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December 19, 2011

Amazingly great new FBI data: crime down yet again in start of 2011!

Crime by the Numbers

This AP story reports on great holiday season news concerning crime rates in the United States for the start of 2011: "The FBI said Monday that violent and property crimes reported to police continue to drop despite tough economic times." Here is more:

"An FBI report states that violent crimes reported in the first half of 2011 were down 6.4 percent compared to the first six months of 2010. The number of property crimes, including burglary, larceny and vehicle theft, decreased 3.7 percent.

"All four offenses in the violent crime category — murder and non-negligent homicide, forcible rape, robbery, and aggravated assault — decreased between the first half of 2010 and 2011. Robbery experienced the biggest drop of 7.7 percent."

The full FBI crime report discussed in this article is available at this link, and  that webpages is also the source for the graphic reprinted here.

What makes this news so amazing as well as great is that (1) crime rates were already at historic modern lows and there is good reason to worry that eventually crime rates will start moving up again, (2) incarceration rates likely declined in the first part of 2011 because many states were releasing prisoners and/or changing sentencing laws in order to cut their corrections spending, and (3) marijuana use by both teenagers and adults likely continued to rise during this period.  I will not claim that these data show or even remotely suggests that reducing incarceration rates and increasing pot use actually reduces serious crime, but I will claim that these data undercut assertions that reducing incarceration rates and increasing pot use will result in an increase in serious crime.

Attorney General Holder released this official statement reacting to the FBI report, which (in)appropriately(?) takes credit for this amazing great news:

“Safe neighborhoods are the underpinning of our nation’s prosperity, and this Department of Justice has made protecting the American people from violent crime a top priority.   The results of the 2011 Preliminary Uniform Crime Report show that the decline in violent crime in recent years continued in the first half of 2011.

“Working with our state, local and tribal partners, federal prosecutors and agents have increased community participation in our shared efforts to hold accountable those whose illegal activity spread fear into our communities.   We have targeted violent criminals involved in gang-related activity from Florida to California, organized crime networks in cities across this country and drug trafficking organizations that extend beyond our borders."

We could (and perhaps should) have a huge debate over whether and how much credit the Obama/Holder administration merits for the continued decline in crime rates over the past few years.  But this amazingly great news on national crimes rates confirm my view that calls from many on the right for AG Holder to resign are just a story about electoral politics and have nothing to do with effective criminal justice policies. 

Some related posts on the great modern crime decline:

December 19, 2011 at 02:21 PM | Permalink


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I trust this story will put a stop to the endless whining we see here about how the criminal justice system is "broken" or "in crisis."

The principal job of the criminal justice system is to bring down crime. It continues to do that at astounding levels. Far from being "broken," the system is -- so the figures tell us -- achieving success at levels unmatched by any other social system or program in this country.

Let's show some gratitude for once.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Dec 19, 2011 2:34:11 PM

Bill, would you say a company that is making ten billion dollars a year is successful, even if it's spending twenty billion a year to get there?

It's obviously a wonderful thing that crime rates continue to drop. But that doesn't mean our criminal justice system, which incarcerates a huge number of people at a huge financial cost, isn't broken.

Posted by: anon | Dec 19, 2011 2:45:48 PM

Contrarian though I am, I have a hard time complaining about falling crime rates. That part is great.

But, I will note that decreasing crime rates seem oddly accompanied by ever increasing anxiety, less tolerance, more and unreasonable risk aversion and little concern about the growth of a huge web of surveillance and a much more robust, nuanced system of control and coercion. Thinking about NYC, where I have long lived, I admire the development of the NYPD over the last twenty years but I also worry about the greater power and reach of contemporary law enforcement. Maybe contemporary society requires this higher level of social control or maybe we just prefer it this way.

I am grateful for all we have gained but I remain puzzled. I think we don't really understand how and why we got here and so we don't fully understand the costs or the possibilities for improvement.

