NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

For Public Safety, a New Golden Age

January 5, 2012

The 1950s are often recalled as a golden age in American life -- stable families, rising incomes, wholesome TV shows and low crime rates.  Doesn't sound like 2011, does it?  When it comes to crime, though, there is a striking similarity: We are, believe it or not, in a new golden age, says Steve Chapman of Reason Magazine.

Anyone looking for reasons to fear going out of the house can find plenty.  But the truth is our streets are safer than they have been in a long time.

  • The latest evidence came last month, when the FBI reported that in the first half of 2011, "violent crimes were down 6.4 percent, while property crimes fell 3.7 percent."
  • Murder declined by 5.7 percent, rape by 5.1 percent and robbery by 7.7 percent.

Six-month drops don't mean much by themselves, but this one continues an established trend.  

  • Crime peaked in 1991 and fell steadily before flattening out somewhat in the mid-2000s.
  • Since 2006, both violent crime and property crime have plunged.
  • Today, your chance of being murdered is lower than it was in the late 1950s, a time of enviable peace and order.
  • Robberies have been cut by more than half since their peak.
  • Car thefts are about as common as they were when the Beatles first appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show.

You would think such a welcome trend couldn't last, but it has.  What accounts for the gradual onset of domestic tranquility?

The truth, Carnegie Mellon University criminologist Alfred Blumstein says, is that "no one has a definite explanation."  Lots of factors may have played a role, and simple lessons are hard to find.

Source: Steve Chapman, "For Public Safety, a New Golden Age," Reason Magazine, December 26, 2011.

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