Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Good News on Crime Rates May Be Lull before the Storm

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Good News on Crime Rates May Be Lull before the Storm

Article excerpt

WHILE violent crime among youths rose markedly last year, recent urban crime figures across the country show the overall US crime rate down sharply in 1995.

Even high-crime areas in New York City, Chicago, and Atlanta had fewer murders, rapes, and serious felonies. New York, for example, had the largest two-year drop since World War II.

Chicago's murder rate fell from 923 homicides in 1994 to 810 in 1995. Some 399 fewer homicides were reported in New York, a one-third reduction. In both cities, as well as in San Diego and Houston, overall crime in categories ranging from burglaries and car thefts to assault and rape dropped in the past 12 months.

Good news breaches the crime front so infrequently that experts and law officers express real perplexity about the decline - and offer various theories to explain it.

They also warn about jumping to overly optimistic conclusions, particularly since crime trends have gone up for decades. A national council of prosecutors and police officials Friday made public a report arguing that the country is in a "lull before the crime storm" - which it says will hit as the number of 14- to17-year-olds increases in the next 10 years.

Criminologists offer a variety of explanations for the current crime drop: The explosive crack market that brought money and death to street corners in the1980s has stabilized. More criminals are behind bars. The baby-boom population is aging and less prone to violence. Police are more sophisticated in patrolling city neighborhoods.

But these explanations do not represent certainties. "Nobody has a clue about this drop," says David Kennedy, senior research analyst at the Program on Criminal Justice at Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass. "Something significant may be happening out there, but we just don't know yet."

"It's Newton's law of criminology," says James Fox, dean of the College of Criminal Justice at Northeastern University in Boston. "What goes up must come down.... Despite the drop, most crime levels are still higher than during the mid-1980s."

Police department officials argue that they have learned from the mistakes of the 1970s and '80s, and that a more professional attitude among police, and high-tech computer mapping and surveillance techniques, have made their mark inside cities. …

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