Criminalité: Cachez cette religion que je ne saurai voir ! (Crime mystery of the century: Why don’t people turn to crime when times are tough ?)

https://i1.wp.com/mjcdn.motherjones.com/preset_51/381in_lead_a_630.jpghttp://prawfsblawg.blogs.com/.a/6a00d8341c6a7953ef0192ab9019c0970d-800wihttps://i1.wp.com/www.motherjones.com/files/blog_crime_baseline_lead_1.jpg
https://i2.wp.com/www.gasworks.org.uk/photos/large/471px-Hausbuch_Wolfegg_12r_Jupiter_LR.jpghttps://i1.wp.com/www.strangenotions.com/wp-content/uploads/Americas-Blessings.jpghttps://i0.wp.com/www.independent.org/images/books-hires/victory_of_reason_hirez.jpgNe croyez pas que je sois venu apporter la paix sur la terre; je ne suis pas venu apporter la paix, mais l’épée. Car je suis venu mettre la division entre l’homme et son père, entre la fille et sa mère, entre la belle-fille et sa belle-mère; et l’homme aura pour ennemis les gens de sa maison.  Jésus (Matthieu 10 : 34-36)
Quand les hommes se diront: Paix et sécurité! c’est alors que tout d’un coup fondra sur eux la perdition. Paul (lettre aux Thessaloniciens 5: 3)
Il n’y a plus ni Juif ni Grec, il n’y a plus ni esclave ni homme libre, il n’y a plus ni homme ni femme; car tous vous êtes un en Jésus-Christ. Paul
Les mondes anciens étaient comparables entre eux, le nôtre est vraiment unique. Sa supériorité dans tous les domaines est tellement écrasante, tellement évidente que, paradoxalement, il est interdit d’en faire état. René Girard
On apprend aux enfants qu’on a cessé de chasser les sorcières parce que la science s’est imposée aux hommes. Alors que c’est le contraire: la science s’est imposée aux hommes parce que, pour des raisons morales, religieuses, on a cessé de chasser les sorcières. René Girard
Notre monde est de plus en plus imprégné par cette vérité évangélique de l’innocence des victimes. L’attention qu’on porte aux victimes a commencé au Moyen Age, avec l’invention de l’hôpital. L’Hôtel-Dieu, comme on disait, accueillait toutes les victimes, indépendamment de leur origine. Les sociétés primitives n’étaient pas inhumaines, mais elles n’avaient d’attention que pour leurs membres. Le monde moderne a inventé la «victime inconnue», comme on dirait aujourd’hui le «soldat inconnu». (….) le christianisme peut maintenant continuer à s’étendre même sans la loi, car ses grandes percées intellectuelles et morales, notre souci des victimes et notre attention à ne pas nous fabriquer de boucs émissaires, ont fait de nous des chrétiens qui s’ignorent. (…) il faut distinguer deux choses. Il y a d’abord le texte chrétien qui pénètre lentement dans la conscience des hommes. Et puis il y a la façon dont les hommes l’interprètent. De ce point de vue, il est évident que le Moyen Age n’interprétait pas le christianisme comme nous. Mais nous ne pouvons pas leur en faire le reproche. Pas plus que nous pouvons faire le reproche aux Polynésiens d’avoir été cannibales. Parce que cela fait partie d’un développement historique.(…)  Mais, s’il est très bien de compatir au sort des malheureux, il faut aussi reconnaître que nous vivons dans la meilleure société que le monde ait jamais connue. Nous connaissons une amélioration du social qui dure depuis le haut Moyen Age. Et notre souci des victimes, pris dans son ensemble comme réalité, n’a pas d’équivalent dans l’histoire des sociétés humaines. (…) On ne peut donc pas supprimer les possibilités positives de cet univers : nous sommes toujours plus libres, du bien et du mal. C’est ce qui fait que notre époque est loin d’être terne, ennuyeuse ou désenchantée. Elle est à mon avis extraordinairement mouvementée, tragique, émouvante et intéressante à vivre. C’est-à-dire toujours ouverte sur les extrêmes du bien et du mal. René Girard
Jusqu’à présent, les textes de l’Apocalypse faisaient rire. Tout l’effort de la pensée moderne a été de séparer le culturel du naturel. La science consiste à montrer que les phénomènes culturels ne sont pas naturels et qu’on se trompe forcément si on mélange les tremblements de terre et les rumeurs de guerre, comme le fait le texte de l’Apocalypse. Mais, tout à coup, la science prend conscience que les activités de l’homme sont en train de détruire la nature. C’est la science qui revient à l’Apocalypse. René Girard
La même force culturelle et spirituelle qui a joué un rôle si décisif dans la disparition du sacrifice humain est aujourd’hui en train de provoquer la disparition des rituels de sacrifice humain qui l’ont jadis remplacé. Tout cela semble être une bonne nouvelle, mais à condition que ceux qui comptaient sur ces ressources rituelles soient en mesure de les remplacer par des ressources religieuses durables d’un autre genre. Priver une société des ressources sacrificielles rudimentaires dont elle dépend sans lui proposer d’alternatives, c’est la plonger dans une crise qui la conduira presque certainement à la violence. Gil Bailie
Religious Americans are more law abiding, have superior mental and physical health, are far more generous vis-à-vis charities, have much better family life, are more successful, and religious couples even have more satisfactory sex lives! The biggest by far has to do with the criminal justice system. If all Americans committed crimes at the same level as those who do not attend religious services, the costs of the criminal justice system would about double to, perhaps, $2 trillion annually. Rodney Stark
Les efforts des policiers dans les quartiers chauds de New York et de Los Angeles sont louables et ont contribué à améliorer la qualité de vie des résidants. Mais ces changements n’expliquent pas tout. Ceux qui y voient une réponse définitive font fausse route. Si la baisse s’expliquait par des changements dans le fonctionnement de la police dans les grandes villes, alors pourquoi observe-t-on une diminution du crime de façon uniforme, partout aux États-Unis? (…)  l’Occident au complet – et notamment le Canada – a connu une baisse du taux de criminalité au cours des 20 dernières années. L’internet, les cellulaires et les jeux vidéo ne peuvent expliquer la baisse, car les crimes ont commencé à chuter de façon uniforme dans les années 90, avant que ces inventions ne prennent leur envol. Et, pour la première fois depuis les années 70, le taux d’incarcération a commencé à baisser aux États-Unis, en 2007. Jumelé avec une hausse spectaculaire du chômage, cela aurait dû créer un mélange explosif. La réalité, c’est que nous n’avons pas de théorie qui puisse expliquer le phénomène. Pour l’instant, c’est un mystère. Frank E. Zimring (Berkeley)
If we eliminated every microgram of lead from the planet, we’d still have plenty of crime. So here’s a way to think about it. If you take a look at violent crime rates in America, you’d expect to see a sort of baseline level of crime. That level will depend on lots of things: poverty, drugs, guns, race, family structure, etc. But starting in the mid-60s, we saw an enormous rise in crime, well above any sensible sort of baseline. Then, in the 90s, we saw an equally enormous decline. (…) Most likely, the reason for this lies with all the usual suspects. But then … there’s the huge crime wave that lasted nearly 50 years from start to finish. That’s the part the lead hypothesis aims to explain. And the reason we need an explanation is simple: the usual suspects simply don’t seem to do a very good job of accounting for a gigantic, temporary rise and fall in violent crime rates. Within the criminology community, literally no one predicted the huge decline in crime that began in the early 90s. Their focus was on all the usual sociological causes, and they had no reason to think those were going to suddenly improve. And they were right. For the most part, they didn’t improve. It’s true that the crack epidemic of the 80s burned out, but no one really knows the underlying reason for that. Policing tactics changed in some places, but crime dropped everywhere, so that’s not a very compelling explanation either. Aside from that, poverty didn’t change much, and neither did race or guns or demographics or the number of broken familes or anything else. The truth is that there’s just not a good conventional explanation for both the huge rise and the huge fall in crime of the past half century. That’s one of the reasons the lead hypothesis deserves such serious consideration. Not only does it fit the data well and make sense based on what we know about the neurological effects of lead. It’s also just about the only good explanation we’ve got. Other factors are still important, and they probably explain rises and falls in the baseline rate of crime. But lead is the best explanation we have for the rest of it. Kevin Drum (Mother Jones)
The key factor is the demographic factor. Generally speaking, the people who go out and kill other people are males between the ages of 16 and 30. Samuel Huntington
Surprisingly, some sociologists think civilization is simply getting less violent and more civilized, Greenberg said. That theory was first proposed by German sociologist Norbert Elias in his book The Civilizing Process. Elias wrote that interpersonal violence had been in decline since the Middle Ages, a statement historians now accept. Elias said that for divine monarchs, like Louis XIV of France, their worth was more measured by their ability at witty badinage and manners than swordsmanship. This more civilized tendency spread to the European middle class and finally, in the nineteenth century, to the working classes. Joel N. Shurkin
At the deepest level, many of these shifts, taken together, suggest that crime in the United States is falling—even through the greatest economic downturn since the Great Depression—because of a big improvement in the culture. The cultural argument may strike some as vague, but writers have relied on it in the past to explain both the Great Depression’s fall in crime and the explosion of crime during the sixties. In the first period, on this view, people took self-control seriously; in the second, self-expression—at society’s cost—became more prevalent. It is a plausible case. Culture creates a problem for social scientists like me, however. We do not know how to study it in a way that produces hard numbers and testable theories. Culture is the realm of novelists and biographers, not of data-driven social scientists. But we can take some comfort, perhaps, in reflecting that identifying the likely causes of the crime decline is even more important than precisely measuring it. James Q. Wilson
Personal violent crime began declining in Western nations as early as the sixteenth century. While this research has emphasized violent crimes, similar processes may hold for crime more generally. Perhaps the rising crime rate from World War II through the early 1990s was simply a small spike that temporarily obscured a much longer downward trend. This long historical sweep may offer little solace to those confronted by crime today, but the encouraging long-term trend suggests explanations with deep roots. Eisner points to subtle shifts in parenting occurring over a long time span; Pinker suggests greater interdependence and broadened circles of people with whom we can empathize. Both draw on classic sociological work by Emile Durkheim and Norbert Elias, who attributed historical changes in crime and social disorder to changes in the relation between individuals and society. The centuries-long crime story is perhaps best explained by the gradual development of formal and informal social controls on our behavior. (…) U.S. homicide rates are more than double those of Canada, Japan, and much of Europe. Nevertheless, the U.S. crime picture has improved markedly, with significant across-the-board drops in violent and property offenses. Moreover, as Baumer points out, even behaviors like drinking, drug use, and risky sex are declining, especially among young people. We cannot explain such a sharp decline without reference to the social institutions, conditions, and practices shaping crime and its control. In particular, social scientists point to punishment, policing, opportunities, economics, demography, and history, though there is little consensus about the relative contribution of each. Further disentangling each factor’s unique contribution is a worthy endeavor, but it should not obscure a fundamental point: it is their entanglement in our social world that reduces crime.  (…) More than 90% of the “Part I” crimes reported to the police involve some kind of financial gain. The relationship between crime and the economy is more complicated than the simple idea that people “turn to crime” when times are tough, though. Contrary to popular expectations, for example, both victimizations and official crime showed especially steep declines from 2007 to 2009, when unemployment rates soared. Robbery, burglary, and household theft victimizations had been falling by a rate of about 4% per year from 1993-2006, but fell by an average of 6 to 7% per year during the Great Recession. This is not because crime is unrelated to economic conditions, but because crime is related to so many other things. For example, when people have less disposable income, they may spend more time in the relative safety of their home and less time in riskier places like bars. As noted above regarding opportunities, another reason crime rates are likely to drop when cash-strapped residents stay home at night in front of a television or computer screen is that their mere presence can help prevent burglary and theft. Chris Uggen and Suzy McElrath
[Dans] le cas de l’Estonie (…)  depuis 1995, les homicides ont chuté de 70 %, les vols de voitures de presque autant. Mais ce petit État postsoviétique n’est pas une exception. Dans les pays développés, la même tendance s’observe. Aux États-Unis, la chute a commencé en 1991 ; en Grande-Bretagne, autour de 1995. En France, la baisse date de 2001. Au Canada également ainsi que dans plusieurs pays d’Europe. (…) sur le cas américain, le plus impressionnant. La criminalité urbaine avait atteint des sommets au début des années 1990. Certains voyaient New York ou Los Angeles comme des jungles urbaines aux mains d’une faune de dealers, mafieux, proxénètes et squatters.
 Puis, contrairement aux prévisions, un véritable miracle s’est produit. La criminalité s’est mise à chuter à partir des années 1990. Globalement, elle a baissé d’un tiers dans les grandes villes, mais dans certains cas, elle a chuté de plus de 50 % ! À New York, le cas le plus spectaculaire, la criminalité a été divisée par quatre (- 78 %) entre le milieu des années 1990 et les années 2000. Sciences Humaines
Que vous soyez spécialiste de la question ou pas, vous avez sans doute déjà entendu cette théorie: quand les temps sont durs, la criminalité augmente. Pourtant, malgré une croissance économique stagnante et un chômage élevé, la criminalité a baissé dans la plupart des pays riches au cours de la dernière décennie. (…) Comment expliquer cette tendance générale qu’un rapide coup d’œil aux statistiques des Nations unies suffit à vérifier? Si la démographie est sans doute un facteur (la population vieillit, alors que ce sont les hommes de 16 ans à 24 ans qui commettent la plupart des crimes), The Economist souligne qu’elle ne peut pas expliquer à elle seule la baisse spectaculaire d’un certain type de criminalité dans des villes comme New York, Los Angeles ou Londres. D’autres hypothèses, comme l’augmentation du nombre de prisonniers, sont difficiles à prouver: si la population carcérale a doublé en Grande-Bretagne, en Australie et aux Etats-Unis, elle a diminué au Canada et aux Pays-Bas, pays qui ont aussi connu une baisse de la criminalité. (…) Le Guardian expliquait quand à lui en avril dernier que certains autres éléments concrets, comme de meilleurs antivols sur les voitures ou des portes et serrures plus résistantes rendaient les atteintes aux biens plus difficiles aujourd’hui. La technologie, qu’il s’agisse des tests d’ADN, de la localisation par téléphone portable ou des caméras de surveillance, a augmenté le risque de se faire prendre. Selon The Economist, l’explication la plus convaincante est plus simple encore. La police fait mieux son travail: « Une combinaison du fait que les policiers parlent aux habitants des quartiers où ils travaillent et du ciblage intensif des endroits mal famés a transformé la manière dont les rues sont protégées. » Si le poids de chaque facteur reste impossible à déterminer, la majorité des experts semblent aujourd’hui s’accorder sur un point: l’augmentation de la criminalité qui a eu lieu un peu partout entre les années 1950 et les années 1980 ressemble de plus en plus à une anomalie de l’histoire. Slate

