Even Levitt Wouldn’t Have Proposed This Crime-Fighting Measure

The official murder rate in New Orleans has dropped to zero. The last recorded murder in the city occurred on Aug. 27, two days before Hurricane Katrina. It seems that Katrina, along with ruining a few hundred thousand lives, also dispatched most of the criminals, particularly the drug dealers and their customers. As N.O. criminologist Peter Scharf told the New York Times in this fascinating article, the hurricane was “one of the greatest crime-control tools ever deployed against a high-crime city.” If Mr. Scharf wants some advice in dealing with the inevitable blowback of making such a statement, perhaps he should get in touch with Anthony Bouza, the former police chief of Minnesota who once called abortion “arguably the only effective crime-prevention device adopted in this nation since the late 1960’s.” To my ear, Scharf sounds downright freakonomical when he further describes the crime scenario in New Orleans: “This is one of the most interesting experiments in crime we’ve ever seen. Without effective courts, corrections, or rehabilitation, we have reduced the crime rate by 100 percent.”

In this Freakonomics column about the self-experimenter Seth Roberts (who, by the way, is now writing a book about his Shangri-La diet), we describe a desirable but impossible experiment that would measure the relationship between incarceration and the crime rate. What Steve Levitt could only imagine, Hurricane Katrina has seemingly achieved. I am guessing that at least a few criminologists, economists, and others are currently hatching ways to harness the power of this accidental experiment in the interest of science.


drumdance

And it only cost $25 billion in property damages!

cesargn86

Almost a freebie...

White Ant

From memory, there was a similar effect from the Asian Tsunami - piracy in the Straits of Malacca has dropped to virtually zero, apparently because all the pirates lived in low-lying areas of Northern Sumatra.

And if you want to take it to a ridiculous extreme, I'm sure there wasn't a lot of murders in Hiroshima in the fall of 1945...

John Palmer

So what happened to all those murders that allegedly took place in the SuperDome and at the Convention Centre during the week following the hurricane/flood? Did they not really happen, or were they not counted?

Forbes

Mr. Palmer, you're a couple months behind on the news cycle. In short, "all those murders" didn't happen. NO Times-Pic ran several stories checking out all the allegations carried by the MSM. Wrong. Another example of that famous, "fake but accurate" reporting we've come to love about the national media!

michelle

Maybe there is also a weird 'primacy effect' with the people returning first being the best of residents. The persevering, forward looking, pioneer types who are the stuff that great cities are made of.(the slouchers should follow within a year or two :)

dudeman

I think you're missing a huge component to the drop in crime: every other person in New Orleans is a cop right now. I just returned from a two week stint there and one cannot walk two steps without seeing a cop. Police and military folks were shipped in from across the country and the police are swift and aggressive when anyone steps out of line. Yes many of the criminals left, but let me tell you, employers are so desperate that lots of criminals are being given a place to stay if they sign on for short term jobs.

nathanhollis.org - Need to reduce crime?

[...] Apparently the New Orleans crime rate has dived to zero since the hurricane hit. I wonder if the cost of the physical damage of the hurricane >= the cost of the damage of the crime that would have been caused in the period post hurricane…scary stuff [...]

Larry Horse

Yeah, they said there were like 2 murders max at the Superdome and Convention center combined.

Gringo_Nordestino

Those "murders" may be chalked as "Hurricane deaths". Those he live in Hurricane areas know this, but others may not (I am in Miami, FL right now). The hurricane passes by, with no deaths, but damage. The next day, if you get electrocuted by a downed powerline, you are a hurricane fatality. If you die from carbon monoxide poisoning because you ran your genarator in doors, it's a hurricane death. You fall off the roof making repairs due to damage caused by the storm, it's a hurricane related death. You get the picture. Maybe, it's just a MAYBE, they are attributing those as hurricane deaths.

Nobert Wells

Criminality is not a quality that certain individuals have and others don't. It's something people do. People aren't born law breakers. They are not genetically or environmentally determined to break laws. They break laws (or they don't).

So any talk of "the criminals haven't returned" just doesn't make sense.

You should also remember that most murders take place within the family.

What's probably going on is that, confronted with the need to rebuild their lives, there's little time for family members to quarrel. Once normal family life is happily restored, with mom pop and the kids screaming at one another over the breakfast table, the murder rate will surely rise back to its former level.

mike529

Man the funniest thing is that the media got away with their lie and made Bush pay for it by charging him with insensitivity in his reaction.

drumdance

And it only cost $25 billion in property damages!

cesargn86

Almost a freebie...

White Ant

From memory, there was a similar effect from the Asian Tsunami - piracy in the Straits of Malacca has dropped to virtually zero, apparently because all the pirates lived in low-lying areas of Northern Sumatra.

And if you want to take it to a ridiculous extreme, I'm sure there wasn't a lot of murders in Hiroshima in the fall of 1945...

John Palmer

So what happened to all those murders that allegedly took place in the SuperDome and at the Convention Centre during the week following the hurricane/flood? Did they not really happen, or were they not counted?

Forbes

Mr. Palmer, you're a couple months behind on the news cycle. In short, "all those murders" didn't happen. NO Times-Pic ran several stories checking out all the allegations carried by the MSM. Wrong. Another example of that famous, "fake but accurate" reporting we've come to love about the national media!

michelle

Maybe there is also a weird 'primacy effect' with the people returning first being the best of residents. The persevering, forward looking, pioneer types who are the stuff that great cities are made of.(the slouchers should follow within a year or two :)

dudeman

I think you're missing a huge component to the drop in crime: every other person in New Orleans is a cop right now. I just returned from a two week stint there and one cannot walk two steps without seeing a cop. Police and military folks were shipped in from across the country and the police are swift and aggressive when anyone steps out of line. Yes many of the criminals left, but let me tell you, employers are so desperate that lots of criminals are being given a place to stay if they sign on for short term jobs.

nathanhollis.org - Need to reduce crime?

[...] Apparently the New Orleans crime rate has dived to zero since the hurricane hit. I wonder if the cost of the physical damage of the hurricane >= the cost of the damage of the crime that would have been caused in the period post hurricane…scary stuff [...]