Great Unsolved Mystery: Why Has Crime Declined?


The conventional wisdom held that crime would go up during the recession. But it is down–and down sharply in many places. The New York Times explores the mystery in an analysis by reporter Shaila Dewan. She writes, “The surprise is yet more proof that tea leaves and sun spots may be a better predictor of crime rates than criminologists and the police.”

Dewan says many criminologists are confounded. She writes, “No single lens – sociological, econometrical, liberal or conservative – seems an adequate one through which to view crime. The economy, which seems as if it should be fundamental, has never been a good predictor; the Prohibition era was far more violent than the Great Depression. Adding prison beds has not helped; the incarceration rate has marched grimly upward for decades, while the crime rate has zigzagged up and down, seemingly oblivious. Years ago, criminologists thought demographics explained a lot…but demographics cannot shed light on what is happening now. Improved policing deserves credit for bigger declines in certain cities, but not the overall national trend.”

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