Attention: une explication peut en cacher une autre !

A l’heure où, avec la France d’une gauche qui s’était une spécialité de le critiquer et une Amérique émasculée par son Carter noir, l’Europe semble enfin se décider à reprendre en Afrique le rôle plus que nécessaire de gendarme du monde

Et où, profitant d’une grève de la police et à l’instar des nouveaux barbares du sud et de l’est qui déferlent sur nos côtes et nos villes, les pillards mettent l’Argentine en coupe réglée …

Pendant que pour défendre leurs damnés de la terre, nos belles âmes de la culture de l’excuse continuent inlassablement à nous seriner avec l’accroissement des inégalités et la violence et le racisme de la répression policière …

Et que pour expliquer l’incroyable baisse de la criminalité (vols de voitures, cambriolages et atteintes aux personnes: homicides, coups et blessures) que connaissent actuellement les Etats-Unis (divisée par deux en une seule génération !) et tout particulièrement leur première ville (de  2 245 homicides en 1990 à  414 l’an dernier et… zéro le 26 novembre 2012 !),  la bible de la bonne conscience de gauche Mother Jones nous ressort l’argument de la baisse du plomb dans l’essence et les peintures …

Comment, derrière l’ensemble des hypothèses qui, du vieillissement de la population à l’amélioration des mesures de protection (alarmes et surveillance, puces électroniques antivol) et de l’action policière (doublement du taux d’incarcération; meilleure utilisation des forces de police: quadrillages ciblés, concentration sur « points chauds », contrôles systématiques) ont toutes à peu près été examinées et ont probablement plus ou moins contribué au résultat général …

Ne pas se réjouir de voir nos sociologues s’intéresser enfin à un phénomène originellement mis à jour par le sociologue allemand Norbert Elias

A savoir le « processus de civilisation », c’est-à-dire une sorte de domestication des pulsions qui vit dans les sociétés occidentales et à partir du XVIe siècle, sur fond de la centralisation des sociétés avec l’institution d’un monopole étatique central de la violence, l’intériorisation par les individus de normes sociétales progressivement plus civilisées ?

Mais, devant l’indéniable origine occidentale d’un phénomène désormais en voie de mondialisation accélérée, comment non plus ne pas s’étonner de l’aveuglement continué des mêmes sociologues …

Face à  l’origine, comme le rappelle inlassablement notre René Girard national, tout aussi indéniablement judéo-chrétienne du phénomène ?

Mais ce non seulement, comme l’a bien montré le sociologue Rodney Stark, au niveau de la pacification de la société par les idées et les adeptes du judéo-christianisme …

Mais aussi, en même temps de par la libération/dislocation des anciens cadres sociétaux qu’il permet/provoque, au niveau même du déclenchement de la crise généralisée que connaissent actuellement nos sociétés occidentales et par contagion désormais la planète entière ?

D’où aussi, comme semblent l’oublier tant les apologistes du christianisme que nos pour le coup bien trop optimistes sociologues et en attestent les récents épisodes d’extrême brutalisation de deux guerres mondiales et plusieurs génocides comme les pages (plus besoin pour cela des textes apocalyptiques de nos bibles) de nos journaux quotidiennement …

Son hélas inévitable pendant, à savoir tant l’extrême fragilité de ladite pacification que la possibilité proprement apocalyptique de son issue finale …

Mystery Of New York’s Falling Crime Rate Remains Unsolved

Are we just becoming more civilized?

Joel N. Shurkin

Inside Science News Service

Feb 13 2013

(ISNS) — In the last 15 years, something dramatic has happened in New York City: the crime rate has dropped precipitously, making the city — where crime once was of epic proportions — the safest major city in America.

How that happened is a matter of considerable controversy, with popular theories ranging from fiercer policing, to abortion, lead paint, and computer-assisted crime prevention programs.

David Greenberg, a sociologist at New York University, believes none of the theories stand up on their own. It could be all or none of the above, he said.

It could also be that Western civilization is just becoming more civilized and less violent, and it is finally showing up in the statistics, even with recent mass shootings in the United States.

Crime rates have fallen in most of the Western world as well as most American cities, but what has happened in New York City, with a population of 8 million, is extraordinary. The rate of violent crime began to decrease in the 1980s, before jumping in the 1990s when crack cocaine made it to the streets in many cities. Then it sank and has continued to do so.

In 1990, there were 2,245 murders in the city. Last year the number was 414, the lowest since police began keeping reliable records.

In one remarkable day, Nov. 26, 2012, there was not a single murder, stabbing or shooting reported in the nation’s largest city, possibly the only time that happened since New York was a small Dutch colony.

« The analysis for homicide showed that rates dropped in every precinct although more in some than in others, » Greenberg wrote in an article published in Justice Quarterly about the current trend. The same is true for other violent crimes, including robberies and assaults.

Greenberg said experts typically offer two common explanations. One is that in 1994 the New York Police Department installed CompStat, a computer program that tracks crime and allows police departments to manage personnel better. Another is the « broken windows » theory: police rigidly enforce misdemeanor crimes in an attempt to change the culture. Essentially, the police department believed that cracking down on offenses from prostitution to begging and excessive noise could help suppress felony crime. Either way, the NYPD takes credit.

For CompStat, the crime rate had already begun dropping when the software was installed. Greenberg also failed to find a causal relationship between an increase in misdemeanor charges and the overall crime rate.

Other theories also have been proposed. Steven Levitt and Steven Dubner, in the book « Freakonomics, » proposed the increase in legal abortions was a factor. There were fewer young males, the demographic sector most responsible for crime. Malcolm Gladwell, in the book « The Tipping Point, » said the increased police activity was just the last factor that ended an epidemic already ebbing. Both theories are highly controversial.

Another theory credits removal of lead from gasoline and paint. Lead causes brain damage and could account for some criminal activity so when lead was removed from gasoline and paint, fewer children were affected.

Greenberg said the evidence to support all those theories is weak.

So what is the answer?

Surprisingly, some sociologists think civilization is simply getting less violent and more civilized, Greenberg said.

That theory was first proposed by German sociologist Norbert Elias in his book The Civilizing Process. Elias wrote that interpersonal violence had been in decline since the Middle Ages, a statement historians now accept.

Elias said that for divine monarchs, like Louis XIV of France, their worth was more measured by their ability at witty badinage and manners than swordsmanship. This more civilized tendency spread to the European middle class and finally, in the nineteenth century, to the working classes.

The decrease also could be partly due to immigration to the city, an influx of people who may be particularly motivated to avoid legal trouble, especially if they are undocumented or because they are determined to make good lives for themselves, Greenberg said.

Then what caused the decline?

« I don’t know, » Greenberg said.

Andrew Karmen, a sociologist at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York agreed.

« People and organizations claimed credit and think they know the reason for the crime drop, but the evidence is insufficient, » Karmen said.

Crime also went down across America and in Europe where no one followed the NYPD tactics, said Karmen, who wrote a book on the subject,  » New York Murder Mystery: The True Story Behind the Crime Crash of the 1990s. »

Karmen agrees that the flow of immigration could be one reason, with the city’s population « refreshing » regularly. Another possibility, frequently ignored, is that New York is a college town. The City University of New York system alone enrolls 250,000 undergraduates and they are a substantial—and generally peaceful—portion of the young population.

Karmen said solving the mystery is important.

« If we don’t know why the crime rate went down, we won’t know what to do when it goes back up, » Karmen said.

Joel Shurkin is a freelance writer based in Baltimore. He is the author of nine books on science and the history of science, and has taught science journalism at Stanford University, UC Santa Cruz and the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

Voir aussi:

Hard Times, Fewer Crimes

The economic downturn has not led to more crime—contrary to the experts’ predictions. So what explains the disconnect? Big changes in American culture, says James Q. Wilson.

James Q. Wilson

The Wall Street Journal

May 28, 2011

When the FBI announced last week that violent crime in the U.S. had reached a 40-year low in 2010, many criminologists were perplexed. It had been a dismal year economically, and the standard view in the field, echoed for decades by the media, is that unemployment and poverty are strongly linked to crime. The argument is straightforward: When less legal work is available, more illegal « work » takes place.

The economist Gary Becker of the University of Chicago, a Nobel laureate, gave the standard view its classic formulation in the 1960s. He argued that crime is a rational act, committed when the criminal’s « expected utility » exceeds that of using his time and other resources in pursuit of alternative activities, such as leisure or legitimate work. Observation may appear to bear this theory out. After all, neighborhoods with elevated crime rates tend to be those where poverty and unemployment are high as well.

But there have long been difficulties with the notion that unemployment causes crime. For one thing, the 1960s, a period of rising crime, had essentially the same unemployment rate as the late 1990s and early 2000s, a period when crime fell. And during the Great Depression, when unemployment hit 25%, the crime rate in many cities went down. Among the explanations offered for this puzzle is that unemployment and poverty were so common during the Great Depression that families became closer, devoted themselves to mutual support, and kept young people, who might be more inclined to criminal behavior, under constant adult supervision. These days, because many families are weaker and children are more independent, we would not see the same effect, so certain criminologists continue to suggest that a 1% increase in the unemployment rate should produce as much as a 2% increase in property-crime rates.

Yet when the recent recession struck, that didn’t happen. As the national unemployment rate doubled from around 5% to nearly 10%, the property-crime rate, far from spiking, fell significantly. For 2009, the Federal Bureau of Investigation reported an 8% drop in the nationwide robbery rate and a 17% reduction in the auto-theft rate from the previous year. Big-city reports show the same thing. Between 2008 and 2010, New York City experienced a 4% decline in the robbery rate and a 10% fall in the burglary rate. Boston, Chicago and Los Angeles witnessed similar declines.

Some scholars argue that the unemployment rate is too crude a measure of economic frustration to prove the connection between unemployment and crime, since it estimates only the percentage of the labor force that is looking for work and hasn’t found it. But other economic indicators tell much the same story. The labor-force participation rate lets us determine the percentage of the labor force that is neither working nor looking for work—individuals who are, in effect, detached from the labor force. These people should be especially vulnerable to criminal inclinations, if the bad-economy-leads-to-crime theory holds. In 2008, though, even as crime was falling, only about half of men aged 16 to 24 (who are disproportionately likely to commit crimes) were in the labor force, down from over two-thirds in 1988, and a comparable decline took place among African-American men (who are also disproportionately likely to commit crimes).

