Crime Blotter: A Mixed Bag

Some (preliminary) good news on the UCR violent crime front. We have to wait to see if this is a trend, but after growing significantly over the second half of the Obama presidency (I use this mark for periodization) by percentages of 6.2 and 5.2 overall, the violent crime rate shrunk in the last cycle (2017/2016) by -0.8%. Significantly, rape is down (-2.8%) and so is robbery (-2.2%). Murder continues to increase, but the annual increase of 1.5% is significantly less than the previous two cycles (2015/2014 6.2% and 2016/2015 5.2%). Aggravated assault is down, but only slightly. These declines are likely due to robust economic growth improving the conditions of those demographics associated with higher violent crime rates. This would also explain the drop in property crime (-2.9%) with significant decreases in burglary (-6.1%) and theft-larceny (-3.0%).

Murder is stubborn for various reasons. African Americans are six times more likely that European Americans to be murder victims (approximately half of all homicide victims are black), while Hispanics are almost three times more likely to be homicide victims than non-Hispanics. Crime for both of these demographics is overwhelmingly a within-group phenomenon. A big piece of this is gangs, not just surrounding the drug trade, but generally violent intragroup dynamics. One reason for the high rates is that insufficient resources are deployed to catch and punish the killers of black and brown people. Blacks and browns are, as Harvard’s Randall Kennedy puts it, racially selective under protected. But the main reason remains persistent inequality in our inner cities and the culture of violence it generates. Inequality is the chief predictor of violent crime, especially murder. Murder and our inner cities—Baltimore, St. Louis, Kanas City, New Orleans—continues at alarming levels, between 10 and 19 percent for cities of 250 to 999 thousand. This is true for cities throughout the western world.

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Andrew Austin

Andrew Austin is on the faculty of Democracy and Justice Studies and Sociology at the University of Wisconsin—Green Bay. He has published numerous articles, essays, and reviews in books, encyclopedia, journals, and newspapers.

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