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December 27, 2011

Effective Washington Post commentary talks up great (and still puzzling) crime decline

Charles Lane has this new commentary in the Washington Post headlined "Taking a bite out of crime." Here are excerpts:

The most important social trend of the past 20 years is as positive as it is underappreciated: the United States’ plunging crime rate.

Between 1991 and 2010, the homicide rate in the United States fell 51 percent, from 9.8 per 100,000 residents to 4.8 per 100,000.  Property crimes such as burglary also fell sharply during that period; auto theft, once the bane of urban life, dropped an astonishing 64 percent.  And FBI data released Dec. 19 show that the trends continued in the first half of 2011.  With luck, the United States could soon equal its lowest homicide rate of the modern era: 4.0 per 100,000, recorded in 1957.

To be sure, the United States is still more violent than Europe or Canada, and that’s nothing to brag about.  But this country is far, far safer than it was as recently as the late 1980s...

We are reaping a domestic peace dividend, and it can be measured in the precious coin of human life.  Berkeley criminologist Franklin E. Zimring has found that the death rate for young men in New York today is half what it would have been if homicides had continued unabated.

The psychological payoff, too, is enormous.  Only 38 percent of Americans say they fear walking alone at night within a mile of their homes, according to Gallup, down from 48 percent three decades ago.  For my teenage son and his classmates, dread of crime is far less prevalent than it was in my generation....

Lower crime rates also mean one less source of political polarization.  In August 1994, 52 percent of Americans told Gallup that crime was the most important issue facing the country; in November 2011, only 1 percent gave that answer.  Think political debate is venomous now?  Imagine if law and order were still a “wedge issue.”

Did I mention the economic benefits?  Safe downtowns draw more tourists for longer stays. Fewer car thefts mean lower auto insurance rates.  Young people who don’t get murdered grow up to produce goods and services.

Plunging crime rates also debunk conventional wisdom, left and right.  Crime’s continued decline during the Great Recession undercuts the liberal myth that hard times force people into illegal activity — that, like the Jets in “West Side Story,” crooks are depraved on account of being deprived.  Yet recent history also refutes conservatives who predicted in the early 1990s that minority teenage “superpredators” would unleash a new crime wave.

Government, through targeted social interventions and smarter policing, has helped bring down crime rates, confirming the liberal worldview.  Yet solutions bubbled up from the states and municipalities, consistent with conservative theory.  Contrary to liberal belief, incarcerating more criminals for longer periods probably helped reduce crime.  Contrary to conservative doctrine, crime rates fell while Miranda warnings and other legal protections for defendants remained in place.

On the whole, though, what’s most striking about the crime decline is how little we know about its precise causes.  Take the increase in state incarceration, which peaked at a national total of 1.4 million on Dec. 31, 2008.  This phenomenon is probably a source of success in the war on crime — and its most troubling byproduct.  But increased imprisonment cannot explain all, or most, of the decline: Crime rates kept going down the past two years, even as the prison population started to shrink....

“What went wrong?” is the question that launched a thousand blue-ribbon commissions. But we also need to investigate when things go right — especially when, as in the case of crime, success defied so many expert predictions.

I certainly agree that the modern crime decline over the last 20 years is a cause for great celebration and intense examiniation, and also that the benefits resulting from this crime decline are broad and varied. (I would add one important caveat, though, especially after Lane stresses that "Young people who don’t get murdered grow up to produce goods and services": more people not murdered also means more people growing old, seeking entitlement benefits, and driving up health care costs as they age.)

I fully agree with Lane's suggestion about creating a blue-ribbon commission to investigate the great crime decline. Indeed, I would think it would make for very good politics, as well as good policy, for President Obama or Attorney General Holder to create just such a commission to explore these issues throughout 2012.  Especially in the wake of the failure of Congress to create the National Criminal Justice Commission pushed by retiring Senator Jim Webb (basics here), the President and AG Holder could and would make lots of positive headlines by inviting folks like Webb and, say, former AG John Asahcroft and some state AGs to be part of an executive working group to make assessments about what may be the best explanations for why governments are continuing to do so well with crime control.

Some related posts on the great modern crime decline:

December 27, 2011 at 11:22 AM | Permalink

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Comments

I'd be curious to know if the decline in homicide rates is due to less people trying to kill each other or more lives being saved in modern ERs. Stats for attempted murder seem hard to come by.

Posted by: JBC | Dec 27, 2011 2:05:50 PM

JBC made the point I was going to post. I believe the most significant factors for the decrease of the murder rate are the many advances in medical care and EMT technology.

Posted by: Stanley Feldman | Dec 27, 2011 6:00:23 PM

Hopefully our advances in medicine isn't the only reason why murder rates have dropped! Though I'm sure it's a factor.

Posted by: Criminal Defense | Dec 27, 2011 6:46:07 PM

If ONLY murder rates had dropped, then, yes, looking to the EMT would be wise.

But murder rates have dropped in line with the staggering drop in rape and aggravated assault, plus non-violent or less violent crimes like robbery, burglary and auto theft.

It really is lame to keep pretending, or to admit only dismissively and in a whisper, that keeping criminals locked up is a major source of crime reduction. It's not that hard to figure out: When you keep the people who commit crime in jail, less crime gets committed.

The only reason this gets pushed off to the side is ideological. Once we admit that imprisonment works to keep us safe and secure, and to avert massive amounts of trauma, a great deal of air goes out of the outrage about "incarceration nation," and a great deal more hesitancy about mass release programs will rear its ugly head.

