We don't hear much about US crime here in NZ but I have tracked it in keeping with my interest in their welfare reforms. There is a strong connection between lifestyle welfare and crime primarily working through the disenfranchisement of young men, especially minority groups, the subsequent breakdown of the family unit and the reinforcement of dysfunctional living.
Opponents to the 1996 reforms warned that crime would increase. Some even resigned to demonstrate their deep concerns.
Across the nation, homicide rates have dropped to their lowest levels in nearly a generation. And overall violent crime has sunk to its lowest level since 1973, Justice Department statistics show.
The long-term trend is particularly striking in the nation's three largest cities:
* In New York, homicides have dropped 79 percent during the past two decades - from 2,245 in 1990 to 471 in 2009.
* Chicago is down 46 percent during that period, from 850 to 458.
* Los Angeles is down 68 percent, from 983 to 312.
On the downside however;
But the prospect of prolonged economic woes raise troubling questions about whether violent crime could rise again, and some recent trends that affect residents' quality of life have been unsettling:
* In New York, city crime reports though November of 2010 indicate that homicides have jumped 14.4 percent and rape is up 15.6 percent this year, compared with the same period last year. Those numbers don't compare to the 1990s, but are notable in a city that has been a model for reducing crime.
* In Chicago, Police Superintendent Jody Weis says the city has struggled to break an unusual cycle of slaying involving child victims.
* In Los Angeles, authorities have tamped down persistent gang violence, but police acknowledge that the successes are fragile in a never-ending effort to maintain local public safety, even as gang membership has risen slightly, from 43,000 in 2008 to 45,000 this year.
When crime control relies heavily on intensive policing, public service cuts of the kind being made in the US will no doubt be having an impact.
As an afterthought what would it look like if NZ could return to 1973 levels of offending?
Best I can do quickly is these two graphs.
The first is from Statistics NZ and shows all recorded offending per 1,000 until 2000. I have added a rough line extending to 2010.
The next is the FBI Crime Index per 100,000 graph.
Two very different pictures.