The crime rate increase reported this week by the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics is not surprising, says Northeastern University criminologist James Alan Fox, writing for the Boston Globe. Sure, violent crime was up in 2011 over 2010, but it remained lower than every other year since the early 1990s. The rate of violent crime victimization in 2011 was actually the second best in recent history; but with 2010 being the best, the one year trend from 2010 to 2011 appeared worrisome – an 18 percent surge in violent crime.
The critical lesson is never to make much of a short term change in crime rate, Fox says. One-year changes, be they up or down, are terribly ambiguous in meaning. A sudden jump in crime rate can occur because the latter year was especially bad or because the previous year was especially good. The long-term context helps us better to understand the current situation. Violent crime dropped precipitously during the 1990s, in large part as a reversal of the surge in street crime and gang conflict that plagued the nation in the late 1980s. To borrow on Newton's law, what goes up, generally comes down. During the last decade, the rate of decline slowed, as there was less room for improvement. It appears that we may now be reaching a plateau where it is unlikely that we will see much more improvement, no matter how hard we try, Fox says.