Therefore we have to keep pretending that it's all A Great Big Mystery. But pretending is all it is.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Dec 27, 2011 7:00:15 PM

All of this is good news, and we owe thanks to those responsible for this.

However, this was a manufactured issue. There was never a crime wave. There were never gangs of super-predators preying on the rest of us. Yes, I acknowledge that some communities suffered significantly more crime than the rest of the country. But that's exactly the rub. Crime-control policy, like any governmental policy, is a one-size-fits-all on a state or national level.

For the vast, vast majority of us the risk of being a victim of a crime has always been near zero. It's now nearer to zero.

Posted by: Fred | Dec 27, 2011 7:00:42 PM

Bill:

I find your side idealogical and threatening to liberty. You are the one pretending that a hard-ass gubernmint is what we need to keep us safe, as opposed to outrageous laws. Afraid to admit that you wasted your life for the wrong cause?

As Fred wisely said,

"However, this was a manufactured issue. There was never a crime wave. There were never gangs of super-predators preying on the rest of us. Yes, I acknowledge that some communities suffered significantly more crime than the rest of the country. But that's exactly the rub. Crime-control policy, like any governmental policy, is a one-size-fits-all on a state or national level.

For the vast, vast majority of us the risk of being a victim of a crime has always been near zero. It's now nearer to zero."

Bill:

Your UoC study is a POS. Your most accurate statement ever on this blog was, "What are we to make of the sex-offender registry, if we do not know who is on them?"

Soronel tried to gather the information for you, but has not fulfilled the commitment yet.

Just be quiet until you can think properly, you gubermint apologist you.

Posted by: albeed | Dec 27, 2011 11:17:16 PM

albeed --

"Afraid to admit that you wasted your life for the wrong cause?"

I'm happy and proud to have used my professional life to show crime victims that their abusers would face justice -- thanks for asking, though. This is incidentally one of the reasons, though not the only one, that unlike you, I sign my name to what I write. People who welcome accountability tend to do that.

Quoting Fred, you insist, "However, this was a manufactured issue. There was never a crime wave."

That statement is so palpably false it's hard to believe that even someone writing anonymously would say it.

Here's the truth: In 1965, the murder rate was 5.1. Fifteen years of sociological mush later, it had DOUBLED to 10.2, the highest rate recorded in at least the last fifty years if not ever. The doubling of the murder rate to historic levels isn't a crime wave, albeed? Oh, do tell!

In 1965, the crime rate for forcible rape was 12.1. In that same wonderful ensuing 15 years of peace and love and the Age of Acquarius, et al., the rate of forcible rape TRIPLED to 36.8. That's not a crime wave? A tripling of forbicle rape in a scant 15 years? Give it a rest.

In 1965, the crime rate for aggravated assault was 111.3. By 1980, it had nearly tripled, to 298.5. This too, I guess, was not a crime wave.

In 1965, the crime rate for burglary was 662.7. By 1980, it was 1684.1, or two and a-half times more. Still no crime wave?

You're no seeker of truth, albeed. You're a seeker of denial, and you found it. But denial is an affliction that need not bedevil people who want to think about this seriously. The crime wave from the mid-Sixties and throughout the Seventies was like none other in American history.

The only mystery here is why it so ticks you off that a concerned and sensible American public became determined to protect themselves. Brushing by your high-minded consternation, that's exactly what they did: They started to build prisons and, by the end of the Eighties, had begun putting their tormentors in them in record numbers. Now they have achieved a degree of safety not seen in decades.

After some fig-leaf mumbling that they're happy about this development, you and your allies show what you really feel by claiming (as you and Fred do) either (1) that there was never really a crime problem to begin with, or, more commonly (since (1) is provably preposterous), that it's A Really Big Fat Mystery How All This Happened But It Sure Can't Be Prison Because Prison Is Only Supported By Fascists.

Far out, albeed, just totally far out

Posted by: Bill Otis | Dec 28, 2011 2:30:27 AM

Great trends are always multi-factorial. However, the heaviest influence is by the incapacitation policy behind the mandatory guidelines, taking discretion from judges whose jobs depended on high crime rates, and who were totally biased in favor of coddling criminals. They must have read the Nordstrom Way to customer service, catering to every little demand. Law abiding citizens had to run a gauntlet of violent homeless people every time they went anywhere. Your car came wit h an absolute guarantee of getting broken into if you left any package visible. Murders were far higher despite the advances in trauma care learned in Vietnam (helicopter ambulances, the Golden First Hour, IV fluids, and other supportive care at the scene).

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Dec 28, 2011 7:12:00 AM

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Posted by: crime scene clean up | Dec 28, 2011 7:47:51 AM

bill: "In 1965, the crime rate for forcible rape was 12.1. In that same wonderful ensuing 15 years of peace and love and the Age of Acquarius, et al., the rate of forcible rape TRIPLED to 36.8. That's not a crime wave? A tripling of forbicle rape in a scant 15 years?"

me: and what happened between 1965 and 1980? That's right, the women's rights movement - women were able to move into previously all male bastions of employment like police departments and prosecutors offices. More women started working such that they were more independent of men. States started recognizing that it was a crime for a man to rape his wife during that period. Taken by itself, a tripling of the rate of forcible rapes might appear to indicate a crime wave saying look there are more rapes - looking in the context of the times, it is just as likely that the number of rapes remained constant but that police started taking rapes more seriously leading women to be more likely to report rapes. Of course, the women's rights movement also made women more likely to report other forms of abuse - which might include aggravated assaults and domestic violence. It is only natural that the crime rate would increase when half the population begins to recieve representation in police departments.

