The FBI recently released preliminary crime statistics for 2010 and crime was down again. While this is good news for many places, scholars are left wondering what explains the drop:
Crime levels fell across the board last year, extending a multi-year downward trend with a 5.5 percent drop in the number of violent crimes in 2010 and a 2.8 percent decline in the number of property crimes…
“In a word, remarkable,” said James Alan Fox, a criminologist at Northeastern University. In Fox’s view, the declines signify success for aggressive law enforcement and corrections programs and comprehensive crime prevention efforts. He said the crime levels could easily rise if the current environment of state and local budget cutting extends to law enforcement measures that are working.
Some experts are puzzled.
Expectations that crime would rise in the economic recession have not materialized. The size of the most crime-prone population age groups, from late teens through mid-20s, has remained relatively flat in recent years.
Whoever could provide a comprehensive answer to this this puzzle could attract a lot of attention. In my Introduction to Sociology class, I have my students read some about the prominence of the “broken windows theory” in the 1990s and the various commentators who think it does or doesn’t work. The people involved in putting that theory into practice in the 1990s, like William Bratton and Rudy Giuliani, rode that wave for quite a while. It is interesting to read Fox’s answer above: he seems to attribute the drop to “law enforcement measures.” Even here, there are multiple strategies in play. While communities might want a single factor or strategy that they could hone in on, crime, like many other social issues, is a complex matter with a lot of involved actors.