Monday, January 11, 2010

Crime theory "demolished"

According to the Wall St Journal the theory that crime is caused by "income inequality" and "social injustice" has been "demolished" by continuing falling crime rates coupled with rocketing unemployment.

Over seven million lost jobs later, crime has plummeted to its lowest level since the early 1960s.

The response to the theory is described;

If crime was a rational response to income inequality, the thinking went, government can best fight it through social services and wealth redistribution, not through arrests and incarceration. Even law enforcement officials came to embrace the root causes theory, which let them off the hook for rising lawlessness. Through the late 1980s, the FBI's annual national crime report included the disclaimer that "criminal homicide is largely a societal problem which is beyond the control of the police." Policing, it was understood, can only respond to crime after the fact; preventing it is the domain of government welfare programs.

Of course, it wasn't only the US that went down this path.

The writer concludes that policing and incarceration have kept the trend moving in the right direction and looks specifically at Los Angeles and New York;

At the start of the recession, the two police chiefs who confidently announced that their cities' crime rates would remain recession-proof were Los Angeles Police Chief William Bratton and New York Police Commissioner Ray Kelly. As New York Police Commissioner in the mid-1990s, Mr. Bratton pioneered the intensive use of crime data to determine policing strategies and to hold precinct commanders accountable—a process known as Compstat. Commissioner Kelly has continued Mr. Bratton's revolutionary policies, leading to New York's stunning 16-year 77% crime drop. The two police leaders were true to their word. In 2009, the city of L.A. saw a 17% drop in homicides, an 8% drop in property crimes, and a 10% drop in violent crimes. In New York, homicides fell 19%, to their lowest level since reliable records were first kept in 1963.

The Compstat mentality is the opposite of root causes excuse-making; it holds that policing can and must control crime for the sake of urban economic viability. More and more police chiefs have adopted the Compstat philosophy of crime-fighting and the information-based policing techniques that it spawned. Their success in lowering crime shows that the government can control antisocial behavior and provide public safety through enforcing the rule of law. Moreover, the state has the moral right and obligation to do so, regardless of economic conditions or income inequality.

That may be right. But I think there is more to it. There has been a sea-change in US thinking over the past 30 years. Americans were focussing on welfare and its role in society long before Clinton's federal legislation was enacted. For instance from the 1970s people receiving social security because they were drug or alcohol addicted had to attend rehab courses, have a benefit payee and there was a 36 month time limit. I am not saying this was particularly successful but use it as an example of their keenness to prevent long term worklessness. More importantly, various states were trying out different approaches to prevent welfare undermining the institution of family, particularly black families, recognising that strong and enduring families are one of the greatest deterrents to crime.

All of this culminated in the famous 1996 Clinton welfare reform act - PRWORA - the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act. It's a mouthful but when you break it down and think about it, the words embody the opposite of what leads to crime. Irresponsibility and idleness.

The state can and does influence moral thinking. Americans do not wince about using the words "personal responsibility". They use them to name laws.

In NZ too many people do wince. For them it means "individual responsibility", which translates to "individualism", which translates to "selfishness and greed" (see a comment from Friday that directed me to "stop thinking only of yourself").

So what do we have as a result. Our crime rate, specifically violent crime, continues to grow. And it would appear we are going to go down the unavoidably hard line of locking up more and more people but without any accompanying move towards instilling in society a different attitude towards responsibility. It has to start with the individual.


Anonymous said...

As I read right wing blogs " which translates to "individualism", which translates to "selfishness and greed"" becomes very much apparent as people ignore their responsibilities with the excuse of their freedom to do what they want to do/happen in the name of individual freedom. jcuknz
PS. I hope that I am not mis-understanding you.

Anonymous said...

The world is getting too crowded for people to do what they want to do. One solution is to reduce world population down to 1900 levels, preferably not by war and famine, and maintain it at that level. jcuknz

Shane Pleasance said...

The most offensive thing about these two comments above is the interpretation of your blog as 'right wing'.

Anonymous said...

