Ominously timed for Campaign 2008 we’ve got a hike in certain stats for violent crime. So we can look forward to Steve Squarejaw-type commitments to being tough on crime, particularly from Rudy Giuliani, John McCain and–it’s surely safe to assume–Hillary Clinton. The Police Executive Research Forum, a Washington-based law-enforcement think tank whose board consists of seven police chiefs, including William Bratton of the LAPD and John Timoney of Miami, has just put out a report stridently titled Violent Crime in America: 24 Months of Alarming Trends. This follows the alarums of the forum’s October 2006 bulletin, which featured Bratton predicting “a gathering storm” of violent crimes.
Of the fifty-six police departments voluntarily sending 2006 figures to the forum–New York City was not among them–forty reported increases in homicide and robbery. The forum says that between 2004 and 2006 homicide increased 10.2 percent, robbery 12.3 percent, aggravated assault 3.1 percent, aggravated assault with a firearm 10 percent.
Of course, crime stats are exceeded in flim-flammery only by economic forecasts. Astrology is a far more reliable analytic tool, as Ron and Nancy Reagan learned under the guidance of Mistress Quigley. Entrail-reading is even better. But if the animal rights crowd raises a ruckus about cutting open a beast of the field to look at its liver, a qualified ooscopist can do a decent job by inspecting the yolk of an uncooked egg.
The forum’s fearful trumpetings would diminish sharply if its statistics addressed crime rates rather than merely numbers of crimes. The population of the United States is rising by about 1 percent per year. As columnist John Lott pointed out, if the police chiefs had measured the violent crime rate, “it would have been hard to argue that violent crime is increasing because while the rate did go up slightly in 2005, it had fallen every single previous year since 1991. How can they claim that violent crime is out of control when it had fallen for thirteen straight years before rising by 1.3 percent for just one year?”
There are wide divergences in the performance of the cities reporting to the forum. Murderers in Charleston worked away diligently and managed to hike their total from eleven victims in 2005 to twenty-three in 2006, a headline-making rise of 109 percent. By contrast, the murderers of Atlanta could only manage 107 in 2006, up from a disappointing eighty-nine in 2005, but down from 112 in 2004. In Chicago aggravated assaults fell for two straight years, from 18,820 in 2004 to 17,438 in 2006, a drop of 7.3 percent.
Debatable in many of its aspects, such a rise in crimes as there has been started in 2004, ending the long decline during the 1990s that lasted through the turn of the millennium. Between 1992 and 2001 the FBI’s core crime stats went down 17.9 percent. This was largely achieved by the expedient of locking up or putting on parole or probation about 3 percent of the population. At the end of 2005, 7 million people–one in every thirty-two American adults–were behind bars or on probation or parole. The United States had 5 percent of the world’s people and 25 percent of the world’s prisoners.