The University of Michigan’s Consumer Sentiment Index offers another way to assess the link between the economy and crime. This measure rests on thousands of interviews asking people how their financial situations have changed over the last year, how they think the economy will do during the next year, and about their plans for buying durable goods. The index measures the way people feel, rather than the objective conditions they face. It has proved to be a very good predictor of stock-market behavior and, for a while, of the crime rate, which tended to climb when people lost confidence. When the index collapsed in 2009 and 2010, the stock market predictably went down with it—but this time, the crime rate went down, too.

So we have little reason to ascribe the recent crime decline to jobs, the labor market or consumer sentiment. The question remains: Why is the crime rate falling?

One obvious answer is that many more people are in prison than in the past. Experts differ on the size of the effect, but I think that William Spelman and Steven Levitt have it about right in believing that greater incarceration can explain about one-quarter or more of the crime decline. Yes, many thoughtful observers think that we put too many offenders in prison for too long. For some criminals, such as low-level drug dealers and former inmates returned to prison for parole violations, that may be so. But it’s true nevertheless that when prisoners are kept off the street, they can attack only one another, not you or your family.

Imprisonment’s crime-reduction effect helps to explain why the burglary, car-theft and robbery rates are lower in the U.S. than in England. The difference results not from the willingness to send convicted offenders to prison, which is about the same in both countries, but in how long America keeps them behind bars. For the same offense, you will spend more time in prison here than in England. Still, prison can’t be the sole reason for the recent crime drop in this country: Canada has seen roughly the same decline in crime, but its imprisonment rate has been relatively flat for at least two decades.

Another possible reason for reduced crime is that potential victims may have become better at protecting themselves by equipping their homes with burglar alarms, putting extra locks on their cars and moving into safer buildings or even safer neighborhoods. We have only the faintest idea, however, about how common these trends are or what effects on crime they may have.

Policing has become more disciplined over the last two decades; these days, it tends to be driven by the desire to reduce crime, rather than simply to maximize arrests, and that shift has reduced crime rates. One of the most important innovations is what has been called hot-spot policing. The great majority of crimes tend to occur in the same places. Put active police resources in those areas instead of telling officers to drive around waiting for 911 calls, and you can bring down crime. The hot-spot idea helped to increase the effectiveness of the New York Police Department’s Compstat program, which uses computerized maps to pinpoint where crime is taking place and enables police chiefs to hold precinct captains responsible for targeting those areas.

Researchers continue to test and refine hot-spot policing. After analyzing data from over 7,000 police arrivals at various locations in Minneapolis, the criminologists Lawrence Sherman and David Weisburd showed that for every minute an officer spent at a spot, the length of time without a crime there after the officer departed went up—until the officer had been gone for more than 15 minutes. After that, the crime rate went up. The police can make the best use of their time by staying at a hot spot for a while, moving on, and returning after 15 minutes.

Some cities now use a computer-based system for mapping traffic accidents and crime rates. They have noticed that the two measures tend to coincide: Where there are more accidents, there is more crime. In Shawnee, Kan., the police spent a lot more time in the 4% of the city where one-third of the crime occurred: Burglaries fell there by 60% (even though in the city as a whole they fell by only 8%), and traffic accidents went down by 17%.

There may also be a medical reason for the decline in crime. For decades, doctors have known that children with lots of lead in their blood are much more likely to be aggressive, violent and delinquent. In 1974, the Environmental Protection Agency required oil companies to stop putting lead in gasoline. At the same time, lead in paint was banned for any new home (though old buildings still have lead paint, which children can absorb).

Tests have shown that the amount of lead in Americans’ blood fell by four-fifths between 1975 and 1991. A 2007 study by the economist Jessica Wolpaw Reyes contended that the reduction in gasoline lead produced more than half of the decline in violent crime during the 1990s in the U.S. and might bring about greater declines in the future. Another economist, Rick Nevin, has made the same argument for other nations.

Another shift that has probably helped to bring down crime is the decrease in heavy cocaine use in many states. Measuring cocaine use is no easy matter; one has to infer it from interviews or from hospital-admission rates. Between 1992 and 2009, the number of admissions for cocaine or crack use fell by nearly two-thirds. In 1999, 9.8% of 12th-grade students said that they had tried cocaine; by 2010, that figure had fallen to 5.5%.

What we really need to know, though, is not how many people tried coke but how many are heavy users. Casual users who regard coke as a party drug are probably less likely to commit serious crimes than heavy users who may resort to theft and violence to feed their craving. But a study by Jonathan Caulkins at Carnegie Mellon University found that the total demand for cocaine dropped between 1988 and 2010, with a sharp decline among both light and heavy users.

Blacks still constitute the core of America’s crime problem. But the African-American crime rate, too, has been falling, probably because of the same non-economic factors behind falling crime in general: imprisonment, policing, environmental changes and less cocaine abuse.

Knowing the exact crime rate of any ethnic or racial group isn’t easy, since most crimes don’t result in arrest or conviction, and those that do may be an unrepresentative fraction of all crimes. Nevertheless, we do know the racial characteristics of those who have been arrested for crimes, and they show that the number of blacks arrested has been falling. Barry Latzer of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice has demonstrated that between 1980 and 2005, arrests of blacks for homicide and other violent crimes fell by about half nationwide.

It’s also suggestive that in the five New York City precincts where the population is at least 80% black, the murder rate fell by 78% between 1990 and 2000. In the black neighborhoods of Chicago, burglary fell by 52%, robbery by 62%, and homicide by 33% between 1991 and 2003. A skeptic might retort that all these seeming gains were merely the result of police officers’ giving up and no longer recording crimes in black neighborhoods. But opinion surveys in Chicago show that, among blacks, fear of crime was cut in half during the same period.

One can cite further evidence of a turnaround in black crime. Researchers at the federal Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention found that in 1980, arrests of young blacks outnumbered arrests of whites more than six to one. By 2002, the gap had been closed to just under four to one.

Drug use among blacks has changed even more dramatically than it has among the population as a whole. As Mr. Latzer points out—and his argument is confirmed by a study by Bruce D. Johnson, Andrew Golub and Eloise Dunlap—among 13,000 people arrested in Manhattan between 1987 and 1997, a disproportionate number of whom were black, those born between 1948 and 1969 were heavily involved with crack cocaine, but those born after 1969 used very little crack and instead smoked marijuana.

The reason was simple: The younger African-Americans had known many people who used crack and other hard drugs and wound up in prisons, hospitals and morgues. The risks of using marijuana were far less serious. This shift in drug use, if the New York City experience is borne out in other locations, can help to explain the fall in black inner-city crime rates after the early 1990s.

John Donohue and Steven Levitt have advanced an additional explanation for the reduction in black crime: the legalization of abortion, which resulted in black children’s never being born into circumstances that would have made them likelier to become criminals. I have ignored that explanation because it remains a strongly contested finding, challenged by two economists at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston and by various academics.

At the deepest level, many of these shifts, taken together, suggest that crime in the United States is falling—even through the greatest economic downturn since the Great Depression—because of a big improvement in the culture. The cultural argument may strike some as vague, but writers have relied on it in the past to explain both the Great Depression’s fall in crime and the explosion of crime during the sixties. In the first period, on this view, people took self-control seriously; in the second, self-expression—at society’s cost—became more prevalent. It is a plausible case.

Culture creates a problem for social scientists like me, however. We do not know how to study it in a way that produces hard numbers and testable theories. Culture is the realm of novelists and biographers, not of data-driven social scientists. But we can take some comfort, perhaps, in reflecting that identifying the likely causes of the crime decline is even more important than precisely measuring it.

—Mr. Wilson is a senior fellow at the Clough Center at Boston College and taught previously at Harvard, UCLA and Pepperdine. His many books include « The Moral Sense, » « Bureaucracy, » and « Thinking About Crime. » This essay is adapted from the forthcoming issue of City Journal, published by the Manhattan Institute.

Voir également:

Six Social Sources of the U.S. Crime Drop

Chris Uggen and Suzy McElrath

The Society pages

Feb 4, 2013

Chris Uggen

Chris Uggen is a sociologist and criminologist at the University of Minnesota. He believes that good science can light the way to a more just and safer world. He is co-editor of The Society Pages.

Suzy

Suzy McElrath is in the sociology program at the University of Minnesota. She studies the sociology of law and criminology, with a focus on mass atrocity, transitional justice, collective memory, and gender violence.

Each year, when the federal government releases new crime statistics, reporters seek out crime experts to help interpret the numbers. But following three decades of climbing crime rates, the downward trend of the past two decades has left even the experts searching for answers. Crime dropped under Democrats like Bill Clinton and Barack Obama and when Republicans like George W. Bush were in charge. Crime dropped during times of peace and times of war, in the boom times of the late 1990s and in the Great Recession era from 2007 to 2009. In recent years, both criminologists and the public have been baffled by the improving crime situation—especially when many other social indicators looked so bleak.

But social scientists are starting to make sense of the big U.S. crime drop. At least among many of the “street” crimes reported by police and victims, today’s crime rate is roughly half what it was just two decades ago. This isn’t because people are twice as nice. Rather, the reasons behind the crime drop involve everything from an aging population to better policing to the rising ubiquity of cell phones. There’s no single “smoking gun” that can account for the drop: both formal social controls, such as police and prisons, and broader shifts in the population and economy play a part. That is, the main drivers are all social. Crime is less likely these days because of incremental changes in our social lives and interaction with others, including shifts in our institutions, technologies, and cultural practices. Before unpacking these social sources of the crime drop, we need to look a little more closely at its timing and variation across offenses, from auto theft to murder.

Dropping Like a Stone

It might not feel as though the United States is appreciably safer, but both violent and property crimes have dropped steadily and substantially for nearly twenty years. Whether looking to “official” crime (reported to the police) or victimization surveys, the story is the same—both violent and property crimes have dropped like a stone. While crime rose throughout much of the 1960s and ‘70s, most of today’s college freshmen have not experienced a significant rise in the crime rate over the course of their lives.

For all the talk about crime rates (technically, the number of offenses divided by the number of people or households in a given place and time to adjust for population changes), we only have good information about trends for a limited set of offenses—street crimes like murder, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, theft, auto theft, and arson. Criminologists generally look to two sources of data to measure these crimes, the “official statistics” reported to the police and compiled as “Part I” offenses in the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports (UCR) and reports from crime victims in the large-scale annual National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS). The official statistics are invaluable for understanding changes over time, because the reports have been consistently collected from almost every U.S. jurisdiction over several decades. The victimization data are also invaluable, because they help account for the “dark figure” of crime—offenses that go unreported to the police and are thus missing from the official statistics. Although both speak to the wellbeing of citizens and their sense of public safety, they do not necessarily show us the whole crime picture (they omit, for example, most white-collar crime and corporate malfeasance). Nevertheless, when victimization data tell the same story as police statistics, criminologists are generally confident that the trend is real rather than a “blip” or a mirage.

First, let’s look at the “Part I” crime rate according to the official FBI statistics. Property crimes like burglary and theft are much more common than violent crimes such as rape and robbery (as shown by the larger numbers on the left axis relative to the right axis). Both were clearly rising from the 1960s to about 1980. After some fluctuation in the 1970s and ‘80s, both rates of reported violence and property crime fell precipitously in 1991. Since then, official statistics show drops of about 49% and 43%, respectively. The sustained drop-off looks even more remarkable when compared to the earlier climb. Official 2011 statistics show offense rates on par with levels last seen in the 1960s for property crimes and in the early ‘70s for violent crime.

The federal government began taking victimization surveys from a nationally representative sample of households in the 1970s. The victimization picture is clouded by recall errors and other survey methodology challenges, but it’s less distorted by unreported crime than the official statistics. Because the survey was re-designed in 1992, we show only the trend in property and violent victimizations from 1993 onward.

Like the official statistics, the victimization data also show a broad-based and long-term crime decline, though there is some evidence of a slight uptick by 2011. There is a drop in violent victimizations through 2009 and a drop in property victimizations through 2010 (apart from a slight rise in 2006 that followed a change in survey methodology). Over this time, violent victimizations fell by 55% (from approximately 50 per 1,000 persons age 12 or older in 1993 to 23 per 1,000 in 2011). Property crimes fell by 57% (from 319 per 1,000 households in 1993 to 139 per 1,000 households in 2011). In both cases, the victim data suggest that the crime drop may be even larger than that suggested by the official statistics.

