Crime and Violence
The United States has been a politically stable but violent nation. American levels of violent crime in general and of murder in particular greatly exceed those of any other industrial country ( United Nations, 1987). Even by America's high standard of violence the situation worsened notably during the 1960s and 1970s with the per capita homicide rate rising from 4.5 in 1963 to a peak of 10.7 in 1980. Since then the crime rate in general has levelled off and even fallen a bit, and the homicide rate in particular dropped back to 8.3 in 1985.
While the number of Americans personally experiencing crimes such as robberies and burglaries in a given year is fairly small (Tables 6.1-6.2), the impact of these personal victimizations and those suffered by friends and neighbors is large and widespread.
In response to swings in the crime rate, the American people became more afraid to walk alone at night in their own neighborhood, with fear rising from about a third in the 1960s to 47 percent in 1982 (Table 6.3). Since then street fear has receded slightly. Fear in one's own home did not change much over this period, however (6.4).
Similarly, the rising crime rate has made Americans more punitive ( Stinchcombe, Adams, Heimer, Smith, and Taylor, 1980). In 1965 only 48 percent thought that courts should be harsher on criminals, but this rose to 85-86 percent favoring harsher punishments in 1978-1986 (Tables 6.5-6.6). Since 1986 the clamor for getting tough with crime has moderated a bit. Attitudes toward wiretapping appear to follow a similar path (6.7).
Perhaps the clearest connection between crime and punitiveness is found in the area of capital punishment ( Smith, 1976; Rankin, 1979). The homicide rate fell from 7.1 in 1936 to 4.5 in 1963 and then rose to 10.7 in 1980 before falling