The Welcome Decline in Youth Murders

A UK charity called Citizens Report gathers reports of crime and shares them with the public. It’s particularly powerful to look at the page on murders of London teenagers, because the faces of the victims are displayed. Some look defiant, some happy, some bored and all of them so very young. It brings the impact of crime emotionally closer than do typical media reports and dry statistics.

At the same time, one can at least be cheered by the fact that since Citizens Report started tracking crime in 2005, murders of teenagers in London have become far less common. The positive trend outpaces the declining murder rate in the UK more generally.

The resilience of the idea that a duff economy causes crime is such that it will survive yet another disconfirmation. But how can the reality-based explain the change? Here are some non-competing possible explanations:

*Mayor Boris Johnson has increased the number of police on the streets.

*Paramedic teams have improved their response times and become better at treating knife and (less commonly) gunshot wounds on the spot, much as far forward medical units do in military combat.

*The police and courts went all out on prior teen murders, convicting assailants in virtually every case. This may have deterred some murders. London police tell me they are seeing a higher proportion of knifings with clearly non-lethal intent, although that is something about which it would be hard to gather systematic data.

Author: Keith Humphreys

Keith Humphreys is the Esther Ting Memorial Professor of Psychiatry at Stanford University and an Honorary Professor of Psychiatry at Kings College London. His research, teaching and writing have focused on addictive disorders, self-help organizations (e.g., breast cancer support groups, Alcoholics Anonymous), evaluation research methods, and public policy related to health care, mental illness, veterans, drugs, crime and correctional systems. Professor Humphreys' over 300 scholarly articles, monographs and books have been cited over thirteen thousand times by scientific colleagues. He is a regular contributor to Washington Post and has also written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Monthly, San Francisco Chronicle, The Guardian (UK), The Telegraph (UK), Times Higher Education (UK), Crossbow (UK) and other media outlets.

2 thoughts on “The Welcome Decline in Youth Murders”

    1. Brian — there has been a sharp drop in crime in the past few years in the UK not accompanied AFAIK by the similar drop in lead in the UK. But I am not an expert on UK lead, so perhaps a reader will know more about this issue.

      A key problem with the lead theory as I see it is that it doesn’t account for regional variation well. In a number of the years of the great crime drop in the US, New York City was a huge proportion of the drop. Yet there is no reason to assume that NYC has much more lead paint exposure than did Detroit or Miami or Los Angeles or Chicago or Philadelphia etc.

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