2000 — the year in review:
Decreasing crime: Is the party over?
Criminologists warned when the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports for 1999 were released in October that a smaller than expected dip in the murder tallies of major cities indicated a slowing down of the nation’s longest-ever sustained crime reduction. Sure enough, the subsequent release of figures from the first half of 2000 seemed to indicate even more strongly that “the party’s over.”
Crime dropped by 7 percent in 1999 over the previous year’s figures, making it the eight straight year of declines. It dropped again during the first half of 2000, but by only three-tenths of 1 percent — the smallest decrease since the crime rate starting falling in 1992, according to the preliminary UCR released on Dec. 18. With rates falling an average of about 7 percent a year during that time, the drop during the first six months of last year seems particularly minute, experts said.
James Alan Fox, a criminologist from Northeastern University in Boston, has long been on record predicting that the decline in crime enjoyed by communities throughout the United States would eventually end. It was inevitable that big cities would reach their limit in crime reduction, he said. “It’s Newton’s Law of Criminology. If he had studied criminology, he would’ve said what goes up, must come down. And what comes down, must go up,” Fox told USA Today.
Murder and crime cannot go down forever, echoed Prof. Alfred Blumstein of Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. Big cities, he said, were the first to see crime skyrocket during the 1980s, and the first to see it descend rapidly in the next decade. “Now, having the lowest murder rate decline suggests they’ll be the first to stabilize,” Blumstein told The Associated Press.
During the first six months of 2000, rape and aggravated assault increased by seven-tenths of 1 percent and robbery by 2.6 percent. Crime fell in the Northeast, Midwest and Western regions of the nation, but rose by 1.2 percent in the South. In 1999, the UCR had found the South not only to have experienced the smallest overall decrease in crime — 4 percent — but to have accounted for 41 percent of the 11.6 million reported offenses that made up the Crime Index.
By comparison, crime in the West fell by more than twice that proportion in 1999 — 10 percent — while the Northeast and Midwest registered decreases of 7 percent and 8 percent, respectively.
Murder was down just 1.8 percent in the first half of 2000 — a sharp change from the 8-percent decrease recorded in 1999. Overall in 1999, cities with more than 1 million residents showed the smallest decline in murders of any size community. And during the first six months of 2000, some major cities saw their murder totals begin to edge back upward, including New York, with 344 as compared with 335 during the same period in 1999; Los Angeles, with 247, up from 197; and New Orleans, with 117 compared to 86.
“To some extent, we are victims of our own success,” noted Fox. “With eight straight years of declining crime rates, we are at a level that is difficult to continue and certainly hard to improve on.”
But locally, law enforcement officials seemed pleased with significant drops in all types of crimes within their jurisdictions during 1999.
In Richmond, Va., the murder rate fell by 23 percent in 1999 compared to 1998. Overall serious crime fell by 12 percent in the city, with a 24-percent drop in aggravated assaults.
Maj. Rick Hicks told The Richmond Times Dispatch that the decrease was attributable to the department’s partnership with the community. “We’d like to think of this as a trend. We’re doing everything we can to see this continue.”
Among the safest areas of the country in which to live in 1999, according to UCR data, was the Shoals region in northwest Alabama. Said Florence Police Chief Rick Singleton: “When we started our community policing program in 1997, we announced a goal of making this area one of the 10 safest in the country. It’s exhilarating when you achieve a goal of this magnitude.” The Florence metropolitan area, which includes Colbert and Lauderdale counties, reduced violent crime by 30 percent from 1997 to 1999.
In San Diego, crime rates fell in 2000 for the 11th straight year. There were 23,150 crimes reported through June 30, as compared to 25,046 during the first half of 1999, a decrease of 7.6 percent. Homicides fell by 20 percent during that period, from 23 to 17.
There were increases, however, in gang crimes (20 percent), rapes (10 percent) and hate crimes (19.6 percent).
Another report, the Bureau of Justice Statistics’ national crime victimization survey, which was released in August, found that in 1999 the violent crime rate fell by 10.4 percent, the largest one-year drop in the 26-year history of the survey. It estimated there were 28.8 million violent and property crimes in 1999, the lowest figure since 1973.
Other studies released last year focused on particular aspects of victimization and the nation’s crime rate:
A report by the Bureau of Justice Statistics found that those age 65 and older are less likely to be victims of violent crime than younger men and women. Among other findings: weapons were more often used in violent crimes against the elderly as compared to younger victims; about 22 percent of the elderly persons who were victimized between 1992 and 1997 were injured, with 6 percent requiring hospital treatment; crimes against the elderly were more likely to occur in or near their homes; and relatives, intimates or others known to the victims were the attackers in about one-fifth of crimes against those 65 or older.
In a National Institute of Justice study, researchers found that police practices can have a greater impact than the circumstances of the crime on whether a homicide is cleared. The multistate study identified 42 variables that can have a significant effect on the likelihood of closing a murder case. Thirty-seven of those were associated with police practices, including the number of detectives assigned; notes taken at the scene; time of arrival; notification of the homicide unit, crime lab and medical examiner’s office by the first responder; and interviews of neighbors, family members and witnesses at the scene.
Higher lockup rates do not necessarily mean greater reductions in crime, according to an eight-year study by the nonprofit Sentencing Project, released in September. According to the survey, those 20 states with the highest incarceration rates averaged a 13-percent decline in crime from 1991 through 1998, while the other 30 states with lower imprisonment rates saw crime fall by 17 percent. Texas, which led the nation with a 144-percent jump in its incarceration rate, showed an accompanying 35-percent drop in crime, while New York, where the incarceration rate rose by 24 percent, had a 43-percent decline in crime.