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Constable's Notebook - February 2010

Last month the Associated Press reported that for the first time in 50 years the national crime rate has actually dropped during an economic recession. Conventional wisdom has held that crime, especially property crimes, increase during economic downturns. However, for the first half of 2009 the FBI reported a 6% drop in property crimes and a 4.4% drop in violent crimes. Richard Rosenfeld, a sociologist specializing in crime trends at the University of Missouri – St. Louis, states that during this recession the federal government has been more generous with unemployment benefits, food stamps and other stimulus programs. This may have cushioned the blow for many Americans. He also suggested that that with more people at home during the day as a result of unemployment, burglars have fewer appealing targets.

James Fox, a criminal justice professor at Northeastern University, said he was not surprised by lower crime rates during a recession. Fox argues that law abiding citizens who lose their jobs don’t typically go on crime sprees. He believes that America’s aging population also contributes to a reduction in crime rates. “Most crimes are not committed by the 50+ crowd and that is where the population increase is,” Fox said. A recent article in the Los Angeles Times attributed a reduction of street gang activity in L.A. to an aging of the population. Many gang members who are not in prison are now raising children (and grandchildren) of their own and have basically aged out of participating in criminal activities.

Many law enforcement officials believe that increased law enforcement budgets and more effective policing that include better use of real time crime information and enforcement of “hot spots” has also contributed to reduced crime rates. They warn that reductions in law enforcement resources as a result of budget pressures would likely un-do the gains that have been made. One of the most encouraging FBI crime statistics is a nearly 19% drop in auto thefts. Many criminal justice experts attribute the reduction in auto thefts more to the installation of security locking systems and high tech deterrents such as car recovery devices that use GPS systems than changing economic conditions.

While lower crime rates during difficult times are unanticipated but welcome, one should keep in mind that the FBI statistics are preliminary and that current levels of property and violent crimes in America - even at somewhat reduced rates - remain among the highest in the industrialized world. Our challenge is to reduce crime rates during good and bad economic times The most effective strategies to do are to continue to include home security audits, Neighborhood Watch programs and awareness of one’s surroundings at all times that are all intended to make your neighborhood, home and family less desirable targets. Hopefully, lower crime rates will continue to surprise and confound the experts, and more of our neighbors will do their part to help make lower crime rates a reality.



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