Was the 2015 Crime Hype Based on ‘Fact-Free Fear’?


After front-page stories this year touted a new crime wave in America based on anecdotal evidence from some cities, year-end statistics seem to show that it was largely hype. The New York Times, which faced sharp criticism from the NYPD after publishing a story on June 1 that cited increased violence in the city, skinned back this weekend with a story headlined, “Anxiety Aside, New York Sees Drop in Crime.”

Another Times story, published Aug. 31, was headlined, “Murder Rates Rising Sharply in Many U.S. Cities.” Radley Balko of the Washington Post says the trend was dubious. Homicides increased in some places, including Baltimore, St. Louis and Detroit, but he called those “isolated cases…after long and historic drops.” Balko worries that the crime hype might head off reforms. He writes, “We're finally reconsidering the rash policies that wrecked entire generations of some communities. The 1980s and early 1990s were an era of higher crime and a generally more dangerous society. But those debates were often based on myth, moral panic and political demagoguery. It's one thing to give in to fear when crime really is on the rise. But it would be tragic if the opportunity we have today to reform laws was thwarted by same sort of fact-free fear.”

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