The Civil Rights movement also likely played a role in an increase in reported rapes and overall crimes - prior to the 1960s, White men in the South had pretty much free reign to rape Black women without fear of penalty. In fact, in general, White people in the South had free reign to commit crimes against blacks without much fear. Black crime victims were not likely to report crimes to an all White police force and prosecutors office - but by 1980, police departments and prosecutors offices were also much more likely to be integrated throughout the country - that likely led to increased reporting since Black victims would have likely been reluntant to contact the police prior to the Civil Rights movement. Keep in mind that 1965 was the year of the Voting Rights Act and before that was the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Of course that just explains rape - but look at the general demographic factors at work between 1965 and 1980.

Also, taking in isolation, the comparison between 1965 and 1980 also ignores the context of the times. See, what happened in 1965 which might be relevant to crime rates - oh let's see - maybe it was that the first baby boomers started becoming adults. Yes, from 1946 to 1965 there was an extremely high birth rate called the "Baby Boom" - it was the largest generation in American history. Because younger people have a higher crime rate, it stands to reason that the generation who was the largest in history, would mean more crime. Quite simply there were more young people in the crime committing range in that period.

Also in the context between 1965 and 1980 you have the bulk of the deinstitutionalization - people who were kept in mental hospitals for years were released often with little or no community supports - as a result, many committed crimes precisely to get sent back to a more comfortable institutional setting.

That period would also show the bulk of crimes which resulted from Vietnam - people were coming back with PTSD and other mental health conditions or drug addictions without receiving any sort of supports. Many of those people ended up committing crimes and the 1965 to 1980 time would reflect that.

There was also increased social disruption and displacement resulting from the deinstrustrialization of the United States - factories closed and were moved, people became more mobile - there was social disruption. Combined with an increased number of young people and disillusion with the government following Vietnam and Watergate and a lousy economy caused mainly by outside forces - and you are going ot have a lot of upset and hopeless young people. Upset hopeless young people equals more crime.

So basically Bill, your starting and end points give you away - at least to people who know history. I've always said that "those who do not know history are doomed to vote Republican" and you pretty much prove it. Anyone who knows the history of the era will know that there are all sorts of reasons why crime rates would increase between 1965 and 1980 and subsequently fall. The simple - that is to say the Republican - mind who sees everything as binary and black and white simply says that increased incarceration works - basically crediting incarceration increases for something which actually could have been explained simply by demographic changes in the U.S. during the period in question.

bill: "I'm happy and proud to have used my professional life to show crime victims that their abusers would face justice"

me: I thought you exclusively worked on the federal level where the vast majority of criminal prosecutions are for victimless crimes like obscenity and drugs. most of the prosecution of violent crimes takes place on the state level and has absolutely no relationship to your drug warrior past. Come on Bill, if you really wanted to work on crimes with victims, you could have easily gotten a job as a state prosecutor. I'm not going to knock you for choosing hte prestige of the feds and choosing appellate work where you don't have to deal with real victims and witnesses - I mean, victims, witnesses, and defendants are basically just pains in the booty, so its understandable that given the opportunity you decided to have nothing to do with them, but be honest.

Posted by: virginia | Dec 28, 2011 9:34:45 AM

virginia: Your ignorance of criminal prosecutions at the federal level-nearly 50% of federal inmates are serving time for high level drug trafficking, most of which involved violence, use of firearms, and some very real victims-undermines your high-handed attempt to position yourself as an expert in American history.

Posted by: mjs | Dec 28, 2011 12:07:36 PM

My comment upthread was about the RISK that an individual would be a victim of a crime. It was not about crime RATES. Obviously the RATE is part of THE calculation that determines the RISK.

For example, the referenced article stated: "Between 1991 and 2010, the homicide rate in the United States fell 51 percent, from 9.8 per 100,000 residents to 4.8 per 100,000."

So what was my RISK of being a homocide victim in 1991? Or 2010?

So what was my RISK in 1991 of being a homocide victim sometime during the rest of my life? In 2010?

So how close to zero is my RISK?

Posted by: Fred | Dec 28, 2011 12:39:01 PM

Lets face the facts...Federal is all about drugs, and soft white collar cime....I haven't seen one go thru our locality yet that had a gun or violence.....Kind of shoots a hole in MJS theory...But he is maybe in a larger city and they certainly do have more violence..

Lots of what Virginia said has weight....Can't comment on Bills ideals, he will lean towards prison as is his experience/background...

There sure was a time when I thought doesn't anyone get sent to prison for anything.....This would be about when Bill was federally active..In the federal system, its like wow, the sentences for drugs, possession of child porn especially are way out of control....Federal is way too much of what could of happened and not what did.....I could of fell asleep driving to work and killed some kids walking on the cross walk as well...

On Bills side, there are a lot of people gone, that needed to go away.. We are better off...BUT, the duration is much too long...Give someone else a chance to go away, and not cost us the big bucks...I'm fully aware that BOP budget is a small % of the national budget...I forgot we don't have a budget anymore do we...We need to encompass all aspects of Federal spending....and start giving Americans their freedom back....No more warehousing humans for decades after they fogot what life was like...

Posted by: Josh2 | Dec 28, 2011 2:34:38 PM

mjs, good job - a direct personal attack, the creation of a strawperson, the demolition of said strawperson, an implied personal attack, and a red herring or two, all within the course of one sentence. Now that would be impressive, but what is even more impressive is how you inadvertantly created a perfect demonstration of the concept of willful ignorance.

See, what you effectively said is that "because I went off on a totally unrelated tangent and created a strawperson and then demolished it I will disregard everything you say." That is willful ignorance in action.

