Preliminary crime statistics for 1996 reported by police, along with anecdotal reports compiled by Law Enforcement News, suggest that the nation’s crime rate, which reached a 10-year low last year, is dropping once again.
Police officials, long accustomed to explaining why crime has been skyrocketing, are now in the enviable position of offering reasons for the fifth consecutive year of an overall decrease in serious crime. And offer them they do, saying the tide has turned in the battle against crime as a result of closer relationships between police and their communities, savvy anti-crime programs, including those focusing on juvenile crime, and the addition of new officers, many of whom have been hired through Federal grants.
“There’s an unimpeded line of communication between the Police Department and the citizens,” said Fort Worth, Texas, police spokesman Lieut. Mark Krey, who said a wide-ranging community policing effort that includes urging citizens to conduct neighborhood patrols is partly responsible for an incredible 45-percent drop in crime since 1991, including a drop in the homicide rate of almost 50 percent.
New York City is also in the midst of a significant crime decline that began four years ago. This month, the NYPD reported that crime is down 16 percent overall so far in 1996, with a 17-percent drop in homicides. As of Dec. 1, 898 murders had been reported, compared with 1,085 killings during the same period in 1995. Should the trend last throughout the month, this year will be the first since 1968 that the number of murders in the city dropped below 1,000.
New York police officials have credited a crackdown on quality-of-life offenses made possible by the addition of thousands of new officers over the past five years. Major anti-drug initiatives launched in north Brooklyn and upper Manhattan, where city cops are working with Federal agents to break up gangs and deport illegal aliens involved in the drug trade, have resulted in more street criminals being taken off the streets. And, as noted elsewhere in this issue, field commanders are now being held accountable for crime conditions and trends and the development of strategies to address them.
Denver officials said the summer of 1996 marked a sharp decrease in gang-related murders; only one homicide was attributed to gangs, while gang-related assaults from May through July were reportedly down 76 percent compared to the same period in 1995.
In Phoenix, the number of homicides had dropped 23 percent through August, and officials expect an overall decrease in crime by year’s end. “Everything is down, just across the board,” said Det. Mike McCullough. “That’s an indication the community is involved.”
Increasingly, communities are enacting and enforcing curfews barring youths from the streets during late-evening and early-morning hours, which they contend help reduce crime. But in Boston, an innovative program that includes having probation officers ride along with police, with the authority to arrest those they witness violating their probation, is being credited for an eye-popping development: a decrease to zero in the number of juveniles killed by firearms.
Police also have intensified anti-gang efforts through a gun-interdiction program designed to keep guns out of the hands of youths. The program was implemented after Harvard researchers found that three-quarters of juvenile killers and their victims had been involved with gangs, and that firearms dealers who were illegally selling large numbers of guns to young people could be identified.
The program, which began in May and has led to a 71-percent drop in homicides involving victims 18-24, “is just a smarter approach to the problem of juvenile violence, and it is showing results,” said Jeremy Travis, the director of the National Institute of Justice.
Nonetheless, as the song goes, every silver lining’s got a touch of gray, and law enforcement and criminal justice officials nationwide continue to express fears that rising rates of crime by juveniles which criminologists expect to grow steadily over the next 15 years will offset the overall crime reductions that have occurred in the past few years. “We remain concerned over the prospect of an increase in juvenile crime over the next six to seven years,” said James Pasco, executive director of the National Fraternal Order of Police.
“We ain’t seen nothin’ yet,” added Minneapolis Police Chief Robert Olson. “If we don’t get a grip on this generation, there’s going to be the devil to pay…. They’re hardened criminals by age 16 or 17.”
James Alan Fox, dean of the College of Criminal Justice at Northeastern University, also has warned of the coming “crime storm” brought on by an expected demographic bulge in the number of teen-agers. In October, Fox said it was “far too early to celebrate” current downward trends in overall crime. “We are not winning the war against crime,” he told The Washington Post, saying the declines are occurring because “because [crime] went so high” in the late 1980s and early 1990s. “The peak is now coming down to a more normal level.”
Predictably, not all areas of the United States are currently enjoying falling crime rates. Minneapolis had a slight decrease in overall crime that was overshadowed by a sharp rise in the murder tally, which was a factor in the deployment of state troopers to assist police earlier this year. Troopers also were assigned to Bridgeport, Conn., to back up local police in what Police Chief Thomas Sweeney termed a “high-profile preventive measure” ordered after 10 homicides, most of them drug-related, occurred in a two-week period in September.
Federal officials in Indiana announced this fall that a task force of local, state and Federal officers would be sent in to quell rising violence in Gary, which has had one of the nation’s highest urban crime rates for most of the decade. Homicides surged again in January after state troopers deployed in Gary in the fall of 1995 were withdrawn following a three-month crackdown.
Overall serious crime in Albuquerque, N.M., jumped 22 percent during the first six months of this year, including 39 homicides a 95-percent increase over the same period in 1995. Police there launched a major offensive against gangs, which they say are responsible for many of the killings. By October, 61 homicides had occurred in the city, surpassing 1995’s record-setting total of 60 murders.
According to FBI crime statistics for 1995 that were released by the bureau in October, the nation just experienced its fourth straight year of a downward trend in overall crime. In the annual tally, “Crime in the United States,” the bureau reported a 1-percent dip in the total number of crimes reported to law enforcement. The decline included a 3-percent drop in the number of violent crimes, which fell to just under 1.8 million offenses.
The nation’s crime rate declined by 2 percent, for a per-capita rate of 5,278 offenses per 100,000 population.
A significant factor in the overall decrease in crime was the falling number of violent crimes reported collectively by the eight largest U.S. cities Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles, New York, Philadelphia, Phoenix and San Diego. Crime Index totals in the 64 largest U.S. cities, all with populations of 250,000 or more, dropped 3 percent overall.
Among violent crimes, homicides dropped 7 percent; forcible rapes fell by 5 percent to their lowest level since 1989; robbery dropped 6 percent; and aggravated assaults declined 1 percent.
Property crimes fell by 1 percent to a total of 12.1 million offenses, the lowest since 1987. Most property-crime categories declined in 1995 burglary, by 1 percent; motor-vehicle theft, down slightly to just under 1.5 million thefts. Larceny-theft, which made up 58 percent of the Crime Index total, rose by 2 percent, while arson dropped by more than 7 percent.