It isn’t just one type of crime that fell. All seven of the “Part I” offenses reported in the police statistics and the closest corresponding victimization offenses declined by at least 35% from 1993 to 2011. Although the specific offense categories are not directly comparable, similar types of crimes dropped in both the official statistics and the victimization data. For example, the steepest drops occurred for motor vehicle theft, which fell by 62% in official statistics and 74% in the victimization data. Taken together, this provides firm evidence that the crime drop is real, long-lasting, and broad in scope.

Six Social Sources

The big crime drop implies that either fewer people are participating in crime or that those who do participate are committing crime less frequently. But a society’s rate of crime is not a simple aggregation of the number of “crime-prone” individuals with particular psychological or biological characteristics. Under the right or, more precisely, the wrong social conditions, we are all prone to commit criminal acts. Communities therefore attempt to organize social life in ways that make crime less likely. While we often associate crime with institutions such as the police or courts, anything that alters patterns of human interaction can drive the crime rate up or down. This includes the technology in our cars, the places we go for entertainment, and the medical advances affecting reproduction and aging.

The idea that crime is social rather than individual is a prominent theme in much of the best new research. The crime drop partly reflects the work of institutions that are explicitly designed to increase social control, but it also reflects changes in other institutions designed to perform different societal functions.

Scholars have yet to neatly partition the unique contribution of the six social sources of the crime drop, but we can summarize current thinking about their likely impact.

Formal Social Control and Criminal Opportunities

Punishment

Punishment. No discussion of recent U.S. crime trends would be complete without considering our nation’s prison population, which increased from 241,000 in 1975 to 773,000 in 1990 to over 1.6 million in 2010. Because incarceration rose so rapidly, it is tempting to attribute the lion’s share of the crime drop to the incapacitating effects of prison. But if this were the case, as law professor Franklin Zimring points out, we should have seen an earlier crime drop (when incarceration first boomed in the 1970s). Instead, since crime is closely tied to the demography of the life course, new cohorts of potential offenders are always replacing those removed via incarceration. Moreover, many criminologists believe that prisons are actually criminogenic in the long-run, strengthening criminal ties and disrupting non-criminal opportunities when inmates are released.

In one of the most sophisticated studies of the effect of imprisonment on crime, sociologist Bruce Western estimates that roughly nine-tenths of the crime drop during the 1990s would have occurred without any changes in imprisonment. Economist Steven Levitt attributes up to one-third of the total decline to incarceration. Rising rates of imprisonment thus account for at least some of the crime drop in the 1990s and 2000s, with scholars attributing anywhere from 10 to 30% of the decline to America’s incarceration boom.

Policing

Policing. Both public and private policing strategies have changed considerably over the past several decades, as have the technologies available to law enforcement. Zimring and others conclude that “cops matter,” especially in explaining New York City’s crime decline. More specifically, criminologists David Weisburd and Cody Telep identify targeted policing of high-crime “hot spots,” gun crimes, and high-rate offenders, as well as proactive problem-oriented policing and the use of DNA evidence as police practices that reduce crime. In contrast, they find little evidence for the effectiveness of policing tactics like random preventive patrol, follow-up visits in domestic violence cases, and Drug Abuse Resistance Education (the DARE program).

While Levitt is skeptical about the role of new policing strategies, he attributes a portion of the 1990s crime drop to increases in the number of officers on the street. Because of the criminogenic effects of prison, scholars such as economist Steven Durlauf and criminologist Daniel Nagin propose shifting a greater share of criminal justice funding in policing. Effective law enforcement is part of the picture, says criminologist John MacDonald, but he also argues that public-private security partnerships such as targeted “business improvement districts” have helped to sustain the decline. The unique contribution of policing to the current crime drop is likely significant, but limited—accounting for perhaps 10 to 20% of the overall decline. Moreover, the effectiveness of the formal social controls provided by police depends, in large part, on support from informal social controls provided by families and communities.

Opportunities

Opportunities. Apart from changes in prisons and policing, the opportunities for crime have changed rapidly and dramatically since the 1990s. Technology isn’t an obvious social source of the crime drop, but people have been connecting in fundamentally different ways in the past two decades, altering the risks and rewards of criminal behavior. When it comes to “target hardening” (crime prevention through environmental design), simple changes can make an enormous difference. Recall that the biggest drop among all crime categories was in auto theft—in the United States and around the world, new technologies like car immobilizers, alarms, and central locking and tracking devices have effectively reduced this crime.

More generally, surveillance provides guardianship over ourselves and our property. It may even deter others from acting against us. With regard to a now-common technology, economists Jonathan Klick and Thomas Stratmann and criminologist John MacDonald point to the amazing proliferation of cell phones. They argue that cells increase surveillance and a would-be offender’s risk of apprehension, which affects the perceived costs of crime. Many potential victims now have easy access to a camera and are within a few finger-swipes of a call to 9-1-1. In a follow-up interview with the authors about his research, MacDonald said that the crime drop is “driven in part by target hardening, in part by consumer technological shifts, and in part by the movement of people’s nighttime activities back to the house.” In sum, where we spend our time and who is watching us likely plays a big role in the recent crime decline.

Of course, efforts to constrain criminal opportunities can also constrain non-criminal activities—and while most of us welcome the declining crime rates that accompany greater surveillance, we are far more ambivalent about being watched ourselves. As criminologist Eric Baumer explained to the authors, “not only are we spending more time off the streets and on a computer, but we are being watched or otherwise connected to some form of ‘social control’ pretty constantly when we are out and about.” It is difficult to quantify how myriad small changes in criminal opportunities affected the crime drop, but their combined contribution may be on a par with that of formal policing or prisons.

Social Trends and Institutional Change

Economics

Economics. More than 90% of the “Part I” crimes reported to the police involve some kind of financial gain. The relationship between crime and the economy is more complicated than the simple idea that people “turn to crime” when times are tough, though. Contrary to popular expectations, for example, both victimizations and official crime showed especially steep declines from 2007 to 2009, when unemployment rates soared. Robbery, burglary, and household theft victimizations had been falling by a rate of about 4% per year from 1993-2006, but fell by an average of 6 to 7% per year during the Great Recession.

This is not because crime is unrelated to economic conditions, but because crime is related to so many other things. For example, when people have less disposable income, they may spend more time in the relative safety of their home and less time in riskier places like bars. As noted above regarding opportunities, another reason crime rates are likely to drop when cash-strapped residents stay home at night in front of a television or computer screen is that their mere presence can help prevent burglary and theft.

Criminologists Richard Rosenfeld and Robert Fornango suggest that consumer confidence and the perception of economic hardship may account for as much as one-third of the recent reduction in robbery and property crime. Nevertheless, while economic recessions and consumer sentiment are likely to play some role, they cannot account for the long and steady declines shown in the charts above—boom or bust, crime rates have been dropping for twenty years. For this reason, most criminologists attribute only a small share of the crime drop to economic conditions.

Demography

Demography. Crime, it seems, is largely a young man’s game. For most offenses, crime and arrests peak in the late teen years and early twenties, declining quickly thereafter. During the 1960s and 1970s, the large number of teens and young adults in the Baby Boom cohort drove crime rates higher. In societies that are growing older, such as the contemporary United States, there are simply fewer of the young men who make up the majority of criminal offenders and victims. Due to these life course processes, the age and gender composition of a society is an underlying factor that structures its rate of crime.

An influx of new immigrants might also be contributing to lower crime rates. According to research by sociologist Robert Sampson and his colleagues, immigration can be “protective” against crime, with first-generation immigrants being significantly less likely to commit violence than third-generation Americans, after adjusting for personal and neighborhood characteristics.

While criminologists estimate that demographic changes can account for perhaps 10% of the recent crime drop, these factors are changing too slowly to explain why crime was essentially halved within the course of a single generation.

Social Dynamics

Longer-term Social Dynamics. Drawing back the historical curtain on U.S. crime rates puts the recent drop in perspective. So argued historian Eric Monkkonen, who showed that the urban homicide rates of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were on a par with the “peak” rates observed in the early 1990s. In fact, historical evidence amassed by scholars including psychologist Steven Pinker and historical criminologist Manuel Eisner convincingly shows that personal violent crime began declining in Western nations as early as the sixteenth century. While this research has emphasized violent crimes, similar processes may hold for crime more generally. Perhaps the rising crime rate from World War II through the early 1990s was simply a small spike that temporarily obscured a much longer downward trend.

This long historical sweep may offer little solace to those confronted by crime today, but the encouraging long-term trend suggests explanations with deep roots. Eisner points to subtle shifts in parenting occurring over a long time span; Pinker suggests greater interdependence and broadened circles of people with whom we can empathize. Both draw on classic sociological work by Emile Durkheim and Norbert Elias, who attributed historical changes in crime and social disorder to changes in the relation between individuals and society. The centuries-long crime story is perhaps best explained by the gradual development of formal and informal social controls on our behavior. In this light, Baumer argues that we should at least think more expansively about the contemporary crime drop. We cannot say for certain where the crime rate will be in five years, but if we had to bet where the crime rate would be in one hundred years, we could be reasonably confident it’d be measurably lower than it is today.

Room for Improvement

Criminologists almost universally acknowledge a sizeable crime drop over the last twenty years. This does not mean that everyone’s neighborhood became safer or that crime in the United States is low relative to other industrialized nations. In fact, U.S. homicide rates are more than double those of Canada, Japan, and much of Europe. Nevertheless, the U.S. crime picture has improved markedly, with significant across-the-board drops in violent and property offenses. Moreover, as Baumer points out, even behaviors like drinking, drug use, and risky sex are declining, especially among young people.

We cannot explain such a sharp decline without reference to the social institutions, conditions, and practices shaping crime and its control. In particular, social scientists point to punishment, policing, opportunities, economics, demography, and history, though there is little consensus about the relative contribution of each. Further disentangling each factor’s unique contribution is a worthy endeavor, but it should not obscure a fundamental point: it is their entanglement in our social world that reduces crime.

Recommended Reading

Eric P. Baumer and Kevin Wolff. Forthcoming. “Evaluating the Contemporary Crime Drop(s) in America, New York City, and Many Other Places,” Justice Quarterly. An up-to-the-minute appraisal of explanations for local, national, and global crime trends.

Manuel Eisner. 2003. “Long-Term Historical Trends in Violent Crime,” Crime and Justice. A rich treatment of the decline in European homicide rates from the 16th to 20th centuries.

Steven D. Levitt. 2004. “Understanding Why Crime Fell in the 1990s: Four Factors that Explain the Decline and Six that Do Not,” Journal of Economic Perspectives. A systematic appraisal of explanations for the crime decline by the renowned economist and Freakonomics author.

Eric H. Monkkonen. 2002. “Homicide in New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago,” The Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology. A careful historical examination of homicide in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Franklin E. Zimring. 2007. The Great American Crime Decline. A well-written and thoroughgoing account of the U.S. crime drop.

– See more at: http://thesocietypages.org/papers/crime-drop/#sthash.craHnp8m.dpuf

Voir encore:

America’s falling crime rate

Good news is no news

Americans are committing fewer crimes, though nobody seems to know quite why

Jun 2nd 2011

INTUITIVE theories are often easier to believe in than to prove. For instance: conventional wisdom says that the crime rate should rise during a recession. When people are out of work and out of money, the thinking goes, they turn to crime. But the evidence backing this theory is at best equivocal. There seem to be some links between crime and economic conditions, but they are neither as direct nor clear as one might assume. Crime rose during the Roaring Twenties then fell in the Depression. America’s economy expanded and crime rates rose in the 1960s. Rates fell throughout the 1990s, when America’s economy was healthy, but they kept falling during the recession in the early 2000s (see chart).

And during the current downturn, the unemployment rate rose as the crime rate fell. Between 2008 and 2009 violent crime fell by 5.3% and property crime by 4.6%; between 2009 and 2010, according to the preliminary Uniform Crime Report released by the FBI on May 23rd, violent crime fell by another 5.5% and property crime by 2.8%. Robberies—precisely the crime one might expect to rise during tough economic times—fell by 9.5% between 2009 to 2010. The decline in violent crimes was sharpest in small towns, where the rate dropped by more than 25%, and among regions sharpest in the South, which saw a 7.5% decline. Only two cities with more than 1m people—San Antonio and New York—saw their crime rates rise. And some perspective is warranted there: in 1991 around 2,200 people were murdered in New York. Last year just 536 were. Overall, America’s violent-crime rate is at its lowest level in around 40 years, and its murder rate at its lowest in almost 50.

According to the social scientists, this was not supposed to happen. In 1995 James Wilson, who came up with the “broken windows” theory of crime prevention widely credited with making New York safer, warned that by 2000 there would be “30,000 more young muggers, killers and thieves than we have now. Get ready.” One year later John DiLulio, another political scientist who studies crime, warned of a wave of “juvenile super-predators” wreaking havoc by 2010. Yet even as they wrote, the violent-crime rate had already begun to fall. Except for a bit of a rise from 2004 to 2006, it has fallen every year since 1991.

Although nobody predicted the striking decline in crime during the 1990s, in hindsight theories explaining it abound. Some give credit to smarter police tactics: particularly quantitative methods and “broken windows” policing. Others point to the increased availability of legal abortion in the 1970s, resulting in fewer children born to teenage, unwed and poor mothers: precisely the sorts of children who commit crimes at high rates during adolescence. There is also the waning of violence associated with the crack market, and the increased incarceration rate, which keeps more criminals off the street for longer (though at tremendous cost).

Although these factors explain the drop since the late 1980s, they do not explain the sharp drop in the past two years. For that Al Blumstein, a criminologist who heads the National Consortium on Violence Research, posits an “Obama effect”, in which the election of America’s first black president inspires a significant number of young black men away from violence. And indeed between 2008 and 2009, the numbers of blacks arrested for murder and robbery each declined by over 2%, though this theory has more narrative than evidentiary appeal.

Another theory concerns lead. Exposure to lead in childhood has been linked to aggression and criminal behaviour in adults. Jessica Wolpaw Reyes, an economist at Amherst College, argues that the decline in American children’s exposure to lead since it was phased out of gasoline in the 1970s and removed almost entirely by 1985, accounts for much of the decline in violent crime in the 1990s. It may account for even more, as more of America’s unleaded children enter adolescence and their early 20s. And then there are those perennial bogeymen, video games and the internet, affordable forms of entertainment that keep people inside, and away from real crime and drugs.

Voir de même:

America’s Real Criminal Element: Lead

New research finds Pb is the hidden villain behind violent crime, lower IQs, and even the ADHD epidemic. And fixing the problem is a lot cheaper than doing nothing.

Kevin Drum

Mother Jones

Jan. 3, 2013

When Rudy Giuliani ran for mayor of New York City in 1993, he campaigned on a platform of bringing down crime and making the city safe again. It was a comfortable position for a former federal prosecutor with a tough-guy image, but it was more than mere posturing. Since 1960, rape rates had nearly quadrupled, murder had quintupled, and robbery had grown fourteenfold. New Yorkers felt like they lived in a city under siege.

Throughout the campaign, Giuliani embraced a theory of crime fighting called « broken windows, » popularized a decade earlier by James Q. Wilson and George L. Kelling in an influential article in The Atlantic. [8] « If a window in a building is broken and is left unrepaired, » they observed, « all the rest of the windows will soon be broken. » So too, tolerance of small crimes would create a vicious cycle ending with entire neighborhoods turning into war zones. But if you cracked down on small crimes, bigger crimes would drop as well.

Giuliani won the election, and he made good on his crime-fighting promises by selecting Boston police chief Bill Bratton as the NYPD’s new commissioner. Bratton had made his reputation as head of the New York City Transit Police, where he aggressively applied broken-windows policing to turnstile jumpers and vagrants in subway stations. With Giuliani’s eager support, he began applying the same lessons to the entire city, going after panhandlers, drunks, drug pushers, and the city’s hated squeegee men. And more: He decentralized police operations and gave precinct commanders more control, keeping them accountable with a pioneering system called CompStat that tracked crime hot spots in real time.

The results were dramatic. In 1996, the New York Times reported [9] that crime had plunged for the third straight year, the sharpest drop since the end of Prohibition. Since 1993, rape rates had dropped 17 percent, assault 27 percent, robbery 42 percent, and murder an astonishing 49 percent. Giuliani was on his way to becoming America’s Mayor and Bratton was on the cover of Time. It was a remarkable public policy victory.

But even more remarkable is what happened next. Shortly after Bratton’s star turn, political scientist John DiIulio warned that the echo of the baby boom would soon produce a demographic bulge of millions of young males that he famously dubbed « juvenile super-predators [10]. » Other criminologists nodded along. But even though the demographic bulge came right on schedule, crime continued to drop. And drop. And drop. By 2010, violent crime rates in New York City had plunged 75 percent from their peak in the early ’90s.

All in all, it seemed to be a story with a happy ending, a triumph for Wilson and Kelling’s theory and Giuliani and Bratton’s practice. And yet, doubts remained. For one thing, violent crime actually peaked in New York City in 1990, four years before the Giuliani-Bratton era. By the time they took office, it had already dropped 12 percent.

The PB Effect

What happens when you expose a generation of kids to high lead levels? Crime and teen pregnancy data two decades later tell a startling story.

Second, and far more puzzling, it’s not just New York that has seen a big drop in crime. In city after city, violent crime peaked in the early ’90s and then began a steady and spectacular decline. Washington, DC, didn’t have either Giuliani or Bratton, but its violent crime rate has dropped 58 percent since its peak. Dallas’ has fallen 70 percent. Newark: 74 percent. Los Angeles: 78 percent.

There must be more going on here than just a change in policing tactics in one city. But what?

There are, it turns out, plenty of theories. When I started research for this story, I worked my way through a pair of thick [11] criminology tomes [12]. One chapter regaled me with the « exciting possibility » that it’s mostly a matter of economics: Crime goes down when the economy is booming and goes up when it’s in a slump. Unfortunately, the theory doesn’t seem to hold water—for example, crime rates have continued to drop recently despite our prolonged downturn.

Another chapter suggested that crime drops in big cities were mostly a reflection of the crack epidemic of the ’80s finally burning itself out. A trio of authors identified three major « drug eras » in New York City, the first dominated by heroin, which produced limited violence, and the second by crack, which generated spectacular levels of it. In the early ’90s, these researchers proposed, the children of CrackGen switched to marijuana, choosing a less violent and more law-abiding lifestyle. As they did, crime rates in New York and other cities went down.

Another chapter told a story of demographics: As the number of young men increases, so does crime. Unfortunately for this theory, the number of young men increased during the ’90s, but crime dropped anyway.

There were chapters in my tomes on the effect of prison expansion. On guns and gun control. On family. On race. On parole and probation. On the raw number of police officers. It seemed as if everyone had a pet theory. In 1999, economist Steven Levitt, later famous as the coauthor of Freakonomics, teamed up with John Donohue to suggest that crime dropped because of Roe v. Wade [13]; legalized abortion, they argued, led to fewer unwanted babies, which meant fewer maladjusted and violent young men two decades later.

But there’s a problem common to all of these theories: It’s hard to tease out actual proof. Maybe the end of the crack epidemic contributed to a decline in inner-city crime, but then again, maybe it was really the effect of increased incarceration, more cops on the beat, broken-windows policing, and a rise in abortion rates 20 years earlier. After all, they all happened at the same time.

To address this problem, the field of econometrics gives researchers an enormous toolbox of sophisticated statistical techniques. But, notes statistician and conservative commentator Jim Manzi in his recent book Uncontrolled [14], econometrics consistently fails to explain most of the variation in crime rates. After reviewing 122 known field tests, Manzi found that only 20 percent demonstrated positive results for specific crime-fighting strategies, and none of those positive results were replicated in follow-up studies.

Did Lead Make You Dumber?

Even low levels have a significant effect.

So we’re back to square one. More prisons might help control crime, more cops might help, and better policing might help. But the evidence is thin for any of these as the main cause. What are we missing?

Experts often suggest that crime resembles an epidemic. But what kind? Karl Smith, a professor of public economics and government at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, has a good rule of thumb for categorizing epidemics [15]: If it spreads along lines of communication, he says, the cause is information. Think Bieber Fever. If it travels along major transportation routes, the cause is microbial. Think influenza. If it spreads out like a fan, the cause is an insect. Think malaria. But if it’s everywhere, all at once—as both the rise of crime in the ’60s and ’70s and the fall of crime in the ’90s seemed to be—the cause is a molecule.

A molecule? That sounds crazy. What molecule could be responsible for a steep and sudden decline in violent crime?

Well, here’s one possibility: Pb(CH2CH3)4.

In 1994, Rick Nevin was a consultant working for the US Department of Housing and Urban Development on the costs and benefits of removing lead paint from old houses. This has been a topic of intense study because of the growing body of research linking lead exposure in small children with a whole raft of complications later in life, including lower IQ, hyperactivity, behavioral problems, and learning disabilities.

But as Nevin was working on that assignment, his client suggested they might be missing something. A recent study had suggested a link between childhood lead exposure and juvenile delinquency later on. Maybe reducing lead exposure had an effect on violent crime too?

That tip took Nevin in a different direction. The biggest source of lead in the postwar era, it turns out, wasn’t paint. It was leaded gasoline. And if you chart the rise and fall of atmospheric lead caused by the rise and fall of leaded gasoline consumption, you get a pretty simple upside-down U: Lead emissions from tailpipes rose steadily from the early ’40s through the early ’70s, nearly quadrupling over that period. Then, as unleaded gasoline began to replace leaded gasoline, emissions plummeted.

Gasoline lead may explain as much as 90 percent of the rise and fall of violent crime over the past half century.

Intriguingly, violent crime rates followed the same upside-down U pattern. The only thing different was the time period: Crime rates rose dramatically in the ’60s through the ’80s, and then began dropping steadily starting in the early ’90s. The two curves looked eerily identical, but were offset by about 20 years.

So Nevin dove in further, digging up detailed data on lead emissions and crime rates to see if the similarity of the curves was as good as it seemed. It turned out to be even better: In a 2000 paper [16] (PDF) he concluded that if you add a lag time of 23 years, lead emissions from automobiles explain 90 percent of the variation in violent crime in America. Toddlers who ingested high levels of lead in the ’40s and ’50s really were more likely to become violent criminals in the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s.

And with that we have our molecule: tetraethyl lead, the gasoline additive invented by General Motors in the 1920s to prevent knocking and pinging in high-performance engines. As auto sales boomed after World War II, and drivers in powerful new cars increasingly asked service station attendants to « fill ‘er up with ethyl, » they were unwittingly creating a crime wave two decades later.

It was an exciting conjecture, and it prompted an immediate wave of…nothing. Nevin’s paper was almost completely ignored, and in one sense it’s easy to see why—Nevin is an economist, not a criminologist, and his paper was published in Environmental Research, not a journal with a big readership in the criminology community. What’s more, a single correlation between two curves isn’t all that impressive, econometrically speaking. Sales of vinyl LPs rose in the postwar period too, and then declined in the ’80s and ’90s. Lots of things follow a pattern like that. So no matter how good the fit, if you only have a single correlation it might just be a coincidence. You need to do something more to establish causality.

As it turns out, however, a few hundred miles north someone was doing just that. In the late ’90s, Jessica Wolpaw Reyes was a graduate student at Harvard casting around for a dissertation topic that eventually became a study she published in 2007 as a public health policy professor at Amherst. « I learned about lead because I was pregnant and living in old housing in Harvard Square, » she told me, and after attending a talk where future Freakonomics star Levitt outlined his abortion/crime theory, she started thinking about lead and crime. Although the association seemed plausible, she wanted to find out whether increased lead exposure caused increases in crime. But how?

In states where consumption of leaded gasoline declined slowly, crime declined slowly. Where it declined quickly, crime declined quickly.

The answer, it turned out, involved « several months of cold calling » to find lead emissions data at the state level. During the ’70s and ’80s, the introduction of the catalytic converter, combined with increasingly stringent Environmental Protection Agency rules, steadily reduced the amount of leaded gasoline used in America, but Reyes discovered that this reduction wasn’t uniform. In fact, use of leaded gasoline varied widely among states, and this gave Reyes the opening she needed. If childhood lead exposure really did produce criminal behavior in adults, you’d expect that in states where consumption of leaded gasoline declined slowly, crime would decline slowly too. Conversely, in states where it declined quickly, crime would decline quickly. And that’s exactly what she found [17].

Meanwhile, Nevin had kept busy as well, and in 2007 he published a new paper looking at crime trends around the world [18] (PDF). This way, he could make sure the close match he’d found between the lead curve and the crime curve wasn’t just a coincidence. Sure, maybe the real culprit in the United States was something else happening at the exact same time, but what are the odds of that same something happening at several different times in several different countries?