My two principle points remain.

1) that the causes of crime rates are complex and simple solutions do not work for complex problems.

2) Bill was being misleading about his experience because he worked as an appellate attorney in the federal system - his claim about working for victims is really misplaced because most of the violent crimes which he claims to care most about are prosecuted on the state level. As an appellate attorney, he also did not work directly with victims like he implied.

I'm sure he represented the government in some violent cases, and I never said otherwise - yet he also represented the governemnt in things like possession cases and yes, obscenity cases (and I'll admit I listed that in part because the idea of an actual obscenity prosecution is so charmingly old fashioned and in part to mock Bill for being old (I think he actually joined the U.S. Attorney's Office before I was born) just to be a brat :P ).

And he did a very good job at it too since the ultra icky inner city adult bookstores of the past have been replaced by clean well lit suburban female staffed adult botiques. I'm sure that Bill would never list "helped provide a safe environment for women in the Eastern District of Virginia to go shopping for sex toys" in the accomplishment section of his resume, but he should know that his work in that area is highly appreciated ;)

Erika :)

Posted by: virginia | Dec 28, 2011 6:41:16 PM

virginia: I was pointing out credibility issues in the facts used in your personal attack on Bill Otis-issues which persist in your attack on this writer. There is virtually no prosecution of simple possession cases in most federal courts-at best you may see a possession case on federal property handled by a federal magistrate. Most federal drug prosecutions are lengthy investigations of dangerous, large scale, drug trafficking rings.

Further, victim's rights in federal courts are much better articulated than in most state courts.

Posted by: mjs | Dec 28, 2011 7:10:05 PM

Erika --

1. In the midst of it all, I'd like to point out that you did not dispute a single factual point I made about the size of the crime decrease.

2. In addition, I must thank you for pointing out more fully than I did that, contrary to Fred's preposterous claim, there was in fact a crime wave from the mid-60's to about the end of the 70's.

3. It's true that this crime wave had a number of causes, certainly including demographics, as you point out.

4. It's also true that the reduction in crime over the last two decades has had multiple causes. On the other hand, I never said otherwise (speaking of "strawpersons"). But quite conspicuously, while pointing to a number of causes for this spectacular reduction, you do not deny that the increase in imprisonment was among the more significant. Of course you don't exactly admit it either, since that is -- how shall I say it? -- an inconveniet truth.

5. You have some, but not much, of an idea about the composition of federal criminal cases. The four biggest contributors by far are drugs (glad to hear you think meth and heroin are "victimless crimes"); firearms, fraud and illegal immigration. However, there is this little thing called the Assimilative Crimes Act, which essentially absorbs state law into the prosecution of more typical "street crimes" that take place on federal jurisdiction, such as military bases, federal buildings and national parks, of which the Eastern District of Virginia is chock full.

Nonetheless, I'm always amused to hear my career dismissively described by someone who does know jack about what it actually was.

When you get to be a division chief in a large USAO, you be sure to let me know. Until then, I know more about the work than you do.

BTW, how much did you do for the victims you say I never had zip to do with? Isn't your job to put their victimizers back on the street? And then you want to give me a lecture on how uncaring I am! Well that's just so far out!

6. As mjs points out, neither I nor my colleagues spent a whole lot of time with simple possession cases, if "cases" is even the right word.

7. Your focus on me is charming, I guess, but it has next to nothing to do with the subject matter of Doug's entry, that being the enormous decline in crime and the reasons therefore.

The reason you prefer to discuss me is not primarily to divert attention from the fact that imprisonment is a very significant contributor to the crime reduction, as the U. of Chicago study you fail to mention, much less rebut, points out. Instead, the only real reason to discuss me is to do precisely what you have falsely accused me of doing, i.e., to drive the opposing viewpoint off the board.

Admittedly you are better mannered (and more sane) than to pursue this goal by calling me a Nazi, pedophile and necrophiliac, as others have done. Instead, you just go into the rote Republicans-are-Satan mode.

Have at it, Erika. I have faced more daunting things in this life than partisan Democrats and fuming defense lawyers.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Dec 28, 2011 10:56:14 PM

I love this thread!

Virginia, thanks for your extensive historical comment. It makes much more sense than that icky UoC study.

I am much more a Republican than a Democrat. The problem is, which one stinks more when it comes to criminal matters?

Senator Webb had the right idea, but he has been shot out of the waters by BOTH parties.

I used to object to your "icky pervs" comments, mainly on how it is reported, (lacking journalistic objectivity) any crime can be described as icky.

The FEDS have learned this too well

Posted by: albeed | Dec 28, 2011 11:33:04 PM

Increases/decreases in crime RATES are accurately reflected in the increases/decreases in the RISK of being a victim of a crime. I suggest that focusing on RISK rather than RATES is a more useful metric in discussing crime control policy, particularly as it eliminates pandering and fearmongering by politicians.

Yes, crime RATES surged beginning in the 60s. But if considered from a RISK point of view, the "crime wave", rather than being a tsunami, was a ripple, and a small one at that.

Of course the MSM always described this ripple as a tsunami. In fact the article referenced in this post is premised on that mischaracterization.

The reality is that we live now and have always lived in a safe and secure society.

On a personal level what really troubles me about this debate is the unstated assumption by the panderers and scaremongers that we are a nation of cowards. The vast, vast majority of us are not.

Posted by: Fred | Dec 29, 2011 1:06:37 AM

mjs: "Further, victim's rights in federal courts are much better articulated than in most state courts."

me: since Bill was at the EDVA, the proper comparison is not be "most state courts" but Virginia's courts. Virginia's Constitution contains a Crime Victim's Bill of Rights.

