Largely unchanged crime totals in 2002 reported by local authorities to the FBI show that the sigificant declines recorded in the last half of the 1990s are over, say experts interviewed by USA Today. The newspaper says some crime analysts suggest that the sagging economy could be the reason for a spike in suburban violence. But they cautioned that spotty demographic and regional differences may simply indicate an adjustment in the usual cycle of crime that saw declines in all major offense categories during the past decade.
“The economy always makes a difference,” says Jeremy Travis, a senior fellow at the Urban Institute and a former director of the National Institute of Justice. “But we don’t yet have a single explanatory variable to help us identify a national trend or understand the volatility of the local rates.”
It’s not easy to explain why murder was up in Atlanta, Cincinnati and Los Angeles in 2002 and down in Fort Worth, Houston and Kansas City. Joseph McNamara, a former police chief now at the Hoover Institution in California, says authorities may have to look harder at such things as crime reporting methods by police agencies and population shifts to explain why the American West accounts for the largest increase in murder. McNamara suggested that regional differences could be attributed to any one or a combination of variables, from the economy to an increase in drug- and gang-related crime.