The most important lesson of the U.S. crime rate decline in the last decade is that crime can rise or fall “without major changes in the social fabric,” says Franklin Zimring of the University of California, Berkeley. In a new book, “The Great American Crime Decline,” (Oxford University Press, 2007), Zimring cites New York City to argue that “crime propensities are not inherent characteristics of either a population or an urban setting but rather are highly variable aspects of an urban environment.”
A “hopeful lesson,” Zimring concludes, is that the high crime rates of the 1980s and early 1990s “are not hardwired into the ecology of modern life or the cultural values of high-risk youth.” The law professor suggests that New York “is now the obvious laboratory for studying the effects of significant crime reduction on the social, economic, and political life of cities.” He also recommends a closer comparison between the experiences of the United States and Canada. Unlike the U.S., Canada did not sharply increase police hiring or the numbers in prison; yet, Canda’s crime decrease mirrored that of the United States. Overall, the crime drop “was a classic example of multiple causation, with none of the many contributing causes playing a dominant role,” Zimring says.