Read All About it: Crime Surges Again

Six months ago I blogged about how the media reported the crime statistics released by the FBI at that time. All the headlines screamed that a new crime wave was upon us. The facts were that reported violent crime had increased 2.5% and reported property crime fell 1.6%. But that wasn’t very exciting, I guess.

The fact that the most recent FBI release of crime stats was equally unexciting didn’t stop the media from having some fun again over the last two days. Murder rose 1.4%, violent crime overall was up 3.7%, and property crime was down 2.6%. Not great news on the crime front, but nothing panic-worthy.

The headlines summarizing these data:

From the L.A. Times:

“FBI Reports Rise in Violent Crime: Murders, Robberies Grow in the First Half of 2006, More Evidence that a Long Decline is Over”

(Never mind that the article goes on to point out that violent crime in L.A. actually fell — hats off to Police Commissioner Bratton.)

From SouthCoastToday.com, a site that covers the New Bedford area:

“A Violent Turn: National Crime Data Mirror ‘Unacceptable’ Local Trend”

To get to the bottom of the unacceptable local trend, just read the first paragraph of the article (boldface added by me):

NEW BEDFORD – Violent crime was up nationally during the first six months of 2006, a trend that has been playing out locally all year long. Murders and robberies continued to rise across the country during the first half of 2006, on pace for an increase in violent crime for a second straight year, preliminary FBI data released yesterday show.
While New Bedford actually has had six murders this year, three fewer than last year, those numbers are deceiving. A violent attack at Puzzles Lounge in February hurt several people seriously but killed no one. The attacker, Jacob Robida, eventually killed his girlfriend and a police officer in Arkansas before turning the gun on himself.

Oops! There is an unacceptable local trend in skyrocketing murder in New Bedford, except for the inconvenient fact that New Bedford actually had only six murders this year, three fewer than last year!


sinda

I heard the story on NPR as well yesterday, and have been looking forward to what you would have to say on the subject. Thanks for the perspective!

Closet Libertarian

I would guess that demographics account for the trends but do not have time to dig up that data, hopefully you will look at that.

I suspect the decrease in property crimes is at least partly due to reporting. My local cops in Virginia are reluctant to do anything about merely "property crime". They will take an online report for insurance but that is about it. Could you look at historical correlations between violent crimes and property crimes for a clue? or maybe across jurisdictions with different reporting rules?

aahpat

While the whole fear-mongered "surge" rhetoric is the usual American media hyperbole fact is crime is once again increasing. But not for any of the reasons that are talked about. Crime is increasing and becoming more violent because there is more and more of value in the $ 144 billion and climbing American retail drug black market. Increasing because when police succeed at forcing the prce up by interdicting part of a community supply of hard drugs the addicts respond by passing the price increase on to their crime victims in the form of more street crime. As mandatory minimums raise the stakes of crime addict criminals become more willing to commit greater violence.

I wrote more about this at: More Violent Crime - A Drug War Economic Success Story

drglom

it sounds like crime has increased, but Dr. Levitt suggests the magnitude is not enough that we should be alarmed, if i understand correctly. i wonder if anyone has quantified whether the actual amount of increased resources spent on "homeland security" and not on "local/personal security" would explain the increase in crime...

Jun Okumura

the New Bedford article is worthy of The Onion.

SBlackmoore

There are so many possible factors that go into crime statistics that trying to parse them out on a national level is a headache inducing exercise.

Factors appropriate for one area may be completely meaningless for another. Take two areas of Los Angeles, the Pacific Division and the 77th Street Division.

Pacific has had an increase in violent crime over the last year (8%) whereas crime is down in the 77th. The picture changes a little when you also look at the hard numbers rather than the percentages.

Pacific had 876 violent crimes and 77th had 3133. These are two areas that couldn't be more different from each other. You simply can't apply most of the factors for one to the other.

Just like you can't apply what happens in New Bedford to what happens in Boise.

Pacific Division (.PDF)
http://www.lapdonline.org/assets/pdf/pacprof.pdf

77th Street Division (.PDF)
http://www.lapdonline.org/assets/pdf/sstprof.pdf

Read more...

rmst12

Very insightful to uncover the abortion/crime
link. not at all obvious. Here's another causal
factor of crime often overlooked -- welfare.

Most people believe that poverty causes crime.
Although a lot of people on welfare commit crime,
since everyone on welfare is poor, most people
overlook how welfare contributes to the problem.

A person cannot support himself solely by mugging
people and burglarizing houses. if stealing was his
sole source of income, he would have to steal too
frequently and sometimes steal if it is a bit risky
(e.g., if the rent is due and he hasn't had a
successful crime in a few days). Someone ran the odds
once and on average the robber would be caught in
about a year, and all his friends would realize that
there are better ways to get money.