Posted by: Ian Weinstein | Dec 19, 2011 3:20:49 PM

4 years ago, the U.S. Sentencing Commission made its crack minus two amendment retroactive. AG Michael Mukasey and others predicted with great certainty an increase in violent crime. Violent crime rates continue to fall. The prison population has also fallen for the past two years. People on all sides of the criminal justice debate can claim that their view is prevailing - or all sides can admit that something is happening here, but we don't know what it is.

Posted by: Thinkaboutit | Dec 19, 2011 4:09:20 PM

The idea that it's A Great Mystery as to why crime has gone down is entirely incorrect. The phenomenon has been studied by experts, see http://pricetheory.uchicago.edu/levitt/Papers/LevittUnderstandingWhyCrime2004.pdf Conclusions have been drawn.

Specifically, the authors conclude that four factors have contributed to the decrease: "...increases in the number of police, the rising prison population, the waning crack epidemic and the legalization of abortion."

Conservatives are not going to like the finding re abortion, but I am not here to engage in that debate. The findings are what they are; whether conservatives (or liberals) like them is not the point.

The researches (Professors Levitt and Spelman) found that "one-quarter or more" of the decrease in the number of crimes is because more people are being imprisoned and for longer. Twenty years ago in 1991, near the dawn of "incarceration nation," there were 14,872,900 serious, non-drug crimes in the United States. Last year there were 10,329,135 -- a crime decrease of about 4,543,760.

One-quarter of 4,543,760 is 1,135,940.

In other words, we have a staggering 1,135,940 fewer serious, non-drug crimes PER YEAR now than 20 years ago BECAUSE OF INCREASED INCARCERATION.

The Left is furious about this, and pretends that, gosh, we just don't know what the cause could be, because it puts the lie to the claim that "incarceration nation" has hurt our citizens. But, again, I don't care what one political side or the other is furious about. The numbers are there.

If we go back to the bad old days of yesteryear when we bought phony promises of rehabilitation and were less inclined to use imprisonment, this is what the numbers tell us we will eventually wind up with: Each year, more than 2,400 more murder victims, 5,400 more forcible rape victims, 78,000 aggravated assault victims, and hundreds of thousands more victims of robbery, burglary and auto theft.

Avoiding such a huge human and economic toll is a good investment, indeed a spectacularly good investment, by any sane measure. I would love it if ANY other government program worked as well.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Dec 19, 2011 4:49:47 PM

Professor: To use this admittedly good news as a counterpoint to the legitimate concerns expressed by many(not solely the right) about Eric Holder and his administration's tawdry handling of Fast and Furious, Black Panther voter intimidation etc. etc. is silly!

Posted by: mjs | Dec 19, 2011 4:51:56 PM

Bill, there's been a lot of back and forth on the causes in the drop in crime. Professors Levitt and Spelman's study is hardly the definitive word on the issue any more than any other study is the definitive word. Indeed, their theory about abortion being a prime contribution to the drop in crime rates has not survived the test of time.

That being said, it's hardly controversial among people who follow this that at least some of the drop in crime is linked to higher incarceration rates. It's a question of how much of the rate drop can be attributed to our increased reliance on incarceration. And on that score, Professors Levitt and Spelman's study is at the outer rim of estimates on how much we can attribute the drop to increased incarceration.

There's lots of different ways to throw money at this problem. Many different proposed solutions, including increasing prison sentence length, will likely lead to a drop in crime. The question is, among the many options, is increased incarceration a cost effective solution? Lots of research suggests that this is not so. Thus, even if it's the case that increased incarceration has helped fuel the drop in crime -- something that, I think, is beyond debate -- that doesn't answer any of the hard policy questions of whether our criminal justice system is broken or whether spending massive amounts of money on incarceration has been worth it.

Anyway, I know you like to cite the Levitt study and throw at terms like the "Left" whenever you talk about this issue and nothing I say is likely to suggest that you're understanding is incomplete and dated. But, I guess, who knows. Here's hoping that in the upcoming year you drop the silly "Left" label you throw around here and read some of the very good work out there that covers this topic.

