Crime Rates Dropping Nationwide


                                               Copyright © 1996

                                         Copyright © 1996 N.Y. Times News Service


(Jan 27, 1996 3:45 p.m. EST) -- "At last, we have begun to find a way to reduce crime," President Clinton proclaimed in his State

of the Union address last week. He was only the latest to join a chorus of self-congratulation heard from cities around the country.


Seattle's murder rate dropped by 32 percent last year, St. Louis's by 18 percent. New York's decline in major crimes, including a

two-year, 40 percent plunge in homicides, is so liberating that Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani can consider a cut of 1,000 officers in

the 38,000-member force to save the city $30 million.


With policing becoming more effective, the crack-cocaine epidemic subsiding, and longer prison sentences incapacitating

offenders, criminologists expect that crime rates may continue to head lower for a few more years, even if more slowly.


But looked at from a longer view, the country continues to suffer through the most prolonged crime wave since the days of the wild

West -- not only homicide, which is the most reliably reported crime, but also such offenses as robbery and burglary.


Between World War II and 1963, the nation's homicide rate hovered between four and five murders for every 100,000 people. It

started climbing in 1964 and by 1973 had reached nearly 10 for every 100,000 people. Since 1973, the rate has oscillated

between 8 and 10 per 100,000 people.


New York's tally of 1,182 murders last year is a wonder to behold compared to the 2,245 reported as recently as 1990, despite

minimal population change; it was enough to propel Police Commissioner William J. Bratton onto the cover of Time magazine.


But compared to the 390 murders in 1960, or even the 986 in 1968, the murder rate in 1995 still conjures images of Dodge City.


The provocative "law and order" campaigns of George Wallace and Richard Nixon in 1968 came at a time when crime reached

proportions that we now either seem to consider acceptable or intractable.


"Everyone is crowing about what is going on in New York," said Lawrence M. Friedman, a historian of criminal justice at Stanford

University Law School, "but we remain at a very high plateau."


Can the country return to the crime rates of the Eisenhower and Kennedy years? And if it cannot, what has made the march of

crime so difficult to reverse?


If American history is any guide, crime waves are reversible. When Johnny came marching home again after the Civil War -- a

period at least as revolutionary as the 1960s -- he faced joblessness and he all too often took out his frustrations with his

new-found martial skills. But the country's cities calmed by the mid-1870s.


The upswing of violent crime accompanying the wave of immigration at the turn of the century, and then Prohibition in the 1920s,

was much longer lasting, but it quickly ran out in the early 1930s.


Most criminologists, however, are doubtful that a similar criminal retreat will occur again because the current crime wave has

many more and more intractable causes.


One reason crime went up sharply in the 1960s was that an extraordinarily large number of young men, born immediately after

World War II, grew into their crime-prone years. That would explain, at least in part, the upward surge in the homicide rate

between 1963 and 1973 -- though it does not explain the persistence of the high rates ever since; in New York, crime rose in the

late 1980s as the number of teen-agers declined.


Some say the primary cause for the lasting increase in violence is the proliferation of guns. Juvenile delinquents wielded

switchblades in the 1950s, graduated to Saturday night specials in the 1960s and took up 9-millimeter semi-automatic

handguns and even assault rifles in the late 1980s.


Some contend that the proliferation of guns cannot fully explain the crime increases, noting the surges in burglary, auto theft and

grand larceny -- crimes commonly committed without firepower.


This argument usually notes, too, that 70 percent of the nation's violent juvenile prison population comes from broken families,

implicating a slew of social dislocations that accelerated in the 1960s.


"We can't go back to 1963," said James Alan Fox, a criminologist at Northeastern University, "in terms of removing millions of

guns from the streets, in terms of bringing back the traditional American family, in terms of restoring religion to its former

prominence, in terms of restoring educational institutions to their former prominence, in terms of changing the way we portray

crime in the media."


Crime rates, perhaps even more than such other indicators as the birth and inflation rates, can reflect a wide range of social and

economic conditions. But the fact that the murder rate has more than doubled since 1963 does not mean that the society is

doubly worse off.


Crime rates are just another indication of how much the society has changed -- some ways for the bad; some, arguably, for the



Through the 1950s and 1960s, television widened the national audience for many forms of culture, but many social scientists

suggest that by replacing dinner conversation with westerns and police shows it glorified violence and helped erode family



Likewise, the sexual revolution and the destigmatization of divorce and illegitimacy were liberating for some and destructive for



"Crime is a barometer of social disorganization," said Friedman.


No group has felt that barometer more than blacks. About half of the prison population is black, according to the Justice

Department. Victimization rates are also high in black communities; in about 80 percent of all serious crimes, the offender and

victim are of the same race.


Along with all the good that the civil rights movement achieved in the 1960s, Alfred Blumstein, a criminologist at Carnegie Mellon

University, noted that it also "contributed to the breakdown of respect for authority and it provided the opportunity for the black

middle class to escape the ghetto -- thereby removing an important force of social control there." That development became

interwoven with the flight of manufacturing jobs from the inner cities and the surge in heroin use.


Drug crimes also rose among whites, of course, as experimentation with hallucinogens and amphetamines gave way to the

upscale cocaine epidemic of the late 1970s and 1980s. While drug use is less fashionable now, heroin appears to be gaining a

mystique in some of the same social circles.


James Q. Wilson, a professor at the University of California at Los Angeles, argues that the increases in crime rates since the

early 60s, in the United States as in most of the industrialized world, represent "the completion of the West's long-term effort to

emancipate the individual, freeing people from the controls of family, neighborhood, schools, villages."


To return to the levels of the 1950s, Wilson said, "you would either have to invest so massively in law enforcement as to strain our

fiscal and constitutional restrictions or abandon our commitment to the emancipated individual and return to a quite different





                              U.S. Violent Crime Rate Declined in 1995


                                WASHINGTON (Reuter) - September 17, 1996 (excerpted portions)


The U.S. violent crime rate dropped by more than 9 percent in 1995, a statistic that won praise Tuesday from President Clinton on

the campaign trail.


The Justice Department's Bureau of Justice Statistics reported an estimated 9.9 million violent crimes in 1995, compared with

10.9 million in the previous year, in what continued a downward trend that began in 1994.


Among specific crimes, the statistics-gathering agency said aggravated assaults decreased 19 percent, rapes, sexual assaults,

purse snatchings and pocket pickings all dropped by about 18 percent and robberies fell 14 percent.


`From the mid-1980s until 1994 the crime rate soared, fueled by murders and a wave of drug-related incidents in the inner cities

involving deadly assault weapons. Experts have attributed the current decline to the aging of the baby-boom generation past the

prime years for committing crimes. They also have cited better police strategies, improved crime prevention measures, tougher

gun control laws and a dramatic increase in the number of criminals in prison.


The Bureau of Justice Statistics said violent and so-called property crimes totaled 39.6 million during 1995, a 6.6 percent decline

from the prior year. The property crimes of household burglary, theft and motor vehicle theft posted a 5.5 percent drop.


It said the number of violent and property crimes reported to the police declined to 14.4 million last year, about 5 percent fewer

than the year before. More than 60 percent of all crimes never were reported to the police.


The agency's annual survey was based on interviews with about 100,000 people to determine if they had been a victim of crime.

Because the survey involved interviews with crime victims, it did not include murders. But the FBI in a separate report estimated

homicides last year declined 8 percent.