FBI Data Reveals Steady Decline in Major Crime
WASHINGTON — Crime levels fell across the nation last year, extending a multiyear downward trend with a 5.5 percent drop in the number of violent crimes in 2010. Property crimes fell 2.8 percent, after a 4.6 percent drop the year before.
The latest figures released by the FBI show the lowest level of violent crime since the 1960s. All categories for property crime — including burglary, larceny, motor vehicle theft and arson — declined as well.
Robbery also declined nationwide — by 9.5 percent in 2010 and 8 percent in 2009 — despite increased unemployment and a grim economic outlook. Experts differ on what could explain the declines, but say economic hardship is a poor indicator for violent crime and a weak one at best for property crime.
“The idea that unemployment breeds crime is a lot more myth than reality,” says James Alan Fox, a criminologist at Northeastern University in Boston. “People don’t just lose their jobs and decide their only means of making a living is through crime.”
In Fox’s view, the declines signify success in comprehensive crime prevention efforts by law enforcement, an aging population, the changing drug markets, among other factors.
The bureau’s preliminary statistics for 2010, released in late May, are based on data from more than 13,000 law enforcement agencies nationwide.
The FBI data indicates violent crime fell in all four regions of the country in 2010 — 7.5 percent in the South, 5.9 percent in the Midwest, 5.8 percent in the West and 0.4 percent in the Northeast. New York and San Antonio were the only cities with more than a million people to register an increase in the total number of violent crimes, and the only two besides Philadelphia to see a rise in murders.
All regions of the country experienced overall declines in property crime during 2010 from 2009 rates: down 3.8 percent in the South, 2.7 percent in the Midwest, 2.5 percent in the West and 0.5 percent in the Northeast.
Among property crimes, motor vehicle theft showed the largest drop in 2010 — 7.2 percent — followed by larceny-theft, which was down 2.8 percent and burglary, a decline of 1.1 percent.
Alfred Blumstein, a professor and a criminologist at the Heinz College at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, says he is not aware of any concrete evidence to explain declining crimes rates in 2009 and 2010. “I have heard a number of explanations, but no one has it pinned down,” he says.
Notwithstanding the growth in security system installations and technological advances, there is no empirical data to gauge the role electronic security may play in helping reduce some crimes.
“Security in general has improved rather continuously, but it would be a tough one to sort out and isolate from all the other factors that are going on at the same time,” Blumstein says.
There is anecdotal evidence to suggest the increasing use of home security systems and other types of safety measures contributed to the reduction in property crimes in some neighborhoods. But citing security systems as having a definite causal effect is impossible, says Baltimore Police Department Spokesman Anthony Guglielmi.
“Burglar alarm systems are absolutely helpful, especially when they are linked to a monitoring center. But I can’t link that to any reductions in crime in our city,” he says.
In San Francisco, a concerted effort in working with residents to promote personal safety is being credited as a partial reason for the city’s reduction in property crime rates.
“Our police department has involved the community in community policing — such as neighborhood watch groups — to really reduce a lot of the property crimes, including burglaries and grand theft,” says San Francisco Police Department Lt. Troy Dangerfield.
Beyond providing burglar alarm systems, installing security contractors are uniquely positioned to share the same kind of educational messages with their customers, Dangerfield says.
“Do you lock the door? Do you close the windows? Do you use double locks? Can you vary the times that you go to and from your home? Maybe you can go home today for lunch. Providing that type of information can be so important,” he says.
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