However, if the guy is on welfare with basic food and
shelter taken care of, the robber can be much more
selective in when he commits a crime - only in
situations where the odds of him getting caught are
miniscule. So he can ply his trade for many years
before getting caught.

Also, there is the boredom/tiredness factor. Someone
on welfare gets bored with too much time on his hands
(think about being a kid and being bored after only 3
months of nothing to do in the summer). after a few
years of boring idle time on his hands, the welfare
guy might be prone to getting in trouble. Compare
with another guy who is poor but who works a
physically demanding job, maybe 60 hours a week at
minimum wage. when he comes home from work, the last
thing he wants to do is go out and rob people. he
wants to sit on the couch and watch an hour or 2 of tv
before bed.

As I recall, crime has been trailing down even after
the abortion effect should have been largely phased
in. Part of the continuing drop in crime is driven by
people being pushed from a life of welfare and crime
to a life of work.
was curious if any readers had run the numbers.
in the last 8 years, I bet the drop in crime by state
correlates with welfare reform

Read more...

sinda

I heard the story on NPR as well yesterday, and have been looking forward to what you would have to say on the subject. Thanks for the perspective!

Closet Libertarian

I would guess that demographics account for the trends but do not have time to dig up that data, hopefully you will look at that.

I suspect the decrease in property crimes is at least partly due to reporting. My local cops in Virginia are reluctant to do anything about merely "property crime". They will take an online report for insurance but that is about it. Could you look at historical correlations between violent crimes and property crimes for a clue? or maybe across jurisdictions with different reporting rules?

aahpat

While the whole fear-mongered "surge" rhetoric is the usual American media hyperbole fact is crime is once again increasing. But not for any of the reasons that are talked about. Crime is increasing and becoming more violent because there is more and more of value in the $ 144 billion and climbing American retail drug black market. Increasing because when police succeed at forcing the prce up by interdicting part of a community supply of hard drugs the addicts respond by passing the price increase on to their crime victims in the form of more street crime. As mandatory minimums raise the stakes of crime addict criminals become more willing to commit greater violence.

I wrote more about this at: More Violent Crime - A Drug War Economic Success Story

drglom

it sounds like crime has increased, but Dr. Levitt suggests the magnitude is not enough that we should be alarmed, if i understand correctly. i wonder if anyone has quantified whether the actual amount of increased resources spent on "homeland security" and not on "local/personal security" would explain the increase in crime...

Jun Okumura

the New Bedford article is worthy of The Onion.

SBlackmoore

There are so many possible factors that go into crime statistics that trying to parse them out on a national level is a headache inducing exercise.

Factors appropriate for one area may be completely meaningless for another. Take two areas of Los Angeles, the Pacific Division and the 77th Street Division.

Pacific has had an increase in violent crime over the last year (8%) whereas crime is down in the 77th. The picture changes a little when you also look at the hard numbers rather than the percentages.

Pacific had 876 violent crimes and 77th had 3133. These are two areas that couldn't be more different from each other. You simply can't apply most of the factors for one to the other.

Just like you can't apply what happens in New Bedford to what happens in Boise.

Pacific Division (.PDF)
http://www.lapdonline.org/assets/pdf/pacprof.pdf

77th Street Division (.PDF)
http://www.lapdonline.org/assets/pdf/sstprof.pdf

Read more...

rmst12

Very insightful to uncover the abortion/crime
link. not at all obvious. Here's another causal
factor of crime often overlooked -- welfare.

Most people believe that poverty causes crime.
Although a lot of people on welfare commit crime,
since everyone on welfare is poor, most people
overlook how welfare contributes to the problem.

A person cannot support himself solely by mugging
people and burglarizing houses. if stealing was his
sole source of income, he would have to steal too
frequently and sometimes steal if it is a bit risky
(e.g., if the rent is due and he hasn't had a
successful crime in a few days). Someone ran the odds
once and on average the robber would be caught in
about a year, and all his friends would realize that
there are better ways to get money.

However, if the guy is on welfare with basic food and
shelter taken care of, the robber can be much more
selective in when he commits a crime - only in
situations where the odds of him getting caught are
miniscule. So he can ply his trade for many years
before getting caught.

Also, there is the boredom/tiredness factor. Someone
on welfare gets bored with too much time on his hands
(think about being a kid and being bored after only 3
months of nothing to do in the summer). after a few
years of boring idle time on his hands, the welfare
guy might be prone to getting in trouble. Compare
with another guy who is poor but who works a
physically demanding job, maybe 60 hours a week at
minimum wage. when he comes home from work, the last
thing he wants to do is go out and rob people. he
wants to sit on the couch and watch an hour or 2 of tv
before bed.

As I recall, crime has been trailing down even after
the abortion effect should have been largely phased
in. Part of the continuing drop in crime is driven by
people being pushed from a life of welfare and crime
to a life of work.
was curious if any readers had run the numbers.
in the last 8 years, I bet the drop in crime by state
correlates with welfare reform

Read more...