Criminologists Suggest Reasons for Drop in Crime

By Steve Rensberry

   (RPC) - 7/18/2010 - Data released this summer by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation showed a decrease in violent crime last year, which was down by an apparent 5.5 percent. Property crimes also were down, by about 4.9 percent, and arson dropped by 10.4 percent.
   Among the offenses listed as violent crimes are robbery, aggravated assault, rape, forcible rape and murder. Property crimes includes burglary, motor vehicle theft and larceny-theft.
   The report stands in contrast to predictions of the year before and a January, 2009 report by the Police Executive Research Forum in Washington, D.C. That report argued that the economic recession which began in the fall of 2007 was likely to fuel a dramatic rise in crime. It involved a survey of 233 police agencies across the country.
   It may be noteworthy that a majority of the agencies (63 percent) participating in the survey also were looking at budget cuts at the time, and that roughly 44 percent reported an actual increase in certain types of crime, according to a Jan. 27, 2009 story on the report by Ross Colvin of Reuters News Service, "U.S. recession fuels crime rise, police chiefs say."
   Colvin writes: "There has long been debate over the connection between crime and the economy, but criminologists, sociologists and police chiefs interviewed by Reuters in October predicted a rise in crimes as the United States sinks deeper into recession. Crime has increased during every recession since the late 1950s, sociologists said."
   But what do we make of the Uniform Crime Reports for 2008?  Produced through the FBI's Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program, the report states that:
  • An estimated 1,382,012 violent crimes occurred nationwide in 2008, about 1.9 percent lower than the 2007 estimate. The 2008 estimated violent crime total was 1.6 percent above the 2004 level but 3.1 percent below the 1999 level.    
  • There were an estimated 454.5 violent crimes per 100,000 inhabitants in 2008.
  • Aggravated assaults - the highest number of violent crimes reported to law enforcement - accounted for 60.4 percent of violent crimes.
  • Robbery comprised 32.0 percent of violent crimes, forcible rape accounted for 6.4 percent, and murder accounted for 1.2 percent of estimated violent crimes in 2008. 
  • Offenders in the U.S. used firearms in 66.9 percent of murders in 2008, in 43.5
  • percent of robberies, and in 21.4 percent of aggravated assaults. (Firearm data excludes forcible rape offenses).
   The UCR report looks at four major offenses: murder and non-negligent manslaughter, forcible rape, robbery and aggravated assault, and considers crimes to be violent if they involve force or the threat of force.
   Experts reference the sociological and practical complexities, as noted in a story by Christian Science Monitor Correspondent Husna Haq.
   Haq cites three criminologists in analyzing some of the key reasons for the apparent discrepancy, those being American Society of Criminology and University of Missouri Professor of Criminology Richard Rosenfeld, University of Albany Professor of Criminal Justice Shawn Bushway, and co-direct at the research group Justiceworks at the University of New Hampshire in Durham, Ted Kirkpatrick. Among the reasons:
  • Higher rates of incarceration, meaning those who would commit crimes are simply unable to because they are behind bars.
  • More active policing, including the increasing use of such things as video cameras and security systems
  • Social program aimed at steering trouble individuals away from a life of crime
  • Demographic trends toward an older, less crime-prone population
  • Increased unemployment aid and social support from the government.
  • Fewer opportunities for the simple fact that more people are home, and people and businesses presumably have less cash.
But crime hasn't just fallen in the U.S. England and Wales are also seeing a decrease. Guardian reporters Haroon Siddique and Alan Travis point in a July 15 story to a drop of 9 percent in 2009 compared to 2008. See: "Fall in crime allays fears of recession spike."

"The number of murders fell by 6 percent to 615, the lowest since 1997, while gun and knife crime also fell. Crimes recorded by the police fell 8 percent from 4.7 million in 2008-09 to 4.3 million last year," they write.