Vigilance without fear

A GENERAL ho-hum complacency seemed to greet the latest Justice Department report showing a record drop in violent crime. Everyone knows crime, like inflation, is down. What's to celebrate?

Plenty. Over the past quarter century, the United States has done many things right to reduce both violent and property crime by one-third. Why stop now? Shouldn't such crime be zero?

Obviously, the US has improved, altering the calculation made by any would-be criminal: Will I be harmed? Somehow, the idea is sinking in that sin hurts the sinner as much as the victim.

Would-be criminals also have more opportunities to feel complete - in jobs, education, and relationships. To a degree, crime is a measure of how well society provides the basics so people don't steal, rape, or murder.

The disincentives and incentives that reduce crime are working. Last year saw a record drop of 10.4 percent in violent crime. Property crime was down by 8.9 percent. Such statistics are based on surveys of victims, making them more accurate than police reports.

Much of the crime 25 years ago was done by baby boomers in their younger years. The US also went through three recessions until the early 1990s, when the economy started humming a steady tune.

Crime fighting has also improved: more police using better methods focused on young people, better sentencing and parole standards for hard-core criminals, and better controls on gun ownership.

Vigilance against crime must remain strong to prevent an increase. But such vigilance need not be based on fear. It can be a celebration that the US has learned many ways to keep people from committing crime. The annual report on crime statistics is a good time to reinforce what we're doing right.

It's also a time to flag trouble spots. In violent crime, for instance, most assailants knew their victim. How can police prevent such attacks? And children age 12 through 15 are now nearly as likely to be the victims of crime as older teenagers. Is that a result of violence in media? And blacks are not enjoying the drop in crime as much as whites. Does that mean the roaring economy hasn't reached many blacks?

Anti-crime vigilance needs a boost in good times as well as bad.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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