Nevin collected lead data and crime data for Australia and found a close match. Ditto for Canada. And Great Britain and Finland and France and Italy and New Zealand and West Germany. Every time, the two curves fit each other astonishingly well. When I spoke to Nevin about this, I asked him if he had ever found a country that didn’t fit the theory. « No, » he replied. « Not one. »

Just this year, Tulane University researcher Howard Mielke published a paper [19] with demographer Sammy Zahran on the correlation of lead and crime at the city level. They studied six US cities that had both good crime data and good lead data going back to the ’50s, and they found a good fit in every single one. In fact, Mielke has even studied lead concentrations at the neighborhood level in New Orleans and shared his maps with the local police. « When they overlay them with crime maps, » he told me, « they realize they match up. »

Location, Location, Location

In New Orleans, lead levels can vary dramatically from one neighborhood to the next—and the poorest neighborhoods tend to be the worst hit.

Maps by Karen Minot

Put all this together and you have an astonishing body of evidence. We now have studies at the international level, the national level, the state level, the city level, and even the individual level. Groups of children have been followed from the womb to adulthood, and higher childhood blood lead levels are consistently associated with higher adult arrest rates for violent crimes [20]. All of these studies tell the same story: Gasoline lead is responsible for a good share of the rise and fall of violent crime over the past half century.

When differences of atmospheric lead density between big and small cities largely went away, so did the difference in murder rates.

Like many good theories, the gasoline lead hypothesis helps explain some things we might not have realized even needed explaining. For example, murder rates have always been higher in big cities than in towns and small cities. We’re so used to this that it seems unsurprising, but Nevin points out that it might actually have a surprising explanation—because big cities have lots of cars in a small area, they also had high densities of atmospheric lead during the postwar era. But as lead levels in gasoline decreased, the differences between big and small cities largely went away. And guess what? The difference in murder rates went away too. Today, homicide rates are similar in cities of all sizes [21]. It may be that violent crime isn’t an inevitable consequence of being a big city after all.

The gasoline lead story has another virtue too: It’s the only hypothesis that persuasively explains both the rise of crime in the ’60s and ’70s and its fall beginning in the ’90s. Two other theories—the baby boom demographic bulge and the drug explosion of the ’60s—at least have the potential to explain both, but neither one fully fits the known data. Only gasoline lead, with its dramatic rise and fall following World War II, can explain the equally dramatic rise and fall in violent crime.

If econometric studies were all there were to the story of lead, you’d be justified in remaining skeptical no matter how good the statistics look. Even when researchers do their best—controlling for economic growth, welfare payments, race, income, education level, and everything else they can think of—it’s always possible that something they haven’t thought of is still lurking in the background. But there’s another reason to take the lead hypothesis seriously, and it might be the most compelling one of all: Neurological research is demonstrating that lead’s effects are even more appalling, more permanent, and appear at far lower levels than we ever thought. For starters, it turns out that childhood lead exposure at nearly any level can seriously and permanently reduce IQ. Blood lead levels are measured in micrograms per deciliter, and levels once believed safe—65 μg/dL, then 25, then 15, then 10—are now known to cause serious damage. The EPA now says [22] flatly that there is « no demonstrated safe concentration of lead in blood, » and it turns out that even levels under 10 μg/dL can reduce IQ by as much as seven points. An estimated 2.5 percent of children nationwide have lead levels above 5 μg/dL.

Is there lead in your house? [2]

Is There Lead in Your House? [2]

But we now know that lead’s effects go far beyond just IQ. Not only does lead promote apoptosis, or cell death, in the brain, but the element is also chemically similar to calcium. When it settles in cerebral tissue, it prevents calcium ions from doing their job, something that causes physical damage to the developing brain that persists into adulthood.

Only in the last few years have we begun to understand exactly what effects this has. A team of researchers at the University of Cincinnati has been following a group of 300 children for more than 30 years and recently performed a series of MRI scans that highlighted the neurological differences between subjects who had high and low exposure to lead during early childhood.

High childhood exposure damages a part of the brain linked to aggression control and « executive functions. » And the impact turns out to be greater among boys.

One set of scans [23] found that lead exposure is linked to production of the brain’s white matter—primarily a substance called myelin, which forms an insulating sheath around the connections between neurons. Lead exposure degrades both the formation and structure of myelin, and when this happens, says Kim Dietrich, one of the leaders of the imaging studies, « neurons are not communicating effectively. » Put simply, the network connections within the brain become both slower and less coordinated.

A second study [24] found that high exposure to lead during childhood was linked to a permanent loss of gray matter in the prefrontal cortex—a part of the brain associated with aggression control as well as what psychologists call « executive functions »: emotional regulation, impulse control, attention, verbal reasoning, and mental flexibility. One way to understand this, says Kim Cecil, another member of the Cincinnati team, is that lead affects precisely the areas of the brain « that make us most human. »

So lead is a double whammy: It impairs specific parts of the brain responsible for executive functions and it impairs the communication channels between these parts of the brain. For children like the ones in the Cincinnati study, who were mostly inner-city kids with plenty of strikes against them already, lead exposure was, in Cecil’s words, an « additional kick in the gut. » And one more thing: Although both sexes are affected by lead, the neurological impact turns out to be greater among boys than girls.

Other recent [25] studies link [26] even minuscule blood lead levels with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Even at concentrations well below those usually considered safe—levels still common today—lead increases the odds of kids developing ADHD.

In other words, as Reyes summarized the evidence in her paper, even moderately high levels of lead exposure are associated with aggressivity, impulsivity, ADHD, and lower IQ. And right there, you’ve practically defined the profile of a violent young offender.

Needless to say, not every child exposed to lead is destined for a life of crime. Everyone over the age of 40 was probably exposed to too much lead during childhood, and most of us suffered nothing more than a few points of IQ loss. But there were plenty of kids already on the margin, and millions of those kids were pushed over the edge from being merely slow or disruptive to becoming part of a nationwide epidemic of violent crime. Once you understand that, it all becomes blindingly obvious. Of course massive lead exposure among children of the postwar era led to larger numbers of violent criminals in the ’60s and beyond. And of course when that lead was removed in the ’70s and ’80s, the children of that generation lost those artificially heightened violent tendencies.

Police chiefs « want to think what they do on a daily basis matters, » says a public health expert. « And it does. » But maybe not as much as they think.

But if all of this solves one mystery, it shines a high-powered klieg light on another: Why has the lead/crime connection been almost completely ignored in the criminology community? In the two big books I mentioned earlier, one has no mention of lead at all and the other has a grand total of two passing references. Nevin calls it « exasperating » that crime researchers haven’t seriously engaged with lead, and Reyes told me that although the public health community was interested in her paper, criminologists have largely been AWOL. When I asked Sammy Zahran about the reaction to his paper with Howard Mielke on correlations between lead and crime at the city level, he just sighed. « I don’t think criminologists have even read it, » he said. All of this jibes with my own reporting. Before he died last year, James Q. Wilson—father of the broken-windows theory, and the dean of the criminology community—had begun to accept that lead probably played a meaningful role in the crime drop of the ’90s. But he was apparently an outlier. None of the criminology experts I contacted showed any interest in the lead hypothesis at all.

Why not? Mark Kleiman [27], a public policy professor at the University of California-Los Angeles who has studied promising methods of controlling crime, suggests that because criminologists are basically sociologists, they look for sociological explanations, not medical ones. My own sense is that interest groups probably play a crucial role: Political conservatives want to blame the social upheaval of the ’60s for the rise in crime that followed. Police unions have reasons for crediting its decline to an increase in the number of cops. Prison guards like the idea that increased incarceration is the answer. Drug warriors want the story to be about drug policy. If the actual answer turns out to be lead poisoning, they all lose a big pillar of support for their pet issue. And while lead abatement could be big business for contractors and builders, for some reason their trade groups have never taken it seriously.

More generally, we all have a deep stake in affirming the power of deliberate human action. When Reyes once presented her results to a conference of police chiefs, it was, unsurprisingly, a tough sell. « They want to think that what they do on a daily basis matters, » she says. « And it does. » But it may not matter as much as they think.

So is this all just an interesting history lesson? After all, leaded gasoline has been banned since 1996, so even if it had a major impact on violent crime during the 20th century, there’s nothing more to be done on that front. Right?

Wrong. As it turns out, tetraethyl lead is like a zombie that refuses to die. Our cars may be lead-free today, but they spent more than 50 years spewing lead from their tailpipes, and all that lead had to go somewhere. And it did: It settled permanently into the soil that we walk on, grow our food in, and let our kids play around.

That’s especially true in the inner cores of big cities, which had the highest density of automobile traffic. Mielke has been studying lead in soil for years, focusing most of his attention on his hometown of New Orleans, and he’s measured 10 separate census tracts there with lead levels over 1,000 parts per million.

To get a sense of what this means, you have to look at how soil levels of lead typically correlate with blood levels, which are what really matter. Mielke has studied this in New Orleans [28], and it turns out that the numbers go up very fast even at low levels. Children who live in neighborhoods with a soil level of 100 ppm have average blood lead concentrations of 3.8 μg/dL—a level that’s only barely tolerable. At 500 ppm, blood levels go up to 5.9 μg/dL, and at 1,000 ppm they go up to 7.5 μg/dL. These levels are high enough to do serious damage.

« I know people who have moved into gentrified neighborhoods and immediately renovate everything. They create huge hazards for their kids. »

Mielke’s partner, Sammy Zahran, walked me through a lengthy—and hair-raising—presentation about the effect that all that old gasoline lead continues to have in New Orleans. The very first slide describes the basic problem: Lead in soil doesn’t stay in the soil. Every summer, like clockwork, as the weather dries up, all that lead gets kicked back into the atmosphere in a process called resuspension. The zombie lead is back to haunt us.

Mark Laidlaw, a doctoral student who has worked with Mielke, explains how this works [29]: People and pets track lead dust from soil into houses, where it’s ingested by small children via hand-to-mouth contact. Ditto for lead dust generated by old paint inside houses. This dust cocktail is where most lead exposure today comes from.

Paint hasn’t played a big role in our story so far, but that’s only because it didn’t play a big role in the rise of crime in the postwar era and its subsequent fall. Unlike gasoline lead, lead paint was a fairly uniform problem during this period, producing higher overall lead levels, especially in inner cities, but not changing radically over time. (It’s a different story with the first part of the 20th century, when use of lead paint did rise and then fall somewhat dramatically. Sure enough, murder rates rose and fell in tandem.)

And just like gasoline lead, a lot of that lead in old housing is still around. Lead paint chips flaking off of walls are one obvious source of lead exposure, but an even bigger one, says Rick Nevin, are old windows. Their friction surfaces generate lots of dust as they’re opened and closed. (Other sources—lead pipes and solder, leaded fuel used in private aviation, and lead smelters—account for far less.)

We know that the cost of all this lead is staggering, not just in lower IQs, delayed development, and other health problems, but in increased rates of violent crime as well. So why has it been so hard to get it taken seriously?

There are several reasons. One of them was put bluntly by Herbert Needleman, one of the pioneers of research into the effect of lead on behavior. A few years ago, a reporter from the Baltimore City Paper asked him why so little progress had been made recently on combating the lead-poisoning problem. « Number one, » he said without hesitation [30], « it’s a black problem. » But it turns out that this is an outdated idea. Although it’s true that lead poisoning affects low-income neighborhoods disproportionately, it affects plenty of middle-class and rich neighborhoods as well. « It’s not just a poor-inner-city-kid problem anymore, » Nevin says. « I know people who have moved into gentrified neighborhoods and immediately renovate everything. And they create huge hazards for their kids. »

Tamara Rubin, who lives in a middle-class neighborhood in Portland, Oregon, learned this the hard way when two of her children developed lead poisoning after some routine home improvement in 2005. A few years later, Rubin started the Lead Safe America Foundation [31], which advocates for lead abatement and lead testing. Her message: If you live in an old neighborhood or an old house, get tested. And if you renovate, do it safely.

Another reason that lead doesn’t get the attention it deserves is that too many people think the problem was solved years ago. They don’t realize how much lead is still hanging around, and they don’t understand just how much it costs us.

It’s difficult to put firm numbers to the costs and benefits of lead abatement. But for a rough idea, let’s start with the two biggest costs. Nevin estimates that there are perhaps 16 million pre-1960 houses with lead-painted windows, and replacing them all would cost something like $10 billion per year over 20 years. Soil cleanup in the hardest-hit urban neighborhoods is tougher to get a handle on, with estimates ranging from $2 to $36 per square foot. A rough extrapolation from Mielke’s estimate to clean up New Orleans suggests that a nationwide program might cost another $10 billion per year.

