One suspect for the cause of the 9.7 percent national rise in robbery reports for the first half of 2006 is increased economic stress, says the Christian Science Monitor. “Many of the cities that have experienced increases in poverty and child poverty are the very same places experiencing increases in robbery right now,” says criminologist Richard Rosenfeld of the University of Missouri at St. Louis. The Rust Belt has seen large rises in poverty rates between 1999 and 2005, and many of the region’s cities have seen sharp increases in robberies this year.
Many cities show no such correlation, meaning the root of the problem is more complex than simple economics. In the West, for instance, some places report flat poverty rates and more robberies. Rosenfeld’s previous research shows that robbery rates rise when consumer confidence measures turn negative. Robbery tempts those who see few economic options. The robbery statistic is “a kind of leading-edge indicator” of something amiss, says David Harris, professor of law and values at the University of Toledo. Harris says police departments “have a whole set of demands on their plates that simply didn’t exist a few years ago,” referring to homeland-security duties and less assistance from federal agents reassigned to antiterrorism. A Justice Department spokesman notes that federal aid never has been more than 4 percent of state and local law-enforcement spending.