Posted by: anon | Dec 19, 2011 5:28:11 PM

Bill, in 2011 (or in the couple years before as state budgets have been getting crunched by a bad economy), I do not think we have had either "increases in the number of police [or a] rising prison population," and yet we still have a significant downward spike in crime rates. I share your sense that lots of factors --- some governmental, some not --- have played a role in the crime declines since the peaks of the late 1980s early 1990s. But recent downward movements over the last few years seem to defy earlier explanations that may have accounted for initial declines. Especially notable is that incarceration rates have flattened, while crime declines continue.

mjs, the reason I am linking these stories is because of my concern that DOJ is spending way too much time talking about F&F, and way too little time trying to figure out what is working NOW in the arena of crime rates.

Posted by: Doug B. | Dec 19, 2011 5:45:50 PM

"But this amazingly great news on national crimes rates confirm my view that calls from many on the right for AG Holder to resign are just a story about electoral politics and have nothing to do with effective criminal justice policies."

This sentence is a complete non sequitur. Whether AG Holder should resign is a separate question from what is happening with crime rates. F&F lead to hundreds of crimes and murders, including the death of a U.S. Border Patrol agent. It is therefore a legitimate subject of inquiry, one that merits extensive investigation and discussion, even if the crime rate were to suddenly drop 50% overnight. Using the crime rate as a way to deligitimize the F&F investigation reeks of political hackery. On the other hand, there is certainly one sure-fire way to address Prof. Berman's concern that DOJ is "spending way too much time talking about F&F": have Mr. Holder accept responsibility for it, and resign.

Posted by: Anon | Dec 19, 2011 5:57:03 PM

anon --

If you have any analytical criticism of Levitt and Spelman, I'd be happy to see it. If not, just to say that, well, various people have various opinions doesn't really move the ball. The Levitt/Spelman study is by far the most widely cited among studies produced by persons not having a pre-formed opinion or financed by those who do.

As to "Left" label: You cannot possibly be reading this site and not know that the Left exists big time. By "Left," I mean people who always or nearly always take the side of the criminal; always or nearly always blame the "system" for crime instead of a lack of individual responsibility; always or nearly always point to the costs of imprisonment without being remotely honest or forthcoming about its benefits; always or almost always talk about the fabled "low-level, first time offender" as if such people are the ones filling the prisons; and refer to Kent Scheidegger as a Nazi because he is pictued on the CJLF webstie wearing a business suit.

I'll stop calling such people Leftists when they stop being Leftists.

But I digress. The bottom line is that, if we return to the failed criminal justice policies of the 60's and 70's, we are going to have hundreds of thousands more crime victims. I don't care how many time the Lefties here call Kent and me (and federalist and others) Nazis, I am going to oppose that next year and for as many years as I'm around. To push policies we know in advance will get more people killed and raped is inhumane and abominable.

Criminals have a choice. Crime victims don't. The equities here are not open to serious argument.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Dec 19, 2011 6:00:44 PM

Doug --

Two words: Lag time.

There was, as Levitt and Spelman note, a lag time of several years between the increase in incarceration and the decrease in crime. One can expect a similar lag time if and when there is an increase in crime as criminals are released. As I said on an earlier thread, they generally don't recidivate on the first day they're out (although it's been known to happen).

I'll repeat something I've said before. By any measure, the two great trends in crime since at least 1990 are its massive decrease and the massive increase in the number of criminals incarcerated. The idea that these two things are unrelated is nuts.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Dec 19, 2011 6:17:47 PM

I just want to second what Prof B. said. I don't think anyone denies that increased incarceration helped drive down the crime rate in the 1990s. We can have debates about whether it is the most cost-effective ways - Levitt points to spending on police being more efficient than incarceration. Levitt also notes that the MARGINAL utility of incarceration appears to drop off. That's where the debate is in 2011. Yes, we can eliminate most traffic accidents if we ban left-hand turns, but we choose not to curtail liberty so greatly for that noble goal. Levitt says increased reliance on prison is good for incapacitation and deterrence. But on this latter goal, he says nothing about whether deterrence is increased when a first-time drug offender gets 5 years as opposed to 2 - and whether, if there is a benefit, it offsets the indirect costs that he mentions.

