Changes in crime totals across the nation in 2003 were uneven, reports the Christian Science Monitor. Violence in New York continued to decline, but in other urban areas, murder and mayhem are rising. Dallas experienced a 51 percent hike in overall crime, as scandal rocked the police department and drug trafficking got a grip on struggling neighborhoods. “What you get are a lot of ups and downs,” says criminologist Alfred Blumstein of Carnegie Mellon University. “That suggests the crime rate is a phenomenon that’s much more associated with the conditions in individual cities, partly due to drug traffic and partly the activities of police.”
The Monitor says that buried within national statistics are troubling signs that the crime drop has bottomed out and could turn into that long-predicted increase. One factor is government budget cuts; another is an overall homicide increase that is concentrated in gang-related killings. A similar hike in the 1980s was a harbinger of trouble during the crack epidemic. that ravaged many inner-city neighborhoods.
There is also public perception. A Gallup survey found that 60 percent of Americans think crime is on the rise, compared with 47 percent in 2000. “We need to rededicate ourselves to crime prevention and control and take off the rose- colored glasses,” says James Alan Fox, a criminologist at Northeastern University. “All of these budget cuts could endanger us – I know people like seeing tax refunds, but that’s little consolation when you’re looking down the barrel of the gun.”
Indicators like the number of adolescents at their peak crime-committing years, job opportunities, and the numbers of people being released from prisons all are now pointing in the wrong direction. “I can think of lots of reasons why crime rates are going up, I have lots of difficulty thinking of [reasons] why they are going down,” says Blumstein.
Crime may be rising beyond reported levels because the threat of terrorism has put smaller crimes into perspective. Says Fox: “If we seem to be very much on alert for terrorist activity, a twenty-dollar theft may seem trivial for someone to report, particularly when the color is orange.”
Chicago reported 599 homicides, compared with 594 in New York City and fewer than 500 in Los Angeles. The Chicago Tribune says that Chicago’s homicide rate is three times that of New York, which has nearly three times the population.
Still, Chicago police feel a sense of momentum heading into 2004. As police commanders gathered Tuesday around the video screen in the Deployment Operations Center, there was a hopeful mood. Superintendent Philip Cline and other top brass peppered deputy chiefs with questions about unsolved murders and how their troops are deployed. The new weekly meetings–part inquisition, part seminar and part pep rally–are the centerpiece of new tactics launched last June as police struggled to rein in the violence.
Homicides declined slightly in the Washington, D.C., area last year, but the nation’s capital still has more killings per capita than any other city with a population of 500,000 or more, says the Washington Post. There were 247 killings in the District of Columbia in 2003. “It is just absolutely incredible, the level of violence and the intent to kill,” said D.C. Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey.
Reported crimes in 2003’s first six months showed that U.S. cities the size of Washington experienced a slight decline in homicides. An informal survey of other big-city police departments this week shows that the trend continued through the rest of 2003. One notable decline was in Los Angeles, where homicides fell more than 20 percent, a drop attributed to increased patrols in areas plagued by gangs.
Today’s Crime and Justice News includes reports from several other cities.