Guest Post: David Garrett on crime levels

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Still plenty of about

This weeks HoS featured a  story on falling crime. The gist of it was that crime was at its lowest since 1982;  we are all victims of manufactured anxiety about crime , and in fact we have never had it so good. The story featured a neat little graph which showed that  “recorded offences” were about the same – actually a little lower – than  they were in 1982. Sadly neither the story nor the graph tells the whole story.

For example, if the graph covered the period back to 1972, it would show a dramatic explosion in crime between then and 1982, when the reassuring line on the graph in the story  begins. If the graph went still further back, it would show violent crime – including  homicide – pretty much as a flat line from the beginning of last century until about 1972, when violent crime began to grow exponentially.

The story uses the “crimes per 10,000 of population” measure, which allows us to compare New York with New Plymouth – the rates are comparable and meaningful   whatever the populations compared. For most of the 20th century, our homicide rate was about 0.5 per 100,000 per year. It is now about three times that – substantially less than 20 years ago it is true, but still three times higher than it was fifty or sixty years ago.

The graph in Sunday’s story  showed total offences, and does indeed show an encouraging fall since 2010 – but more about that in a moment. If the graph had shown violent  crimes only, the picture would not have been anything like as rosy; violent crime has declined much less since its peak in the early 90’s than “recorded crime” generally,  a notoriously unreliable stat, since to be “recorded”, someone has to bother reporting it.

The most interesting thing about the story for me was the sharp drop in crime since 2009 – about the time the National led government moved, albeit rather timidly, away from the “criminals are victims too” policies we had been following for the past 40 years or more. 2009-10 saw  small changes in bail laws, more recalls for breaches of parole, and of course “three strikes”, the effects of which are only now really beginning to be felt.

The liberal academics – something of a tautology since with very few exceptions we have no other kind – will of course ascribe the sharp drop in crime from 2009 to something other  than the factors I have cited. Anything will do for them, so long as it’s not  more punative measures. The current theory is  that removing lead in petrol twenty years ago has caused crime to drop now.

To those who say that to aim for the kind of safe society we once had is a reactionary pipedream, I say this: read up on the precipitate drop in crime in New York since a much more dramatic policy change  in the early 90’s than we have seen began. Back then, there were about 4000 homicides in New York City every year, and the city was widely regarded as “ungovernable”.

Mayor Guiliani refused to accept that, and the New York Police Department were directed to “take back the city”, block by block.  Now, homicides in NYC number in the hundreds annually – about the same level as in the 1960’s – rather than the thousands.  The population hasn’t changed.

We can do the same. Smarter and more comprehensive policing – “broken windows” New Zealand style if you like – has caused crime to plummet in South Auckland,  long our most crime ridden district. I look forward to the day when some fresh faced reporter can show a graph extending back to 1972, or even 1952, and say we now have the same rate of violent crime as we did then. It can be done. We just need the will to continue down the path we tentatively embarked on three years ago.

The point David makes about violent crime being a better indicator than overall crime is one I have often made also.

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