It also bothers me that my fellow conservatives will apply cost-benefit analysis to everything the government does - clean air, clean water, you name it - but not public safety. Support for an ever-increasing police state with longer and longer sentences sounds no different to me than environmental supporters who push for greater authority for the EPA or FDA to protect public health and safety. A crime rate of zero is as utopian a goal as a zero air pollution.

Posted by: Thinkaboutit | Dec 19, 2011 6:20:09 PM

bill: "You cannot possibly be reading this site and not know that the Left exists big time"

me: of course the left exists big time when you define everyone who disagrees with you - even libertarians and anti government tea party types - as "the left."

bill: "always or nearly always blame the "system" for crime instead of a lack of individual responsibility"

me: there you go again, bill. the mighty warrior boldly battling the fictional strawpeople of the internet. of course, most everyone who actually pays attention knows that the people who complain about having to take any sort of individual responsibility the most have always been the most vocal right wingers. company goes bankrupt, ask the government for a bailout. massive frauds taking place - well, its okay if you are a republican. a republican gets caught committing a crime - must be an insidious liberal plot. and of course, it must be an evil plot by liberally biased media when the media accurately reports a conservative's words and actions. yes, the republican party - the party of personal responsibility for everybody else but no responsibility for thmeselves.

oh and bill, most of the nazi accusations leveled here come from people who appear to be anti-government tea party types - your side owns them. its people on your side - well, not really on your side, but the extreme right wing who have been running around calling people who disagree with them nazis. they really reveal themselves when they call people both communists and nazis like some have done here. the people who rant and rave about the fact that the sex offender registry exists - they are responsible for some of hte most vile attacks here and they are right wingers.

the actual liberals here - and i'm proud to be on the left - condemn those personal attacks. of course, even if there are not any actual attacks, you are perfectly willing to create such attacks to attempt ot silence anyone who disagrees with you. but that makes perfect sense for hte bold warrior always ready to battle strawmen.

Posted by: virginia | Dec 19, 2011 6:24:50 PM

According to this news article 41% of people by age 23 have been arrested for a crime other than a traffic crime.


Maybe it's now "lagging" the other way?

Posted by: Daniel | Dec 19, 2011 7:13:07 PM

virginia: Your rancor for the Republican party aside, no fair-minded observer can dispute that that progressives have a laundry list of excuses as to why criminals elect the path they take.

Individual responsibility is rarely, if ever, mentioned.

Posted by: mjs | Dec 19, 2011 7:41:26 PM

virginia --

1. Please show me where I have defined everyone who disagrees with me as being part of the Left. In fact, I believe no such thing and have said no such thing.

2. If you want to know who denies individual responsibility, you don't need to quote today's DNC press release. Just go down to your local federal court and watch defense allocutions for a day. 'Tis a sight to behold. These people invent a new "syndrome" every five minutes. They spend 30 seconds to mouth a few perforce words about how the client accepts responsibility for his behavior, then the rest of the time blaming mommy, daddy, twinkies and Kingdom Come.

3. "...the actual liberals here - and i'm proud to be on the left - condemn those personal attacks."

There are a boatload of liberals here, and, yes, you were one of three who condemned this "Nazi" stuff. I thanked you at the time and I thank you again. But it should have been way, way more than three.

4. "...you are perfectly willing to create such attacks to attempt ot silence anyone who disagrees with you."

To the exact contrary, I am the ONLY commenter to have invited opposing commenters to a live debate. I ENCOURAGE dissenting views and am ready to meet them on stage, as I have done many times. Your accusation that I have tried to silence critics is the opposite of the truth.

P.S. The only person on this blog who has ever actually done a live debate with me is Doug Berman, and I assure you he is no "strawman."

Posted by: Bill Otis | Dec 19, 2011 9:22:29 PM

Otis: "P.S. The only person on this blog who has ever actually done a live debate with me is Doug Berman, and I assure you he is no "strawman." "

grandiose narcissism.

Posted by: Huh? | Dec 19, 2011 11:12:11 PM

A little bit of reality from down here on earth. There are still 5 million violent FBI index felonies. Please, no cause for lawyer gloatubg if they drop a little. The overwhelming majority go unanswered by the lawyer running the criminal law. There is a 90% chance of never being inconvenienced if one commits a major crime.

The current FBI is run by left wing ideologues and feminist running dogs, so their numbers have no credibility. The police are refusing to take reports or throwing them in the trash as instructed by the left wing politicians running our cities.

When they have the person, in a solid minority of cases, they have the wrong person, being incompetents. The idiots then find a way to make the wrong person confess. When they have the right person, in 95% of cases, a fictional charge is adjudicated, and an ultra-violent crazed psycho may get classified as non-violent.

There are 100000 unresolved missing person reports a year. If I were to murder someone, I would clean up after myself, and dispose of the body properly. Is it possible the real number of murders is not 17,000, but 70,000? Unknown.

A major cause of crime is alcohol, with half the murderers and half the murder victims being legally intoxicated. Alcohol use among young people has decreased, with marijuana increasing.

That has to be added to the standard list, which must include, obesity, video addiction, the great wealth in possessions of the poor, the Roman Orgy lifestyle of the poor from age 12, driven in part by the feminists indoctrinators teaching the technical aspects of butt banging to 7th grade health class. (I hold a class on bomb making for kindergarten students, and tell them bomb making is a bad activity only for adults. Will there be more or less bomb making by kindergarten students? Knowledge is advertising and persuasion.) Lastly, feminists have pussified and lawyerized the American male by their control of indoctrination in school, the white American male, that is. Rates of violent crime in minority areas remains elevated to generate government make work jobs at their expense and that of their violent crime victims.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Dec 20, 2011 6:56:56 AM

Speaking of live debates, I would like to debate any lawyer here on why we should exclude anyone who has passed 1L from all benches, legislative seats, and responsible policy positions in the executive branch. Exclusion should be done by a Constitutional Amendment. The lawyer's running government has been catastrophic for the public interest, and threatens our civilization.

The accreditation of law schools should also be taken away from the lawyer who indoctrinates modern students into supernatural, sicko, atavistic doctrines copied from a specific religion. I read the Sharia hornbook, and in 90% of principles it is superior to what we have today, more just, less procedural, more effective in the goals of the law. Imagine the outrage if someone copied it word for word into the criminal law. Why is it any more acceptable to copy another religion's text?

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Dec 20, 2011 7:18:58 AM

supremacy: "we should exclude anyone who has passed 1L"

me: wait, you'd allow people who failed 1L? do you have any idea how easy 1L - and law school in general - is?

Posted by: virginia | Dec 20, 2011 9:04:25 AM

Huh? --

"grandiose narcissism."

A statement of the truth, actually, and entirely apt to rebut the false idea that I attempt to suppress opposing ideas.

I am familiar with one sort of grandiose narcissism, however. That would be a man in his forties who takes advantage of a teenage girl working at his place of business, and uses her for a one-night stand after the office party. This sort of grandiose narcissism, sometimes known as sexual exploitation, tends not to go over too well with those who loudly claim to represent Goodness and Light. Indeed such a person may be thought to be so prone to discreditable behavior as to have to take a forced leave of absence to receive psychiatric assistance.

Of course this is all conjecture. Isn't it?

Posted by: Bill Otis | Dec 20, 2011 9:18:33 AM

"Specifically, the authors conclude that four factors have contributed to the decrease: "...increases in the number of police, the rising prison population, the waning crack epidemic and the legalization of abortion."

