This is a longer, more detailed, and more statistics-laden version of an op ed piece that ran in the Financial Times on Friday. As mysterious as the downward trend in crime may be (and as vexing a challenge as it’s posed to professional explainers), it’s obviously a welcome development—and is very possibly a bellwether of even more positive changes in our society.
Almost three years into the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, with massive unemployment and pessimism rife, America’s crime rates are falling and no one—not our pundits, policemen, or politicians, our professors or city planners—can tell us why. As I wrote about here, there were 5.5 percent fewer murders, forcible rapes, robberies and aggravated assaults reported in 2010 than in 2009, according to the most recent edition of the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report; property crimes fell by 2.8 percent over the same period and reported arsons dropped by 8.3 percent. And the drop was steepest in America’s biggest cities—which are still popularly believed to be cauldrons of criminality. “While cities and suburbs alike are much safer today than in 1990,” notes a recent report by the Brookings Institution, “central cities—the big cities that make up the hubs of the 100 largest metro areas—benefitted the most from declining crime rates. Among suburban communities, older higher-density suburbs saw crime drop at a faster pace than newer, lower-density emerging and exurban communities on the metropolitan fringe.”