Crime and spin

The fall in crime rates seems to be at an end. Pity, that.

Orin Kerr believes the FBI official spin: “Crime is down.”

But look at the numbers: crime was down in 2007 from its blip upwards in 2006. The rates are just about flat since 2004.


The two-bit summary of longer-term trends: violent crime rates went up about fourfold between the early 60s and the mid-70s, more or less plateaued for twenty years, then fell by about half between the early ’90s and 2004 (getting us down to about 200% of 1962 rates) and have been flat since. (The picture is brighter for homicide, which was only about twice as bad at its peak as it had been in 1962, and is now most of the way back to that low level.)

That’s good news if you thought that crime had hit a trough in 2004 and was bouncing back; bad news if you hoped for a continuation of the downtrend to 2004. I’m old enough to resent living in a country where people are substantially more fearful, and thus less free, than the one I grew up in.

Footnote Why the FBI wants to put this particular spin on the numbers in a year divisible by four is left as an exercise for the reader.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: