Some mayors and police chiefs may be exaggerating fears of an impending spike in violent juvenile crime, says the Chapin Hall Center for Children at the University of Chicago. In a report issued today, the center says that “viewed in proper perspective, the recent increases in violent crime are quite small. Compared with the scale of violent crime seen during the past 30 years, a 1-year increase of 2 percent [reported by the FBI] is not enough to suggest that the country is entering a new era of rising crime.” The report was compiled after the Police Executive Research Forum said that statistics from big-city police chiefs suggested a “gathering storm” of violent crime.
The Chapin Hall Center’s Jeffrey Butts, at a forum today at the Washington, D.C.-based Urban Institute, said the nation’s crime decline of the last decade “seems to be bottoming out.” Butts asked, “Have we reached a new plateau? There’s no way to know.” He warned against a “hysterical” reaction against a supposed wave of youth crime. Butts wrote the Chapin Hall report with Howard Snyder of the National Center for Juvenile Justice in Pittsburgh. Gerald Wilson, an assistant Washington, D.C., police chief at the forum, speculated that aggressive police work closing down open-air drug markets may have had the effect of pushing youths into other kinds of crime. Butts noted that because juvenile crime often is measured by the number of youths arrested, more police action could mistakenly be equated to more crime. Although it urged caution about interpreting this year’s small crime increases nationally, the Chapin Hall report noted that the Justice Department victimization survey showed a 57 percent increase between 2002 and 2005 in violent crimes by persons perceived by victims to be juveniles.