no means exclusive, explanations for the national crime drop.

On the second, while the laws on handgun carry have liberalized, very little of the population actually make use of it, and a great many property owners disallow it anyway.

My state, North Carolina, has somewhat liberal (not Liberal) carry laws. Concealed carry requires a license, but open carry is protected by the state constitution (kinda: it is illegal to "carry to the terror of the public" which depending on where you live means open carry is illegal). Even if I would spend the time to take the course (or roll the dice on open carry) it wouldn't matter. My office, and pretty much every downtown building is posted, as are the schools, and any restaraunt that serves alcohol. Even with our relatively permissive state laws, I highly doubt criminals worry about it too much.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at October 30, 2014 10:48 AM

And when you look at most homicide, it's predominately felon-on-felon. For whom possesion is already illegal and for whom pretty much everyone knows is carrying anyway.

A whole lot of homicide these days are drug related, whether buyer/seller or turfwar.

I think that's where a lot of anti-drug-warriors are focused. No one doubts drug usage will increase. Alcohol consumption went up after prohibition too. But Jack Daniel's employees aren't shooting at Jim Beam employees and Bob's Package Store isn't planning a drive-by shooting Of The Wine Barrel.

The Mob is still with us, but it doesn't have the power Al Copone had. The Bloods/Crips/MS13 would still be with us, but the bet is they won't have their current power.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at October 30, 2014 11:01 AM

In Georgia, now, the property owner actually has to ask you to leave. The only non-public buildings that are more restricted are churches, which have to formally "opt in" to letting you carry, rather than having to "opt out" via personally asking you to leave the property.

Also, the new law we just enacted this year creates an absolute self-defense standard no matter whether you were supposed to have the firearm where you were or not. So if you happened to carry it into your church in spite of the rules against doing so, and there encountered a mass murderer who'd come to shoot up the church service, if you kill him with the gun you weren't supposed to have in the church the penalty would be a fine of up to $100.

Posted by: Grim at October 30, 2014 11:13 AM

Sometimes I fantasize about send all those toffee-nosed, well to do white drug war opponents to live in poor neighborhoods with drug problems for a year. Then they could report back on how drug use is a personal choice that doesn't affect anyone else.

I may not be toffee-nosed, nor well to do, but I'll take a stab at it. The basic philosophy is that no one owns your body but you. For me to tell you what you may or may not put into your body implies that I have some claim upon it. For me to use the power of government to compel you to put or not put something into your body assumes that your rights to self-determination of what you ingest or do not ingest may be overridden by the will of the electorate. Now, I'm also a realist so I will state unequivocally that drugs destroy lives. I think anyone stupid enough to risk the awful power of drugs like cocaine, meth, heroin, or indeed most any recreational drug is likely going to suffer a bad end when those substances take over their lives. And that's a tragedy. But I do not accept that throwing people into jail for being an addict is going to cure them, nor is it likely to improve either their lives, nor the lives of the people who love them. The BEST you can hope for if you incarcerate an addict is that they will cause no harm to those around them (excepting perhaps other inmates) while they are incarcerated.

I would MUCH rather see society force (yes, indeed, I support the use of government force) these people into rehab programs rather than jail cells. And if their chemical abuse is discovered because they were committing a crime, then they should also be required to serve the sentence for their crime as WELL as rehab. But those two issues are non-concurrent. An addict who is destroying their own life but otherwise breaking no other laws should be an object of pity, not fear. If they are harming others, then yes, I agree that such a person is worthy of imprisonment. Their addiction is then ancillary to their criminal behavior (and I can even accept "causative" in some cases).

Posted by: MikeD at November 4, 2014 09:21 PM

I may not be toffee-nosed, nor well to do, but I'll take a stab at it.

Sorry Mike - I wasn't talking about you. I had just read a particularly irritating op-ed from a pundit I think of as something of a Limousine Libertarian, and my irritation with that attitude spilled over into my comment. I didn't mean to suggest that everyone who criticizes the war on drugs does so for the same reasons.

Under ordinary circumstances, society is justified in holding people accountable for their own decisions. I believe that hard drugs alter that basic calculus. There seems an obvious connection between the effects of the substance and the degree of impairment. Some impairment (alcohol, possibly pot) is mild and therefore tolerable. Taking a drug that causes you to hallucinate and believe your child or spouse is a demon is considerably less so. Eating bath salts is pretty much tantamount to deciding to turn yourself into a flesh eating monster.

When you *choose* to ingest a mind-altering substance, you are deliberately impairing your ability to control your own actions, your reaction time, your memory, pretty much all your functions. I agree that jail is not the best response for drug addiction, but I also believe people are not islands, but rather members of family units and groups who have duties to each other. Parents who are addicted to drugs are responsible for some pretty horrific neglect and abuse of helpless children, and I think there ought to be some penalty for deliberately rendering yourself incapable of caring for them.

Posted by: Cassandra at November 5, 2014 07:55 AM