We can either get rid of the remaining lead, or we can wait 20 years and then lock up all the kids who’ve turned into criminals.

So in round numbers that’s about $20 billion per year for two decades. But the benefits would be huge. Let’s just take a look at the two biggest ones. By Mielke and Zahran’s estimates, [32] if we adopted the soil standard of a country like Norway (roughly 100 ppm or less), it would bring about $30 billion in annual returns from the cognitive benefits alone (higher IQs, and the resulting higher lifetime earnings). Cleaning up old windows might double this. And violent crime reduction would be an even bigger benefit. Estimates here are even more difficult, but Mark Kleiman suggests that a 10 percent drop in crime—a goal that seems reasonable if we get serious about cleaning up the last of our lead problem—could produce benefits as high as $150 billion per year.

Put this all together and the benefits of lead cleanup could be in the neighborhood of $200 billion per year. In other words, an annual investment of $20 billion for 20 years could produce returns of 10-to-1 every single year for decades to come. Those are returns that Wall Street hedge funds can only dream of.

Memo to Deficit Hawks: Get the Lead Out

Lead abatement isn’t cheap, but the return on investment is mind-blowing.

There’s a flip side to this too. At the same time that we should reassess the low level of attention we pay to the remaining hazards from lead, we should probably also reassess the high level of attention we’re giving to other policies. Chief among these is the prison-building boom that started in the mid-’70s. As crime scholar William Spelman wrote a few years ago, states have « doubled their prison populations, then doubled them again, increasing their costs by more than $20 billion per year »—money that could have been usefully spent on a lot of other things. And while some scholars conclude that the prison boom had an effect on crime, recent research suggests that rising incarceration rates suffer from diminishing returns: Putting more criminals behind bars is useful up to a point, but beyond that we’re just locking up more people without having any real impact on crime. What’s more, if it’s true that lead exposure accounts for a big part of the crime decline that we formerly credited to prison expansion and other policies, those diminishing returns might be even more dramatic than we believe. We probably overshot on prison construction years ago; one doubling might have been enough. Not only should we stop adding prison capacity, but we might be better off returning to the incarceration rates we reached in the mid-’80s.

So this is the choice before us: We can either attack crime at its root by getting rid of the remaining lead in our environment, or we can continue our current policy of waiting 20 years and then locking up all the lead-poisoned kids who have turned into criminals. There’s always an excuse not to spend more money on a policy as tedious-sounding as lead abatement—budgets are tight, and research on a problem as complex as crime will never be definitive—but the association between lead and crime has, in recent years, become pretty overwhelming. If you gave me the choice, right now, of spending $20 billion less on prisons and cops and spending $20 billion more on getting rid of lead, I’d take the deal in a heartbeat. Not only would solving our lead problem do more than any prison to reduce our crime problem, it would produce smarter, better-adjusted kids in the bargain. There’s nothing partisan about this, nothing that should appeal more to one group than another. It’s just common sense. Cleaning up the rest of the lead that remains in our environment could turn out to be the cheapest, most effective crime prevention tool we have. And we could start doing it tomorrow.

Support for this story was provided by a grant from the Puffin Foundation Investigative Journalism Project.

Source URL: http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2013/01/lead-crime-link-gasoline

Links:

[1] http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2013/01/lead-crime-link-gasoline

[2] http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2013/01/lead-poisoning-house-pipes-soil-paint

[3] http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2012/12/soil-lead-researcher-howard-mielke

[4] http://www.motherjones.com/blue-marble/2013/01/lead-shooting-ranges-osha

[5] http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2013/01/does-lead-paint-produce-more-crime-too

[6] http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2012/08/lead-in-tap-water

[7] http://www.motherjones.com/topics/lead-and-crime

[8] http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/1982/03/broken-windows/304465/

[9] http://www.nytimes.com/1996/12/20/nyregion/new-york-crime-rate-plummets-to-levels-not-seen-in-30-years.html?pagewanted=all&src=pm

[10] http://www.city-journal.org/html/6_2_my_black.html

[11] http://www.powells.com/biblio/61-9780521681483-1

[12] http://www.powells.com/biblio?isbn=0195399358

[13] http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/dialogues/features/1999/does_abortion_prevent_crime/_2.html

[14] http://www.powells.com/biblio/64-9780465023240-0

[15] http://modeledbehavior.com/2012/01/08/on-lead/

[16] http://www.ricknevin.com/uploads/Nevin_2000_Env_Res_Author_Manuscript.pdf

[17] http://www.nber.org/papers/w13097

[18] http://pic.plover.com/Nevin/Nevin2007.pdf

[19] http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0160412012000566

[20] http://www.plosmedicine.org/article/info:doi/10.1371/journal.pmed.0050101

[21] http://bjs.ojp.usdoj.gov/content/homicide/city.cfm

[22] https://www.motherjones.com/documents/531159-americas-children-and-the-environment-epa#document/p42/a84512

[23] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2789851/

[24] http://www.plosmedicine.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pmed.0050112

[25] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2810427/

[26] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17185283

[27] http://publicaffairs.ucla.edu/mark-ar-kleiman

[28] http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S004896970700842X

[29] http://urbanleadpoisoning.com

[30] http://www2.citypaper.com/news/story.asp?id=9738

[31] http://www.leadsafeamerica.org/leadsafeamerica.org/Home.html

[32] http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0048969710012672

Voir aussi:

Lead and Crime: Baselines vs. Crime Waves

Kevin Drum

Mother Jones

Jan. 10, 2013

Whenever you write about a complicated subject, you struggle with how best to explain things. In the end, you always hope you got your point across in a way that sinks in, but you’re never quite sure. And one of the things I’m not sure I explained well in my piece about the link between lead and violent crime [1] is precisely how important the effect of lead on crime is. After all, the causes of crime are varied and complex. Surely lead isn’t the whole answer?

It’s not, and I don’t want anyone to come away from my article thinking that. If we eliminated every microgram of lead from the planet, we’d still have plenty of crime. So here’s a way to think about it. If you take a look at violent crime rates in America, you’d expect to see a sort of baseline level of crime. That level will depend on lots of things: poverty, drugs, guns, race, family structure, etc. But starting in the mid-60s, we saw an enormous rise in crime, well above any sensible sort of baseline. Then, in the 90s, we saw an equally enormous decline. The chart below illustrates this. (The numbers themselves aren’t precise, so don’t take them too seriously. I’m just trying to illustrate a point.)

The baseline crime rate is the light red portion at the bottom. It goes up and down a bit over time, but also—and I’m guessing here—shows a steady, modest rise since the 60s. Most likely, the reason for this lies with all the usual suspects.

But then, in dark red, there’s the huge crime wave that lasted nearly 50 years from start to finish. That’s the part the lead hypothesis aims to explain. And the reason we need an explanation is simple: the usual suspects simply don’t seem to do a very good job of accounting for a gigantic, temporary rise and fall in violent crime rates. Within the criminology community, literally no one predicted the huge decline in crime that began in the early 90s. Their focus was on all the usual sociological causes, and they had no reason to think those were going to suddenly improve.

And they were right. For the most part, they didn’t improve. It’s true that the crack epidemic of the 80s burned out, but no one really knows the underlying reason for that. Policing tactics changed in some places, but crime dropped everywhere, so that’s not a very compelling explanation either. Aside from that, poverty didn’t change much, and neither did race or guns or demographics or the number of broken familes or anything else.

The truth is that there’s just not a good conventional explanation for both the huge rise and the huge fall in crime of the past half century. That’s one of the reasons the lead hypothesis deserves such serious consideration. Not only does it fit the data well and make sense based on what we know about the neurological effects of lead. It’s also just about the only good explanation we’ve got. Other factors are still important, and they probably explain rises and falls in the baseline rate of crime. But lead is the best explanation we have for the rest of it.

Source URL: http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2013/01/lead-and-crime-baselines-vs-crime-waves

Links:

[1] http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2013/01/lead-crime-link-gasoline

Voir enfin:

From the Archives: Is Lead Really the Main Cause of Violent Crime?

No. But it is the main cause of the great crime wave of 1965-2010.

Kevin Drum

Mother Jones

Aug. 13, 2013

Maybe it’s just coincidence, but over the past week I’ve suddenly gotten a flurry of new responses to my January piece about lead and crime. [1] Roughly speaking, they’re mostly complaints that crime has lots of causes, and it’s a mistake to claim that lead is preeminently important. I understand where this criticism comes from, but here’s the thing: I agree with it. That’s why it’s important to understand exactly what the lead hypothesis claims to explain: not all crime, but only the specific crime wave of 1965-2010. (In America, anyway. The dates vary in other regions of the world.) So because this has cropped up again, I’m going to reproduce a post [2] I wrote shortly after the article came out. Of all the things I didn’t explain well enough in the original piece, this is the one I most wish I had illustrated more clearly.

Whenever you write about a complicated subject, you struggle with how best to explain things. In the end, you always hope you got your point across in a way that sinks in, but you’re never quite sure. And one of the things I’m not sure I explained well in my piece about the link between lead and violent crime [3] is precisely how important the effect of lead on crime is. After all, the causes of crime are varied and complex. Surely lead isn’t the whole answer?

It’s not, and I don’t want anyone to come away from my article thinking that. If we eliminated every microgram of lead from the planet, we’d still have plenty of crime. So here’s a way to think about it. If you take a look at violent crime rates in America, you’d expect to see a sort of baseline level of crime. That level will depend on lots of things: poverty, drugs, guns, race, family structure, etc. But starting in the mid-60s, we saw an enormous rise in crime, well above any sensible sort of baseline. Then, in the 90s, we saw an equally enormous decline. The chart below illustrates this. (The numbers themselves aren’t precise, so don’t take them too seriously. I’m just trying to illustrate a point.)

The baseline crime rate is the light red portion at the bottom. It goes up and down a bit over time, but also—and I’m guessing here—shows a steady, modest rise since the 60s. Most likely, the reason for this lies with all the usual suspects.

But then, in dark red, there’s the huge crime wave that lasted nearly 50 years from start to finish. That’s the part the lead hypothesis aims to explain. And the reason we need an explanation is simple: the usual suspects simply don’t seem to do a very good job of accounting for a gigantic, temporary rise and fall in violent crime rates. Within the criminology community, literally no one predicted the huge decline in crime that began in the early 90s. Their focus was on all the usual sociological causes, and they had no reason to think those were going to suddenly improve.

And they were right. For the most part, they didn’t improve. It’s true that the crack epidemic of the 80s burned out, but no one really knows the underlying reason for that. Policing tactics changed in some places, but crime dropped everywhere, so that’s not a very compelling explanation either. Aside from that, poverty didn’t change much, and neither did race or guns or demographics or the number of broken familes or anything else.

The truth is that there’s just not a good conventional explanation for both the huge rise and the huge fall in crime of the past half century. That’s one of the reasons the lead hypothesis deserves such serious consideration. Not only does it fit the data well and make sense based on what we know about the neurological effects of lead. It’s also just about the only good explanation we’ve got. Other factors are still important, and they probably explain rises and falls in the baseline rate of crime. But lead is the best explanation we have for the rest of it.

Links:

[1] http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2012/11/criminal-element

[2] http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2013/01/lead-and-crime-baselines-vs-crime-waves

[3] http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2013/01/lead-crime-link-gasoline

Voir par ailleurs:

http://www.scienceshumaines.com/pourquoi-la-criminalite-chute_fr_31470.html

Pourquoi la criminalité chute

Achille Weinberg

Sciences humaines

03/10/2013

Mensuel N° 253 – novembre 2013

Comment expliquer le déclin de la criminalité constaté depuis quinze ans dans beaucoup de grands pays occidentaux ? Les spécialistes émettent plusieurs hypothèses.

Pour celui qui écoute régulièrement l’actualité, entendre dire que la criminalité chute est pour le moins surprenant. Que dites-vous ? La criminalité chute ? Et la série de meurtres à Marseille ? Et les bijouteries ou bureaux de tabac dévalisés ? Et les vols de portables ou de sacs dans le métro ? Précisons donc de quoi l’on parle.

La chute de la criminalité dont il est question ici est un constat massif qui concerne les principaux pays occidentaux sur une période de plus quinze ans. Le constat est assez unanime chez les spécialistes, mais les causes restent très disputées. The Economist a consacré sa couverture à cette énigme en juillet 2013.

