Theo Armour, resident
Homicide in New York City 1920 - 2009
You're concerned about the rise in crime, right? You nod sagely when you see headlines like these: Fox News reports “Violent Crime on the rise…” and Huffington Post reports “…Hate Crimes Rise…”, yes?
Well you couldn’t be more deadly and violently wrong! It turns out that people are getting to be nicer and nicer to each other.
Look at the chart above. The number of murders in New York City was 500 in 1960, climbs to 2245 in 1990, and now it's back down to 500 or so. In the meantime, the population of New York is going from 5.6 million people to 8.4 million people—the number of murders per capita is 30% lower than it was in the 60s and before.
Was this huge decrease in murders due to the brilliant leadership of mayors Giuliani and Bloomberg? It turns out that all violent crime throughout the entire United States has been going down since 1992.
Caption: Violent Crime in the US 1960-2007
But surely our state of California—out here in the wild wild West—must be different. Right? Actually the state of California seems to follow the trend as well.
Caption: Violent Crime in California 1952-2009
But what about our own dear city of San Francisco? With all the bad things we see happening on crimemapping.com, surely there must be bad things happening here.
I can’t find easily accessible charts or data going back before 1995, but even with the limited data set, you can see that the overall trend for violent crime in San Francisco is downward.
Images source:Images: Theo Armour
Total violent crime in San Francisco has dropped from 10,993 incidents in 1995 to 5,960 incidents in 2009. Given the population growth in that period, the statistics show that the risk of crime has just about dropped in half. This decrease in crime—at a time of high unemployment and looser morals and violent media—raises so many questions.
Why haven’t I heard about this before?
Why don’t I feel safer? Why is this happening? What causing more and more people to commit fewer and fewer crimes?
What about my district? Or my Zip code or even my street? Could these be outside the norms and not following the trends?
Crime still happens, what can I do to minimize my personal risk of being involved in a crime? Crimes are still happening and the police seem to do nothing about it. How can we get the police to act?
If crime rates are dropping, then do we need to continue expanding the police force, court system and correctional facilities? And the most fascinating questions may well be: Are people becoming nicer to one another? And, if so, why?
In an ongoing series of posts I would like to explore these questions in more detail.
On a personal note, I think I should explain that these thoughts—and questions—arise from a previous series of posts I wrote concerning proposed questions for the current crop of San Francisco mayoral candidates.
While writing those posts I began to understand that a huge portion of the San Francisco budget is devoted to dealing with the effects of crime—hospitals treat the injured, firemen put out arson-caused fires, police catch crooks, judges put crooks on trial and so on.
It appears to me that at least 60% of the $6 billion San Francisco will spend this year will be spent on dealing with past, present and future crime. And dealing with crime may actually be even as high as 80% of the San Francisco budget.
Well, this observation of mine caused a brain freeze. Let me explain what I think happened.
There’s a saying I like: “If you play with garbage, your hands will get dirty.” If such a huge portion of San Francisco's budget actually does revolve around crime, is this something I really wanted to research?
No, not at all. I’m a techie. My job is to make shiny new, helpful, useful good things. I really don’t like dealing with old muck. So my brain quietly went off somewhere, and the series on mayoral candidates was never continued.
Jumping back to the present
This recent discovery that crime is on the wane and nicety on the rise is not only an interesting topic to cover in and of itself but it also begs the fascinating question: Now that people are becoming nicer, how should a large American city like San Francisco update its infrastructure?