After a recent teen-crime wave in Houston, an annual survey by Rice University sociology professor Stephen Klineberg reported crime as the public’s biggest concern for the city, rising from 13 percent in 2005 to 31 percent. The Houston Chronicle says that Klineberg sees the jump as part of “a broader national fear,” reflecting a pessimistic general mood. Some of it attributable to the unavoidable fact that the city’s homicide total jumped 22 percent last year and is up by a similar margin thus far in 2006. Recent months have seen a handful of well-chronicled atrocities.
The fear of being a crime victim did not increase, Klineberg said: “This suggests that the mentions of crime (in poll results) are more a reflection of media coverage, especially connected with the Katrina evacuees, than of any new and pervasive preoccupation with crime per se, such as we experienced in Houston during the mid-1990s.” Criminologists say parsing statistics for explanations of public fear of or perceptions about crime is pointless. The public is more likely responding from a general feeling, something lingering in the subconscious, they say, than with cold, numerical logic. “I’m not convinced that the public is generally aware of crime-rate trends,” said Dennis Longmire of Sam Houston State University’s Criminal Justice Center. “And I’m not convinced they are swayed in their attitudes toward crime based on news about crime rates and such. People would like to think that they are, but I think it is more visceral and emotional than rational. I tend to discourage making too much of a temporal link between rates of criminality and public fears about rates of crime.” He adds: “The more time the media spends discussing crime and crime-related issues, the more people are going to be thinking about it.”