Want good news at year’s end? Crime is down – again

Bad news can shock and stick in thought, but progress needs to be reported too. The steady drop in violent crime is one example.

Amr Alfiky/Reuters/File
A tourist takes a selfie picture at Times Square in New York. The city's violent crime rate is set to fall again in 2017.

A good deal of daily news reporting points to what’s going wrong in society. That’s needed if solutions are to be found.

But bad news – often amplified by social media sharing – can have a distorting effect on thinking. People take more notice, and may remember more vividly, news that describes in detail a threat, such as a crime, act of terrorism, or disaster. News that reports on what’s going well, or getting better, may not register with the same emotional punch.

For decades the rate of violent crime in the United States has been headed down. Yet polls show that most Americans still haven’t caught on to that good news.

In 2017, for example, New York City is poised to experience its lowest level of violent crime since the 1950s. In 1990 the city experienced 2,245 killings. With 2017 nearly over, this year’s total is 286 – the lowest number for which reliable records can be found.

Data from the 30 largest US cities shows that the annual murder rate in 2017 will decline 5.6 percent from 2016, reports the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law. Among the cities with the largest decreases: Chicago (down 11.9 percent) and Detroit (down 9.8 percent).

“Once again crime rates remain near historic lows. This is welcome news as 2017 comes to an end...,” said Ames Grawert, counsel at the Brennan Center.

In an analysis last spring, the center found that across the US crime has been decreasing for the past quarter century, from 5,856 crimes per 100,000 Americans in 1991 to an estimated 2,857 per 100,000 in 2016. Murders alone have fallen from 9.8 per 100,000 in 1991 to about half that, an estimated 5.3 per 100,000 in 2016.

What’s causing this encouraging trend is less clear. A strong economy that supplies good jobs is a likely candidate, but it doesn’t explain everything. An in-depth look at the drop in violent crime in Los Angeles by The Wall Street Journal found that the lower crime rates in high-crime neighborhoods happened despite rising joblessness, high poverty, and shrinking household incomes in those areas.

The solution may lie in part with a program that recruits former gang members to work with youths and head off crimes before they happen.

The drop in crime rates isn’t spread evenly across the US. Smaller cities such as Charlotte, N.C., and Baltimore have seen substantial increases, resisting the trend.

Each city needs to find its own formula for success. Many have found that community policing – officers assigned to a neighborhood who get to know the residents and their challenges – is effective, building mutual trust between police and residents. 

Washington, D.C., once referred to as the nation’s murder capital, has seen a dramatic drop in crime in recent years.

“It really is about having a community that is engaged with the police department. I mean, really engaged,” Cathy Lanier, former police chief of Washington, D.C., told the Post. “They trust you, they trust the cop on the beat.” 

Spreading the good news that crime is diminishing can calm fears and replace them with brighter hopes for the future.

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