I wonder how to explain the rise in the level of child abuse since the legalization of abortion? If we have essentially "killed off" many potential criminals through legalized abortion, as inferred, and abortion itself was supposed to reduce child abuse, why has child abuse increased? Does this mean that only certain "types" of criminals were aborted, and those who would commit child abuse were not?

"41% of people by age 23 have been arrested for a crime other than a traffic crime."

Solution to crime...lock up 50% of the population under age 23.

Posted by: observer | Dec 20, 2011 12:39:26 PM

observer --

Of course you will quote the language used by anyone here suggesting that anyone of any age -- much less 50% -- should be locked up for any crime no matter what it is. If, on the other hand, you think NO ONE should be locked up for any crime, no matter what it is, do tell.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Dec 20, 2011 1:38:05 PM


That UoC study that supports your biases has ZERO statistical and scientific validity. It is actually a boring excercise to demonstrate the SELECTIVITY which the authors used to create some resemblance of a study.

I know you don't know the real meaning of the word SELECTIVITY. Please stop referring to it. It only shows your ignorance, i.e., you are a lawyer and not a mathematician.

Please show my comment to a real mathematician at Georgetown.

Posted by: albeed | Dec 20, 2011 10:54:39 PM

Virginia: I want to become your e-friend. Your feminism and left ideology are part of your charm, in my book.

If one came close to passing, then one should be excluded. If one was totally wiped out on the 1L finals, that is good qualification for the Supreme Court. It implies that one was not touched intellectually by the bankrupt material.

This material is not the product of messy democratic procedures. Garbage is from Henry of Bratton. Bratton is Brittany today. He was a judge and a monk, but a monk first. The hyperproceduralism, the inscrutable gibberish, requiring translation by a hired lawyer? All of it, including Henry, Edward I, all of it: French.

The portrait of Edward I hangs in the House of Representative gallery of great law givers. He made Jews wear a yellow star whenever in the street. He paid off his debt to them by killing them all (mortgage, get it? Mortgage) and allowing his troops to have a go at their homes. and those in them. His statute banning the Jews lasted for 400 years. His other name is Longshanks and he massacred 1000's of Irish, Welsh, and Scottish patriots. French. This is whose law we still practice today only marginally changed. None of it had any validation except at the point of a sword. Toxic trash.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Dec 21, 2011 1:36:51 PM

Suppose the consequences of a parking ticket were LWOP. Now consider the following argument (as fanatical fantastical as it might seem):

The principal job of the parking enforcement system is to bring down parking violations. It continues to do that at astounding levels. Far from being "broken," the system is -- so the figures tell us -- achieving success at levels unmatched by any other social system or program in this country.
What might this argument be leaving out?

Posted by: Michael Drake | Dec 22, 2011 1:35:54 PM

That's right, Michael. If you change someone else's argument to make it look silly, it will look silly.

I hope you do better than that in the briefs you help write, and I'm sure you do.

What people like you, who ALWAYS want less incraceration, invariably leave out, are the huge human and financial benefits -- certainly running into the billions -- that have come about because crime has been cut by more than half.

Are you grateful for those benefits? Or even just a little happy? Wouldn't hurt to say so, ya know.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Dec 22, 2011 2:51:37 PM

I want murderers, armed robbers, rapists, producers of CP, thieves and REAL criminals incarcerated until they are deemed no longer a threat.

I don't want people convicted of Obstruction of Justice, Lying to Congress, Lying to a Fed, Honest Services Fraud, or similar crimes to spend more than 90 days in jail.

These (at most) should be misdemeanors, not felonies.

That would save a lot of money.

I know, these are tools to get at the real bad guys. Can I sell you a bridge?

Posted by: albeed | Dec 22, 2011 5:23:17 PM

Crimes might be down this year but vehicle accident is not. Specifically, this holiday season, number of car accidents are expected to rise according to the NHTSA.

Posted by: injurylawyerinc | Dec 27, 2011 6:10:30 PM

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