But I will give you credit if you point out that the proper comparision is Virginia versus federal law at the time Bill was at the EDVA. And that I do not know.

Nice try :)


Posted by: virginia | Dec 29, 2011 7:21:56 AM

bill: "such as military bases, federal buildings and national parks, of which the Eastern District of Virginia is chock full."

me: there is a lot of federal property in the EDVA, but its a tiny portion of the overall area and the vast majority of the population rarely, if ever, enters it. You cannot possibly pretend that the amount of general "street" crimes your office handled compares to the amount of crimes that the state courts handled - in fact, there is a good chance that several individual Commonwealth's Attorneys Offices within the district handled more of those crimes.

Nice try, but you still were being misleading :)

bill: "When you get to be a division chief in a large USAO, you be sure to let me know."

me: who says I would even want to do that???

while its not the most undesirable job I can think of, I have zero interest in doing what you used to do.

bill: "Isn't your job to put their victimizers back on the street?"

me: no - I've told you before, I'm on the civil side of things :P

bill: "Your focus on me is charming,"

me: and your subtle insults of me are simply adorable. I mean, I just love the way that you treat me like I am totally stupid. I think its a form of masochism ;)

bill: "The reason you prefer to discuss me is not primarily to divert attention from the fact that imprisonment is a very significant contributor to the crime reduction,"

me: to quote Lil Jon, "what?"

this sentence doesn't even make sense. I believe you have a misplaced "not" but I'm not sure.

confusion is good though - I do my best snark while confused ;)

Bill: "as the U. of Chicago study you fail to mention, much less rebut, points out."

me: as I've stated, I believe that something as complex as the crime rate cannot be explained by simple factors and crime cannot be solved by simple measures like locking more people up. You can pretty much prove anything you want. Especially if you - as economic based studies tend to do - only look at one thing in isolation.

And in any case, I'm pretty sure that the amount of crime would dramatically increase if every male between the ages of 14 to 59 was locked up in prison. But while women and children would no doubt be safer, the cost would be riduculous and I would miss having men around. Safety is all nice, but you have to look at social costs.

Decreased crime rates could be explained by more entertainment options - or increased sexual activity amount teenagers and young adults - or demographics changes - or more after school activities - or better education about the effects of illegal drugs and alcohol on the body - or who really knows.

Saying that one factor is the primary cause of increased or decreased crime and therefore you can do one thing to decrease crime may be appealling in its simplicity, but it is simply error. Crime is more complex than that.

And as I pointed out to you, pay attention to people's starting and ending dates - there could be other big factors at play which provide alternative explainations for what is going on.

bill: "Instead, the only real reason to discuss me is to do precisely what you have falsely accused me of doing, i.e., to drive the opposing viewpoint off the board."

me: wrong - I luv having you posting here because I like to argue with smart people - and you are way too much fun for me to want to chase you away :)

bill: "Admittedly you are better mannered (and more sane) than to pursue this goal by calling me a Nazi, pedophile and necrophiliac, as others have done."

me: as I've said, I may be a brat, but I try to be a nice brat - and I try to avoid direct personal attacks :)

bill: "Instead, you just go into the rote Republicans-are-Satan mode.:

me: while my political philosphy is that Republicans are evil and Democrats are spineless calling the REpublicans Satan is rather over the top for me. I prefer to think that they are men and women who have been deluded by Satan into carrying out his agenda. But if you insist, I think there is still time for Satan to be the Republicans 2012 nominee - admittedly, it might be difficult for him to campaign, but his "Greed is Good, Charity is Bad, More Glutteny and Lust for All" platform is likely to burn up the polls - just be sure to read the fine print on his platform about ownership of your soul ;)

bill: "Have at it, Erika. I have faced more daunting things in this life than partisan Democrats and fuming defense lawyers."

me: I must pass - see, while I like arguing with you, I'm afraid I can't since I am neither a partisan Democrat nor a defense attorney. Sorry :P

Erika :)

Posted by: virginia | Dec 29, 2011 8:42:27 AM

Fred --

"Yes, crime RATES surged beginning in the 60s. But if considered from a RISK point of view, the 'crime wave', rather than being a tsunami, was a ripple, and a small one at that."

Let's avoid characterizations and just state actual facts.

Here they are:

In 1965, there were 4,739,400 serious, non-drug crimes in the U.S. Fifteen years later, in 1980, there were 13,408,300. In other words, there were 8,668,900 more serious crimes in the country in 1980 than there had been in 1965. The number of such crimes almost trebled in 15 years.

If you want to call that a "a ripple, and a small one at that," have at it.

As to "panderers and scaremongers" -- what nonsense. To be concerned and motivated about the extent of the crime increase the numbers show is hardly pandering or scaremongering. To the contrary, to be oblivious to them, as you would have it, is nothing more than what-me-worry complacency.



Posted by: Bill Otis | Dec 29, 2011 9:06:35 AM

Erika --

Since you take me to task for being insufficiently caring toward crime victims, might I ask you what, in your professional life, you have done to improve their lot?

Also, will you finally admit point-blank, or do you deny, that the increase in imprisonment over the last 20 years has contributed significantly to the sharp drop in crime over that period?

Posted by: Bill Otis | Dec 29, 2011 9:12:44 AM

What about the accuracy and completeness of crime reporting increasing dramatically over time? Isn't that likely to have been a highly significant factor in the 1965 - 1980 increase in the nominal "crime rate"? (And just to be clear, by "crime reporting" I refer not to individuals reporting crime to the police, but individual law enforcement units reporting crime to central tabulators.)

