Wiesbaden, im Oktober 2002Christoph Müller
VFH Wiesbaden, FB Polizei
Today I want to give you a short summary of chapter 7 of the book "The Crime Drop in America". The book is edited by Alfred Blumstein and Joel Wallman and is published in Cambridge University Press by the syndicate of the University of Cambridge, 2000. The book contains reports about criminological studies concerning the development of the crime rate in the United States of America. Chapter 7 is named "Have changes in policing reduced violent crime?"
Since 1990 the crime rate has decreased in the US. What are the reasons for this? The chapter shows a discussion and an evaluation of the different hypotheses. I want to say something to the famous theory called "zero-tolerance-theory".
For better understanding, I would like to introduce you to a figure, that shows how homicide rate in the USA (as an example of violent crime) has changed between 1960 and 1998.
The line shows changes in the number of homicides per 100.000 population. The bars show the rate of change from year to year. The black bars, up of the 0-line, show the increase in homicide rate, the white bars, down the 0-line, show the decrease from one year to the next year.
From 1964 to 1974, there is a steadily increase of the homicide rate. From 1974 until 1990, there were changes, up and down for several times. Then in the beginning of the 1990s there was a durable decrease until the end of the evaluation period in 1998.
If we suppose, that policing had impact on the changes of the crime rate, we must be aware, that policing had impact on the increase of the crime rate, too. So, we should consider the police influence in a larger context.
The police must be seen as a part of a network of institutions, formal institutions and informal institutions. As well as churches, family, courts and schooling the police gets attention, if violent crime grows. This is a serious social concern.
We should be aware, that the response of all institutions lag behind rising crime rates, but over time the effects get more apparent.
It is possible, that focused attention on small areas with very high numbers of crime contributed to the reduction of violent crime. The most plausible hypothesis is that changes in policing interact with other influences. Changes in policing were not the sole or greatest contributor to the drop of violent crime. The police has no substantial and independent impact on the crime rate.
Zero-tolerance is one of the least plausible reasons for contributing to the reduction of violent crime. It was implemented in New York - and only in New York - after violent crime began dropping in New York and the rest of the United States of America. It was implemented with other changes in policing in New York. But there is little evidence of an effect on violent crime in New York and no evidence throughout the USA.
One of these other changes was the increase in number of police officers. Probably this increase had no influence on rates of violent crime. Police agencies had been steadily growing before the crime drop began and the latest surge of hiring police officer started after the decline in violent crime began.
Another criticism is, that crime rate decreases as well in other larger cities that used other policing strategies.
We have to be aware, that each surge in crime has its own separate causes. The last increase at the end of the 1980s might have been due to the appearance of crack cocaine. The next surge of crime has another reason. Each change has its own peculiarity.
When crime ceases to be a major concern, police and the other institutions, reallocate their resource to other concerns, that had been neglected. This might set the stage for another surge in crime.
We can speculate about plausible causes to any increase or decrease in crime. These may not be the same causes important to the previous increase or decrease and they may not be the same causes that produce the next ups and downs of the crime rate. Then we have to find a new and our own response to the increase of crime rate.
We should not look for a single strategy that reduces crime, wherever and whenever it is applied, we should try to find police tactics that do not rely on coercive methods and the application of force.
And therewith I want to end. Thank you for your attention.
Wiesbaden, Oct. 7th, 2002
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