Shane ... I think Lindsay is an intelligent moderate somewhere in the middle from the short time I have been visiting here. Moderates seem to pick the brains out of both right and left and come to a sensible conclusion most of the time.

My argument with Lindsay was her comment that somebody who doesn't need a society's facility should be able to opt out of contributing to financing it.

Here in Dunedin we have a few folk declining to pay for the Stadium becuase they dont want it and wont use it. My position too actually. But following that argument I could object to the Art Gallery, Museum, Chinese Garden and likely other things.

If you are a responsible member of a society you pay the dues neccessary to keep that society going which have been determined by the elected body.

Anonymous said...

The biggest difference between NZ and these US jurisdictions are the death penalty and armed cops.

Give the cops guns and encourage them to use them and crime goes down! Who's not surprised!

And of course Lindsay is a lefty at heart - because every political party in NZ today (including ACT and the Libz the last time I checked) is well to the left of Obama on almost every issue.

And Obama is considered a dangerous socialist by most "moderate" or "centrist" US commentators.

Gekko said...

jcuknz - you're trolling right?

Gekko said...

jcuknz - you're trolling right?

Anonymous said...

I hope not, truely, it doesn't sound nice. jcuknz

PS. but some of these terms are a mystery to me ... such as threadjacking which Trevor used frequently on the one thread I visited at RA.

Anonymous said...

I remember some months ago startling a definitely leftish guy by suggesting that John Key and National are the NZ equivalent of the then new Democratic administration in the States. When I was a member of ACT I felt that it was a left centre party, but perhaps I was putting it there because I was a keen and vocal supporter of ACT and wanted it to reflect my position. A responsible caring group without the baggage of the Alliance and Labour from which its leaders stemmed. jcuknz

Shane Pleasance said...

Anonymous John from Dunedin - if you endorse the use of force or fraud by the authorities upon yourself (and others) - in the cause of some 'societal good' (someones glory building) - are you not as guilty of crime as those to whom Lindsay refers in her post?

Just because the force is being perpetrated by someone with a clipboard and a government mandated hat does not make it right.

Whilst we focus on the government to come up with all the solutions, we abdicate the responsibility to find our own.
As our dependence on 'authority' has increased, so have our crime statistics, & economic standing and morals slipped.

Liberty is NOT license. You are getting it completely the wrong way round.

Anonymous said...

Lindsay ... I think you mis-understand my position with your triple coupling. I most certainly do not equate self responsibility with selfishness and greed. The later I associate with the rightwing capitalist but it also shows itself with the leftwing empire building bureaucrat. It is a common human failing which comes out of the struggle to survive. A good thing in the past but needs to be curbed today and in the future if the human race continues to expand with its irresponsible procreation.
I believe that individual responsibility can and must exist within the discipline of our over crowded world.
Scrapping the welfare system becuase it has unfortunate side effects is not a valid solution, but education toward making people responsible citizens so they avoid making the mistakes seems the only solution to me. Locking up more and more people simply educates them in the wrong direction. It may appear the only solution but it is a false direction. The Compstat sounds a good start and something like it I think was tried in various areas prior to the Christmas break by approaching known problem families to encourage them not to repeat past mistakes. The fence at the top of the cliff is a better solution than the ambulance at the bottom.

Anonymous said...

Mmm...Either way, whether inequality causes crime or not. Inequality is a bad thing. I mean you might not agree if you are very rich, but all the poor want to see some equality happening. I also think that limiting equality to finances using unemployment stats is a somewhat limited view of a very complex issue. There is a difference between losing a job during a global recession and never being able to find one to begin with.

Anonymous said...

I agree with you about the whole locking people up thing. We find people who are struggling to fit in society, and send them out of society in hopes that they will discover how to fit in society. It doesn't make a lot of sense to me. Telling people "violence is bad" doesn't curb violence. No one goes, "Oh really? I thought I was doing the right thing. Whoops sorry!"
Desperate men use desperate measures, people are violent when they don't know anything else. People steal when they haven't had the success of earning something for themselves. People rape when they learn to take what they want without regard for others.