I'm assuming we are talking about the UCR numbers collected by the FBI here. If so, it wasn't until at least 1969 that States even started centralizing UCR data gathering and reporting. Prior to that, individual jurisdictions (PDs and Sheriff's Departments) reported (or didn't reported, or sort of reported) their data straight to the FBI. Given the *wide* variation in resources, ability, and commitment from these scattered reporters, there was certainly widespread under-reporting. And conversely, given the increasing centralization and accountability created by the State UCR commissions, as well as the increasing technological ability to record and report accurately, and the general continuation of the modernization and professionalization of policing, there was certainly a substantial improvement in reporting by 1980. Thus it seems highly likely that, even if the actual incidence of crime had stayed exactly the same between 1965 and 1980, the incidence of crime as reported in the UCR would have jumped significantly.

My hunch would be that this data-gathering bias would not account for the full increase in the nominal rates, and that there actually was some increase in actual incidence, but I'm not sure we can tell without significant additional analysis, and at any rate I think we can definitely assume that any actual increase was *much* smaller than might appear from a completely uncritical comparison of the 1965 and 1980 UCR data.

Posted by: Anon | Dec 29, 2011 5:48:50 PM

Anon --

"Hunches" about the degree of improvement in crime reporting are just that. In addition, no one seriously suggests that the reporting of MURDER was deficient in 1965, and only improved later. But the number of murders more than doubled between '65 and '80. What is the basis for assuming that the similar dramatic rise in the other categories was just an illusion?

And even if we were to reject the numbers in favor of speculation, that would still not vaporize the anecdotal evidence from that period that crime was seriously escalating.

Finally, the more important question by far is not what happened up to the 1980's, but what happened thereafter. Specifically, will you admit point-blank that the increase in imprisonment over the last 20 years has contributed significantly to the sharp drop in crime over that same period?

Yes, I know there are other factors, and have never claimed otherwise. That is not the question. The question is whether increasing use of imprisonment was a significant contributing factor to the massive drop in crime. Was it?

Posted by: Bill Otis | Dec 29, 2011 9:20:13 PM

bill: "might I ask you what, in your professional life, you have done to improve their lot?"

me: you can ask, but I am not going to answer :P

bill: "will you finally admit point-blank, or do you deny, that the increase in imprisonment over the last 20 years has contributed significantly to the sharp drop in crime over that period?"

me: deny on the grounds that the crime rate contains so many variables that it is impossible to tell how any one variable interacts with the other variables.

also deny on the grounds that I am highly skeptical about any study which purports to promote a simple solution that happens to work for the financial benefit of certain parties for simple problems. As the Center for Tobacco Research proved, it is very easy for people with large sums of money to get seemingly credible scientists to manipulate research and even get your manipulated research published in "peer reviewed" journals.

Erika :)

Posted by: virginia | Dec 30, 2011 7:03:18 AM

Mr. Otis:

In the first sentence in my first comment in this thread on Dec. 27, 2011 at 7:00:42 P.M., I wrote: "All of this is good news, and we owe thanks to those responsible for this." I have expressed similar sentiments in other comments I have made here on this subject.

Where we disagree is how we describe the historical increase in crime and then the recent decrease in crime. You describe them as "big", while I describe them as "small".

On Dec. 29, 2011 at 9:06:35 A.M. you wrote:

"Let's avoid characterizations and just state actual facts. Here they are: In 1965, there were 4,739,400 serious, non-drug crimes in the U.S. Fifteen years later, in 1980, there were 13,408,300. In other words, there were 8,668,900 more serious crimes in the country in 1980 than there had been in 1965. The number of such crimes almost trebled in 15 years. If you want to call that a "a ripple, and a small one at that," have at it."

The figures you quote (which you combined the Violent Crime total with the Property Crime total) are from the FBI's Uniform Crime Reports. I likewise use the UCR to support my conclusions.

For instance according to the UCR, in 1965 the US population was 193,526,000, with 387,390 violent crimes, with 4,352,000 property crimes, for a total of 4,739,390 violent and property crimes.

Again according to the UCR, in 1980 the US population was 225,349,264, with 1,344,520 violent crimes, with 12,063,700 property crimes, for a total of 13,408,220 violent and property crimes.

Again according to the UCR, in 2010 the US population was 308,745,538, with 1,246,248 violent crimes, with 9,082,887 property crimes, for a total of 10,329,135 violent and property crimes.

So in 1965, 0.024489% of the nation's population was the victim of either a violent or property crime. You break this down further 0.002001% of the population was a victim of a violent crime and 0.022487% of the population was the victim of a property crime.

Then in 1980, 0.059499% of the nation's population was the victim of either a violent or property crime. You break this down further 0.005966% of the population was the victim of a violent crime and 0.053533% of the population was the victim of a property crime.

To close the circle in 2010, the last year of complete data, 0.033455% of the nation's population was the victim of either a violent or property crime. You break this down further 0.004036% of the population was the victim of a violent crime and 0.029418% of the population was the victim of a property crime.

So what can we conclude from this? in 1965 0.975511% of the US population lived their lives untouched by either violent or property crime; in 1980 0.940501%; in 2010 0.966545%.

I have repeatedly acknowledged your points. Also as you know I did a tour of duty in the war on crime as a state court assistant prosecutor. I am proud of my contribution, although very small, to this good news. We only differ on the adjectives to describe it.

