Crime analysts differ over whether an economic downturn always precedes increasing crime rates, says USA Today. One place it is rising is Fitchburg, Ma., which in the past 2½ months has been hit by 22 robberies, an unprecedented number in a city where three or four a month are the norm. Some of the targets have been stores where food and clothing has been taken in addition to money. Thefts from cars have jumped by 164 from last year; car thefts have more than doubled. “This is something we’ve never seen before,” says Police Chief Robert DeMoura. “There has to be some correlation” to the economy.
An October survey of 180 law enforcement agencies by the Police Executive Research Forum, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank, found that 75 percent cited a recent rise in at least one category of property crime. Alfred Blumstein, a Carnegie Mellon University criminologist, says it may take a year or two to determine whether the economy has driven more people to crime. David Kennedy of the Center for Crime Prevention and Control at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice says the demand for illegal drugs drives crime more than a sagging economy. Major surges in crime, he says, have been traced to Prohibition and to the cocaine and crack epidemic of the late 1980s and ’90s. “The public concern is that a tidal wave is coming,” he says. “Unless it is being driven by some other drug epidemic, that’s not going to happen.”