Saturday, June 16, 2007

How to reduce crime in large cities

The June 9, 2007 issue of The Economist has an interesting article on how crime rates have been dropping in three of America's largest cities--New York City, Los Angeles, and Chicago--even though those cities have fewer police officers than they did in the late 1990's. In Chicago, at least, the drop in crime has not been the result of putting more people in jail--Chicago's incarceration rate has dropped since 1999. The secret? Focusing attention on high-crime areas, with local commanders responsible for their particular regions. So why don't all metropolitan police departments do that?

The article goes on to mention a demographic cause for crime reduction--each of these cities has seen property prices skyrocket, with a corresponding decline in the number of residents aged 15-24. Those three cities have lost over 200,000 residents in that age range between 2000 and 2005, as well as a displacement of poor native-born citizens by poor immigrants, the latter of whom tend to be better behaved. (The article suggests a racial factor as well, noting that "This trend is symbolised by the disappearance of blacks. Roughly half of America's murder vitims and about the same proportion of suspected murderers are black. In five years America's three biggest cities lost almost a tenth of their black residents, while elsewhere in America their numbers held steady.")

The criminologist cited in the article, Wesley Skogan, is the author of a number of books about dealing with crime, including a book on community policing in Chicago (link is to a review of the book by Sawyer Sylvester) and books and articles about race and crime. While searching online for some of his work to see what he has to say about race and crime, I came across an article by John J. Donohue III and Steven D. Levitt (of Freakonomics) titled "The Impact of Race on Policing and Arrests," the abstract of which says:
Race has long been recognized as playing a critical role in policing. In spite of this awareness, there has been little previous research that attempts to quantitatively analyze the impact of officer race on tangible outcomes. In this paper, we examine the relationship between the racial composition of a city's police force and the racial patterns of arrests. Increases in the number of minority police are associated with significant increases in arrests of whites but have little impact on arrests of nonwhites. Similarly, more white police increase the number of arrests of nonwhites but do not systematically affect the number of white arrests. These patterns are particularly striking for minor offenses. Understanding the reasons for this empirical regularity and the consequent impact on crime is an important subject for future research.
I also came across an article by Matthew Robinson titled "The Construction and Reinforcement of Myths of Race and Crime," which has this abstract:
Much of what we know about crime is myth. Myths are falsehoods that have become accepted as truth because they have been told and retold over time. Many myths of crime revolve around race. This article documents how myths of crime associated with race are created and reinforced through the criminal justice process and the media. The examination begins with the process of lawmaking, demonstrating how American criminal law creates biases against particular groups and benefits others by creating myths about race and crime. The article then analyzes how portrayal of crime in the mass media and activities of law enforcement, courts, and corrections reinforce myths of race and crime. A model of myth creation and reinforcement is presented, and implications of the model for the American criminal justice system and larger society are discussed.
I suspect that race is a factor in crime in the same way that technical analysis patterns are a factor in stock price movement--it's the social concepts doing the work rather than underlying objective facts, but the consequences are still real.


Mark said...

>In Chicago, at least, the drop in crime has been the result of putting more people in jail--Chicago's incarceration rate has dropped since 1999.

Is there a "not" missing there somewhere? This sentence contradicts itself...

Jim Lippard said...

Yes, indeed--that's one of those terrible editing errors that accidentally reverses the intended meaning of a sentence! I've corrected it. Thanks, Mark.