Posted by: Fred | Dec 30, 2011 11:21:55 AM

Erika --

So you take me, a former prosecutor, to task for being insufficiently helpful to crime victims while simultaneously declining EVEN TO CLAIM that you have provided help to a single one, in any way, ever.

Far out! Aren't you the one constantly complaining about hypocrisy?

And the fact that you refuse to acknowledge that imprisonment played ANY significant role in the enormous reduction in crime speaks for itself, and puts you on a fringe almost no one else occupies. It is, in addition, utterly self-contradictory to your earlier posts, in which you had no trouble at all identifying one specific factor and another than affected the amount of crime reported.

Your refussal to acknowledge what even Sentencing Project admits says all that needs saying about how much your views are the captive, not of facts, but of ideology.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Dec 30, 2011 4:14:52 PM

Fred --

"We only differ on the adjectives to describe it."

Which is exactly the reason to avoid adjectives, which are necessarily subjective, and let the numbers speak for themselves.

Thank you for your service. None of us who spent time as prosecutors can lay claim to any but the smallest sliver of the success in fighting crime. Still, one of the great satisfactions of working on the prosecution side is that you never have to come up with a fancy answer when your 13 year-old asks you, "When you go to work, do you try to help the guy who beat up the lady I heard about on the news, or are you trying to put him in jail?"


Posted by: Bill Otis | Dec 30, 2011 4:23:28 PM

Bill:

Today, your US DOJ (for srictly political reasons), changed the legal definition of rape.

When will you realize that there is a problem with your gubermint?

Statistics between apples and oranges are difficult. This will make it impossible.

Anything to demonstrate that we are from the government (and limit your liberties and possibilities to defend yourself).

I hope your grandchildren p--s on your grave.

Before you comment on my last sentence, comment on my note about the change of definition of rape!

Posted by: albeed | Dec 31, 2011 12:05:12 AM

albeed --

And a Happy New Year to you, too.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Dec 31, 2011 11:49:30 AM

Bill:

I apologize from the bottom of my heart for my 2nd to the last sentence from my post at 12:05 on 12/31. It was totally uncalled for. Even though I disagree with your politics, you have demonstrated your consistent integrity in many ways.

Happy New Year!

Posted by: albeed | Dec 31, 2011 7:43:10 PM

albeed --

No person on this earth gets by without, at some point, saying something he regrets.

All the best of health and happiness to you in 2012.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Dec 31, 2011 11:00:11 PM

bill: "while simultaneously declining EVEN TO CLAIM that you have provided help to a single one, in any way, ever."

me: obviously subtely isn't your thing. Perhaps you should review the Rules of Professional Conduct dealing with client confidences and then you look at your question again. Do that and you will see what "no answer" actually means.

bill: "Aren't you the one constantly complaining about hypocrisy?"

me: its not hypocracy - I'm consistently inconsistent ;)

bill: "And the fact that you refuse to acknowledge that imprisonment played ANY significant role in the enormous reduction in crime speaks for itself"

me: thank you for acknowledging that proponents of increased incarceration have the burden of proof :P

And sorry, but that will just not be possible to prove because the crime rate is a complex subject which has so many variables that if you look at any one factor in isolation you will likely see a corrilation between that item and the amount of crime. Corrilation does not equal causation.

Posted by: virginia | Jan 1, 2012 9:18:08 AM

bill: "It is, in addition, utterly self-contradictory to your earlier posts, in which you had no trouble at all identifying one specific factor and another than affected the amount of crime reported."

me: its not self contradictory especially since I listed several factors which might have led to both increased crime - and my position is that the crime rate is so complex with so many variables that it is impossible to tell whether any one item has a significant effect on it or not.

Its also not contradictory at all to point out that statistically young to middle aged men commit crimes at the highest rates - hence, if anything can be shown to play a signficiant role in the crime rate, it is demographics factors - specifically the number of young to middle aged men present at a given time.

My position furthermore is that since the claim that incarceration works to reduce crime works for the financial and political benefit of certain parties that it should be viewed with extreme skepticism. I mean, if Nintendo started promoting a new "scientific" study claiming that if every child, teenager, and young adult in the U.S. had a Wii, there would be less crime and therefore the government should enact a massive Wii distribution program, everyone would laugh at it. Why, because everyone knows that Nintendo makes Wiis and sells games for them so that study and policy recommendation works towards Nintendo's financial benefit. There is no difference between Nintendo promoting Wiis to reduce crime using purported "studies" and prison guard unions, private prison companies, and tough on crime politicians promoting studies which purport (when all other variables are artificially removed) to claim that more prisons decrease crime. People should react to the "more prisons reduce crime" study the same way that they react to the "More Wiis reduce crime" study - with laughter and mockery and the thought "of course you believe that because it works to your financial and political interest." Yet, there is no difference between the two things - they are 100% completely identical.

As I told you Bill, its extremely easy for parties with large sums of money to get "peer reviewed" studies published even in prestigious journals present which promote claims that work for the benefit of those with large sums of money. Always look at who is sponsoring the research in question - then look at who is funding the sponsorer. The tobacco industry invented that tactic - and the pharmaceutical industry is infamous for it. Do you honestly think that social sciences (which is even more manipulatable since economic studies by definition remove every other variable) is any different than the hard sciences when it comes to people using manipulated research to promote their financial gains?

Basically Bill if you actually believe that more prisons have a significant effect on the crime rate you are either a shill or a sucker. And I don't think you're a sucker :P

bill: "how much your views are the captive, not of facts, but of ideology."

me: I'm rubber and you're glue, whatever you say bounces off of me and sticks to you :P

Okay, a more mature response which effectively says the same thing:

The fact that Bill automatically dismisses anyone who dares uses facts to challenge his ideological beliefs proves that Bill just posted the most perfect description of himself.

