Experts quoted by McClatchy Newspapers say that the next piece of collateral damage from the recession could be a spike in crime, as rising unemployment and widespread law-enforcement budget cuts begin to take their toll. A Police Executive Research Forum survey issued in January said that 43 percent of 233 police departments surveyed reported rising levels of what they said were recession-related crimes.
Criminologist Richard Rosenfeld of the University of Missouri-St. Louis said, “There’s little question that crime rates peak during or, on occasion, immediately after a recessionary period. And that’s been the case for much of the period” after World War II. It’s happened in each of the last five recessions, he said.
“If police departments are already tightening their belts everywhere we look and we are seeing an initial impact on crime, it’s quite sobering to think about how things will look six months from now,” said Chuck Wexler, executive director of PERF. Declining sales taxes and property taxes and the subsequent drop in public funds are forcing law enforcement agencies across the country to postpone buying equipment, cut recruitment classes, freeze overtime, and redeploy staff to save money: The Winthrop, Ma. police chief; St. Paul, Mn. is considering turning off half the city’s streetlights to save $700,000 over two years; Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine proposed cutting $72 million in funding for sheriff’s departments, a 7 percent decrease; Atlanta police are taking days off without pay every two weeks; and 200 Boston police officers might be laid off, the first layoffs since 1982 and only the second layoffs in the department’s history.