Why is crime rising in many American cities? The Next American City magazine explores some of the possible reasons. Dennis Rosenbaum of the Center for Research in Law and Justice at the University of Illinois at Chicago says the national focus on the Iraq war diverted federal attention from urban crime. “In a few months of war, we spent more overseas than we did in ten years of providing federal support to law enforcement around the country,” he says. Rosenbaum acknowledges there is no guarantee the government would spend money on cities if it didn't spend it on Iraq. Part of the problem is our short attention span. Politicians vying for re-election find it hard to invest in programs that won't produce results in a few years. They focus on the threat of terrorism because it affects everybody, compared to the localized, entrenched reality of urban crime.
The biggest national shortcoming, many criminologists agree, is the government's failure to invest in research. The National Institute of Justice receives $46.5 million to research public safety, compared to $27.9 billion for health research. Without research funding, criminologists can only hypothesize why crime has risen in specific cities and how to combat it. John Eck of the University of Cincinnati cites several theories, including the idea that the economy and wage rates are primary drivers of crime. Some criminologists are finding that cities with high legal immigration rates–including Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, and Miami–have stagnant or declining crime rates, whereas crime has increased in cities with a low legal immigration rate, such as Philadelphia, Baltimore, Milwaukee, and Detroit. Lawrence Sherman of the Jerry Lee Center of Criminology at the University of Pennsylvania argues that what drives immigrants to the country is hope for the future and that hope is infectious.