Happy New Year's Hugs,

Erika :)

Posted by: virginia | Jan 1, 2012 9:19:15 AM

apparently my response was so long that I had to split it in half.

I think someone is trying to send me a message about conciseness :)

Erika :)

Posted by: virginia | Jan 1, 2012 9:22:38 AM

Erika --

Even the Sentencing Project, of all things, admits this, abeit after meandering for six pages of gobbledygook:

"More recent analysis of the
contributing factors to the crime decline
of the 1990s suggests that about 25%
of the decline in violent crime can be
attributed to increased incarceration.12
While one-quarter of the crime drop
is not insubstantial, we then know that
most of the decline in crime — threequarters
— was due to factors other than
incarceration."

As I say, you're out on an ideological limb pretty much by yourself.

Also, if you have any actual evidence, as opposed to innuendo, that the U. of Chicago study was financed by any group having a stake the outcome, let's see it.

In fact you have none, as you and the rest of us know.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Jan 1, 2012 3:02:23 PM

Bill:

Thank you for your kind and wise words!

I hope you have a good 2012 also.

Posted by: albeed | Jan 1, 2012 4:50:18 PM

Bill Otis: "Even the Sentencing Project, of all things, admits this, abeit after meandering for six pages of gobbledygook:"

That little bit of info you posted is 22 years old... got anything up to date that was paid for by CCA or GEO??

Posted by: Huh? | Jan 1, 2012 8:55:31 PM

Bill Otis: "Still, one of the great satisfactions of working on the prosecution side is that you never have to come up with a fancy answer when your 13 year-old asks you, "When you go to work, do you try to help the guy who beat up the lady I heard about on the news, or are you trying to put him in jail?"

Is said 13-year-old brainwashed?

Posted by: Huh? | Jan 1, 2012 8:58:33 PM

Huh? --

I quoted from a paper by the Sentencing Project admiting, albeit reluctantly, that increased incarceration accounted for 25% of the enormous drop in violent crime.

Your retort was: "That little bit of info you posted is 22 years old... got anything up to date that was paid for by CCA or GEO??"

You're a complete liar, as usual. I quoted from page 6 of a Sentencing Project paper found here: http://www.sentencingproject.org/doc/publications/inc_iandc_complex.pdf

It's a 2005 paper, as anyone can see from the copyright. But if that weren't enough, in its second paragraph of text, it cites the 2005 Booker case. If guess you're too stoned to figure out that 2005 wasn't 22 years ago.

I'd ask for an apology, but you're too ill-mannered and too dishonest for that.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Jan 1, 2012 10:52:13 PM

bill: "As I say, you're out on an ideological limb pretty much by yourself."

me: maybe you should reread your excerpt taking off your rose colored glasses which led you to miss the key word "suggests" whose meaning should be self explanationary.

not to mention the key phrase that even using your precious single study which has never been replicated "most of the decline in crime - three quarters - was due to factors other than incarceration."

Sweetie, you just proved my point without realizing it.

bill: "Also, if you have any actual evidence, as opposed to innuendo, that the U. of Chicago study was financed by any group having a stake the outcome, let's see it."

me: a single study which works to the advantage of the right wing and corporate financial interests by a notoriously conservative institution which has never been replicated.

What more evidence do you need?

Erika :)

Posted by: virginia | Jan 2, 2012 8:41:07 AM

Hey Erika --

Put down the 40 year-old stuff from the SDS mimeograph machine. Yes, we all know that the "right wing and corporate financial interests," not to mention the Trilateral Commission and Jewish Bankers, run the world, and particularly the University of Chicago, where Obama was somehow mistakenly hired as a law lecturer.

Now that we have that straight, the question was what EVIDENCE you have that the U. of Chicago study was financed by anyone having a stake in its outcome. In other words, produce the name of the person or entity who provided the money, the amount provided, and the specific stake they had in the finding that imprisonment (along with tougher policing and other causes) contributed to the drop in crime.

Of course we both know you won't do that, since you have no such evidence. Indeed there's none to be had, even if you weren't too lazy to look instead of just fire Code Pink bromides from the seat of your pants. What you have instead of evidence is your blowhard, one-size-fits-all, paranoid, Sixties Leftovers about how it's all the Corporate Devil.

Do you try to use that same nonesense in court as "evidence?" Somehow I doubt it, but do tell.

After that, you can explain why the Sentencing Project, which has your sympathies but at least makes an attempt at actual scholarship, is willing to say what you still refuse to say.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Jan 2, 2012 9:16:51 AM

bill,

your insults are as bad as your reading comprehension skills.

Love,

Erika :)

Posted by: virginia | Jan 2, 2012 1:03:45 PM

Erika --

Your condescension and self-assumed superiority is now at a point where it's either going to stop or any dialogue between us is over. I would not put up with this from a peer in the USAO, the Justice Department, the defense bar or the faculty, and I am not going to put up with it from you.

If you want a respectful conversation, you can have it. If not, fine; I have other uses for my time. Your choice.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Jan 2, 2012 3:54:38 PM

I'm sorry Bill - its not my intention to be disrespectful.

But I hope that you realize that I've believed that you think that I am extremely stupid from the start and that puts me on the defensive. And yes, my primary defensive mechanicism is humor - if I can't be smart, at least I can be funny - and I have a really sarcastic sense of humor which no doubt comes across as much more disrespectful than I actually am.

Erika :)

Posted by: virginia | Jan 3, 2012 6:39:10 AM

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