Crime-Rate Dip Rebuts Link to Bad Economy; Correlation, If Any, Would Be Indirect, Social Scientists Say

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), September 14, 2010 | Go to article overview

Crime-Rate Dip Rebuts Link to Bad Economy; Correlation, If Any, Would Be Indirect, Social Scientists Say


Byline: Ben Conery, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Reported incidents of both violent and property crimes dropped again in the U.S. during 2009, closing the books on a decade that generally saw continued decreases in crime rates that began to fall in the mid-1990s, according to FBI statistics released Monday.

The continuing drops appear to undermine an ominous and oft-repeated prediction that crime would worsen as a result of a pitiable economy.

The relationship between crime and the economy is hotly contested among social scientists. But several told The Washington Times that the relationship is far more complicated than a simple correlation.

Obviously, the numbers in the past several years have belied any statements like that, said Marilyn Rubin, who directs the master's of public administration program at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York. I think it would be very naive for someone to look for a one-to-one relationship in something as complicated as crime rates.

Ms. Rubin has received a grant from the FBI to study what factors correlate with the arrest rates of people between the ages of 16 and 24. Among many other factors, the study will seek to assess the economic impact by analyzing unemployment rates.

Some social scientists have posited that any correlation between the economy and crime would likely be indirect. For example, a poor economy could lead to budget cuts for police departments and other crime-prevention programs, which could help to allow crime to flourish.

Richard Gendron, an associate professor of sociology at Assumption College in Worcester, Mass., noted that many different - and competing - arguments have been put forward to explain the crime drops.

Mr. Gendron noted that some experts point to increased incarceration rates as a cause; others credit a decline in the use of crack cocaine. Related to that are those who say drug dealers have consolidated markets, leading to less violence as a result of turf disputes.

Yet another explanation is anchored in improvements in policing, such as community policing, he said.

Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. agreed with that. While acknowledging many reasons behind the decline, Mr. Holder highlighted smarter policing practices and investments in law enforcement.

The attorney general pointed to federal money provided to pay for local police jobs, specifically those funded as part of the $787 billion economic-stimulus package passed last year. …

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