Posted: 1/9/2003 8:22:06 AM EDT
January 9, 2003
Nation’s crime rates continue to climb.
By Eli Lehrer
When police arrested Brian Keith Herron, of Owensboro, Kentucky Wednesday,
he returned to a place he knew well: the inside of a state prison. Herron,
who allegedly robbed three banks in the last month, left prison on December
18th as part of Democratic Governor Paul Patton's lame-brained attempt to
save the state money by letting some "nonviolent" property offenders out of
It's because of people like Herron that Americans should start getting
worried about crime again. Preliminary FBI statistics for 2002 show that
crime will likely rise for the second consecutive year. This will mark
America's first two-year crime "loosing streak" in over a decade. Even with
wake-up calls from the likes of Herron, hardly anyone has noticed. Many
police agencies and politicians point out, correctly, that violent crime —
now at its lowest levels since 1966 — has continued to drop. Confidence in
local police agencies, buoyed by 9/11, stands at an all-time high. But
property crime rates continue to rise: During the first half of the year,
they increased a little less than one percent.
So what's the big deal? The real problem isn't the increases per se but
rather the total lack of concern about them. Several other states have
followed Kentucky's dubious example and released inmates early. Despite a
surging population of the males 17-24 who commit about half of all crime,
the numbers of people behind bars has begun to fall around the country.
Prisons do nothing to break inmates of the bad habits that landed them
behind bars so most of those released end up continuing to prey on the
public. This needs to change.
All of this is a problem because the supposedly "minor" property crimes that
many governments no longer care about create fear and destroy neighborhoods.
In 1973, still the high-water mark of American crime, six out of ten
American homes fell victim to property crimes. Even affluent towns like
Cambridge, Massachusetts, Lakewood, Colorado, and Santa Barbara, California
saw so many house break-ins that police rarely had time to take
fingerprints, much less catch the wrongdoers. Supermarkets fled the inner
city as rampant shoplifting destroyed profit margins. About 90 percent of
Americans will go their entire lives without falling victim to a violent
crime but even in today's relatively safe society, the average person will
still fall victim to a half-dozen property crimes over a lifetime. Even in
the worst neighborhoods, most people avoid falling victim to violence.
Property crime, on the other hand, touches everyone.
In the past, I've given credence to the idea that lower crime rates have a
civilizing effect. A distressed inner-city resident seriously afraid of
getting murdered is unlikely to care much about loosing his television while
a comfortable suburbanite might dial 911 over a few rowdy kids. In cities
like New York, San Diego, and Lowell, Massachusetts that have reduced crime
enormously, calls to the police have remained about level because so many
more people call the police. This trend continues but serious property
crimes like auto theft are rising more quickly than any other crime: five-
and six-percent increases all around the country can not be explained by
increased reporting alone. Car theft is the domain of professional criminals
increases of this magnitude are a sign of worse things to come.
To stop crime from spiraling out of control once again, America's
governments have to return to the focus that served them well during the
1990s: working with communities to catch predatory criminals and keep them
— Eli Lehrer is senior editor of The American Enterprise.
What do you think will happen now since States with budget problems are letting convicts out early?
Two really strong predictors of crime are:
Long term: Economy
Short term: Weather