Should We Be Talking About a "Crime Dividend"?
Here’s an interesting article by Megan Finnegan from West Side Spirit, a neighborhood newspaper in New York City, about the shutdown of a 30-year-old citizens’ crime-prevention program.
Why did it shut down?
In part because funding was cut. But also because it had essentially accomplished its mission:
Like many neighborhoods in Manhattan, the Upper West Side has seen a precipitous drop in crime over the past several decades. Since 1990, total crime rates have been reduced by 84 percent in the 20th Precinct and 82 percent in the 24th Precinct, with the highest reductions in grand larceny auto, murder, robbery and burglary.
This got me to thinking:
When wars end, we expect a “peace dividend.” When crime ends, what kind of “crime dividend” (or, perhaps, “safety dividend”) should we expect?
Decreased crime is of course its own reward. But with crime falling so dramatically across so many dimensions for the past 20 years, shouldn’t we expect to see societal benefits beyond the crime decrease itself? Not just the indirect benefits like increased consumer activity, etc., but more direct dividends. Consider the billions spent on crime prevention: hard and soft security, police, prisons, and on and on.
On the other hand: it wouldn’t be so hard to argue that those preventive measures are what’s keeping crime down, and to cut back would allow crime to rise again.
Additionally, there are orthogonal factors that contributed to the crime drop, like the legalization of abortion and the changing crack-cocaine market.
All that said: am I wrong to go looking for a more quantifiable crime dividend?