A bright ray of sunlight shone in May when “Crime in the United States,” a preliminary annual report by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, was released for 2009. A series of tables show a continuing downward trend in the overall number of crimes reported across the nation for the third straight year in a row. This happy result seems particularly surprising given the severity of the economic recession and the stresses and criminal behavior ordinarily associated with prolonged high unemployment and home foreclosures. The number of violent crimes (like rape, murder and aggravated assault) declined by 5.5 percent in comparison with 2008, a statistically significant drop, and fell in both cities and rural areas. In fact, cities with more than a million people saw their violent crime rate fall by 6.9 percent, higher than the national average. There was one exception to the dropping crime rates, however: the number of murders reported in small cities with populations between 25,000 and 50,000. There the murder rate rose by 5.3 percent.
According to the report, property crimes also decreased by 4.9 percent overall. But in cities with more than a million inhabitants, property crimes fell by 7.9 percent. Motor vehicle thefts fell by the widest single margin: 17.2 percent. And even the rate of arson fell across the country by 10.4 percent.
The F.B.I. report is purely statistical and makes no attempt to explain why reported crimes are down. Until sociologists or others begin to explain the reasons, Americans ought to feel good about the falling crime rates during this tense time in our national history. Does anyone have information (not just idle speculation—there’s too much of that going around already) about WHY we are experiencing a decline in crime? I’d love to learn.
Karen Sue Smith