Determined to locate something positive to say before the editorial close of 2009, this reporter did not have to poke around the 'net too long before finding news to be happy-new-yearish about: despite the bad economy and high unemployment, national crime stats continued to trend downward in 2009. According to the FBI, for the first half of 2009, U.S. law enforcement agencies reported a 4.4 percent decline in the number of violent crimes—murder, rape, robbery and aggravated assault—and, perhaps more surprising in light of the 17 percent real unemployment rate, a bigger drop of 6.1 percent for property crimes like burglary and car theft. There's reason to believe that the nation's lower crime trend continued when the second half of the year's stats are compiled in a few months. One-time murder capital USA New York last year recorded the lowest number of homicides in its history (or at least since such record-keeping began in the 1960s): from a record 2,245 homicides in 1990 to 2009's all-time low of 461 homicides. Even Chicago, which has had a fairly rotten performance on homicide in recent years with per capita rates twice or more above New York's, suffered 11 percent fewer homicides in 2009 at 453. Let's hope the number doesn't budge over the last few days of the year.
2009 was also a good year for U.S. law enforcement with 124 fatalities, the fewest since 1959.
What gives? The editors of the Oregonian ponder the welcome crime trend, citing better policing, longer prison sentences for repeat offenders, maybe even the unhappy collateral effects of the increasing legion of stay-at-home jobless, keeping an eye on the street. Ultimately, however, they conclude: "None of these explanations is entirely satisfactory. All of them may hide a simpler, more important truth about the easy assumptions about unemployment and lawbreaking. The conventional wisdom may just be wrong: Good people who lose their jobs do not inevitably turn to crime."
We are a far cry from the era of the juvenile superpredator that was famously (mal)predicted in the early 1990s (apologies John D., though I know you are pleased as punch to be wrong on this one). Here's to more good news on diminishing crime in 2010. Have a Happy and safe New Year!