Une tendance de fond

L’article commence par livrer quelques chiffres impressionnants. Pour frapper les esprits, le cas de l’Estonie est mis en avant : depuis 1995, les homicides ont chuté de 70 %, les vols de voitures de presque autant. Mais ce petit État postsoviétique n’est pas une exception. Dans les pays développés, la même tendance s’observe. Aux États-Unis, la chute a commencé en 1991 ; en Grande-Bretagne, autour de 1995. En France, la baisse date de 2001. Au Canada également ainsi que dans plusieurs pays d’Europe. Mais de quels crimes parle-t-on ? Un tableau l’illustre : principalement des vols (vols de voitures, cambriolages) et des atteintes aux personnes (homicides, coups et blessures).

Arrêtons-nous sur le cas américain, le plus impressionnant. La criminalité urbaine avait atteint des sommets au début des années 1990. Certains voyaient New York ou Los Angeles comme des jungles urbaines aux mains d’une faune de dealers, mafieux, proxénètes et squatters.

Puis, contrairement aux prévisions, un véritable miracle s’est produit. La criminalité s’est mise à chuter à partir des années 1990. Globalement, elle a baissé d’un tiers dans les grandes villes, mais dans certains cas, elle a chuté de plus de 50 % ! À New York, le cas le plus spectaculaire, la criminalité a été divisée par quatre (- 78 %) entre le milieu des années 1990 et les années 2000 (encadré ci-dessous) ! Que s’est-il donc passé ?

Où sont passés les délinquants ?

Les explications des experts ne manquent pas.

• Le travail de la police. La première explication qui vient à l’esprit est celle de l’action policière. Dans les grandes villes, des politiques offensives de reprise en main de la situation ont été menées. L’intervention policière a été déterminante. Pour certains criminologues, la criminalité a baissé parce qu’une partie des délinquants est désormais sous les verrous ! Aux États-Unis, le nombre de prisonniers a doublé dans les vingt dernières années. En Grande-Bretagne et en Australie aussi. Le message serait donc clair : la répression paye. Sauf que cette théorie répressive ne marche pas partout. Aux Pays-Bas et au Canada, la criminalité a également chuté alors que le nombre de prisonniers n’a pas augmenté et qu’il n’y a pas eu de mobilisation générale de la police. À New York, le taux d’incarcération est beaucoup moins important qu’à Los Angeles ou Chicago et les résultats se révèlent bien meilleurs ! Il faut donc trouver d’autres explications que la seule action policière.

• Une baisse démographique ? Certains experts ont avancé un argument démographique : le vieillissement de la population. Il y a moins de jeunes donc moins de délinquants. Steven Levitt a même soutenu dans son best-seller Freakonomics que l’avortement, dans les années 1970, avait été un facteur déterminant : dans les milieux les plus défavorisés où se recrutent le plus de délinquants, on fait désormais moins d’enfants.

Cependant, ce facteur démographique a lui aussi été contesté. À Londres et dans nombre de villes américaines, le taux de jeunes n’a pas diminué de façon significative alors que la criminalité s’est effondrée. C’est peut-être alors que les jeunes sont désormais scolarisés plus longtemps, donc mieux éduqués ? L’économiste Jessica Wolpaw Reyes a inventé une théorie pour le moins étonnante : la rénovation du plomb dans l’essence serait l’explication du déclin de la violence. En somme, moins de plomb entraîne moins de débiles (par saturnisme) donc moins de délinquants !

• La fin de l’« épidémie de crack ». Un autre phénomène semble avoir compté : la chute de la consommation du crack (un dérivé de la cocaïne). Cette drogue avait fait des ravages durant les années 1980 : elle exacerbait non seulement la guerre des gangs, mais poussait les drogués à commettre de nombreux délits pour se payer leur dose. L’épidémie de crack a commencé à baisser aux États-Unis au début des années 1990, et cette chute épouse celle de la criminalité. Cela ne veut pas dire que la consommation de drogue diminue globalement, mais elle est moins criminogène. Les « junkies » des années 1980 sont moins nombreux et la drogue a changé de nature.

• Les alarmes et la surveillance. Si les atteintes aux biens baissent, c’est, selon le criminologue néerlandais Jan Van Dijk, parce qu’il est moins facile de voler : magasins, entreprises, habitations, automobiles sont équipés de dispositifs de surveillance de plus en plus nombreux et sophistiqués. La chute spectaculaire des vols de voitures est incontestablement liée aux alarmes et aux puces électroniques antivol dont elles sont équipées. En revanche, les « vols à la tire » de portefeuilles et de téléphones portables ont explosé, même s’ils font l’objet de beaucoup moins de plaintes.

• Retour de la croissance. La dynamique de croissance qui a marqué les États-Unis et la Grande-Bretagne dans les années 1990-2000 a également été évoquée. Mais dans ce cas, la crise depuis 2008 aurait dû s’accompagner d’une flambée de la criminalité dans les pays les plus touchés par la crise. Cela n’a pas été le cas. The Economist plaide pour une convergence de facteurs tout en reconnaissant qu’au final, la chute de la criminalité reste à la fois une sorte de petit miracle et une énigme non résolue.

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Le cas new-yorkais

À fin des années 1980, le taux de criminalité a atteint des pics à New York. C’est alors que fut élu le républicain Rudolf Giuliani (1994-2001). Il décida de chasser de la ville criminels,
 prostituées, SDF…
La présence policière fut renforcée, des actions commandos mises en place, une politique de contrôle systématique imposée à la population. Entre 1993 et 1998, le nombre annuel de 
meurtres a été divisé
par trois, la délinquance ordinaire a chuté. 
Certains ont parlé d’un véritable miracle et proposé que le « peace maker » R. Giuliani soit lauréat du prix Nobel de la paix : grâce à lui, des milliers de vies et de victimes potentielles ont été épargnées.

Les experts criminologues sont plus dubitatifs. Dans son livre The City That Became Safe (2012), Franklin M. Zimring, criminologue à Chicago, avance deux idées clés. Le rôle de la police a été décisif. F.M. Zimring n’hésite pas à le dire et à se démarquer des positions habituelles des criminologues prompts à considérer que seules les politiques sociales peuvent durablement venir à bout de la criminalité. Selon l’auteur, la chute de la criminalité
à New York s’est effectuée à niveau socio-économique équivalent. C’est donc bien l’action de la police qui a été déterminante.

Pour autant, ce n’est pas la politique de « tolérance zéro » qui a payé. À New York, le nombre de criminels mis sous les verrous a moins augmenté qu’ailleurs (20 % dans les années 1990-2000). L’action principale de la police a consisté à déminer le terrain par des quadrillages ciblés, concentrés sur des points chauds, accompagnés de contrôles systématiques (procédures de « stop and frisk ») : arrestations, fouilles, harcèlement des criminels ont abouti à nettoyer une à une les zones de trafics et d’agressions.

Achille Weinberg

Voir aussi:

États-Unis: le crime à son plus bas niveau

À New York, le changement a été radical. Au début des années 90, 700 000 crimes étaient rapportés chaque année. L’an dernier, moins de 105 000 crimes ont été signalés aux autorités.

Nicolas Bérubé

La Presse

15 juillet 2012

(Los Angeles) Durant des années, un gardien armé était posté jour et nuit devant les ateliers remplis d’outils spécialisés du Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, rue Hoover. Puis, un matin, le gardien n’était plus là.

«Ça fait deux ou trois ans de cela, se souvient Carlos Mendes, propriétaire d’une petite boutique d’antiquités, en face. La protection intensive, ça fait partie d’une autre époque. Aujourd’hui, le quartier est beaucoup plus sûr.»

La nuit, M. Mendes avait l’habitude de s’endormir au son des rotors d’hélicoptères de la police de Los Angeles (LAPD), qui patrouillaient dans le secteur. «Maintenant, les jeunes familles achètent des maisons par ici et font des rénovations. Les gens se promènent le soir. C’est un changement radical.»

Ce qui se passe rue Hoover n’est pas un cas isolé. Les actes de violence et les crimes sont à leur plus bas niveau en 40 ans aux États-Unis, selon les données du gouvernement fédéral.

À Los Angeles, le nombre de crimes chute chaque année depuis 10 ans. L’an dernier, 298 homicides ont été commis sur le territoire du LAPD. Au milieu des années 90, plus de 1200 meurtres étaient enregistrés annuellement. Tout ça, dans une ville dont la population croit constamment.

Même les quartiers durs ont vu la violence diminuer. Compton, par exemple, a connu 17 meurtres en 2011, une baisse de 60 % par rapport à 2007.

À New York, le changement a aussi été radical. Au début des années 90, 700 000 crimes étaient rapportés chaque année. L’an dernier, moins de 105 000 crimes ont été signalés aux autorités.

Qu’est-ce qui a changé? George Tita, professeur au département de criminologie de l’Université de la Californie à Irvine, dit être surpris de voir la violence et la criminalité baisser, et ce, malgré la hausse du taux de chômage.

«Le nombre d’Américains qui vivent dans la pauvreté a augmenté depuis la crise financière de 2008, dit-il en entrevue avec La Presse. Le stress, la frustration, le manque de revenus: tout ça semble laisser présager une hausse de la criminalité. Or, le contraire s’est produit.»

Les experts ont cité plusieurs causes possibles, allant de la fin de l’épidémie de crack des années 90 à la hausse du niveau d’incarcération, ce qui garde les criminels loin de la rue.

Pour M. Tita, ces facteurs jouent un rôle, tout comme l’émergence de l’internet et des téléphones cellulaires.

«Avant, les vendeurs de drogue occupaient les coins de rue, ce qui créait un climat d’intimidation. Aujourd’hui, ils correspondent avec leurs clients par messages texte.»

Les jeunes hommes – groupe traditionnellement responsable d’une partie importante des crimes – passent aussi plus de temps à l’intérieur.

«La violence survient quand il y a des jeunes qui n’ont rien à faire, dit M. Tita. Depuis quelques années, les jeunes sont sur Facebook ou devant des jeux vidéo. Ils trainent moins dans la rue.»

La passion du moment

Dans un récent entretien au réseau NPR, l’ancien chef de la police de New York et de Los Angeles, William Bratton, a dit qu’il faut d’abord remercier la police pour la baisse de la criminalité.

Sous sa supervision, la police de New York et de Los Angeles a commencé à travailler sur les crimes dits «liés à la qualité de vie». Les gens qui sautaient les tourniquets dans le métro, par exemple, ou les petits revendeurs de drogue qui opéraient impunément au coin des rues.

«En contrôlant les comportements, la police a, dans les faits, lancé le message que la loi est là pour être respectée, a-t-il dit. Une personne est prise dans la passion du moment et décide de commettre un crime. C’est ici que la police entre en jeu. La police est là pour contrôler les comportements.»

Frank E. Zimring n’y croit pas. Professeur de droit à l’Université Berkeley et auteur de plusieurs livres sur la violence dans la société américaine, M. Zimring est l’un des experts les plus souvent cités en matière de prévention de la criminalité aux États-Unis.

Les efforts des policiers dans les quartiers chauds de New York et de Los Angeles sont louables et ont contribué à améliorer la qualité de vie des résidants, note-t-il. «Mais ces changements n’expliquent pas tout. Ceux qui y voient une réponse définitive font fausse route», explique-t-il en entrevue téléphonique.

Si la baisse s’expliquait par des changements dans le fonctionnement de la police dans les grandes villes, alors pourquoi observe-t-on une diminution du crime de façon uniforme, partout aux États-Unis? demande-t-il.

M. Zimring fait remarquer que l’Occident au complet – et notamment le Canada – a connu une baisse du taux de criminalité au cours des 20 dernières années.

«L’internet, les cellulaires et les jeux vidéo ne peuvent expliquer la baisse, car les crimes ont commencé à chuter de façon uniforme dans les années 90, avant que ces inventions ne prennent leur envol», dit-il.

Et, pour la première fois depuis les années 70, le taux d’incarcération a commencé à baisser aux États-Unis, en 2007. Jumelé avec une hausse spectaculaire du chômage, cela aurait dû créer un mélange explosif, note M. Zimring.

Voir également:

ÉTATS-UNIS

Mais pourquoi la criminalité baisse ?

Malgré la récession, les crimes et délits sont en net recul. Les spécialistes se creusent les méninges pour expliquer le phénomène.

The Economist

traduction Courrier international

23 juin 2011

Voilà qui semble une évidence : en période de récession, le taux de criminalité augmente. Pourtant, depuis le début de la crise financière, la hausse du taux de chômage s’est accompagnée d’une baisse du taux de criminalité. Entre 2008 et 2009, les crimes avec violence ont reculé de 5,3 % et les infractions contre les biens de 4,6 %. La baisse s’est poursuivie de 2009 à 2010, avec une diminution de 5,5 % et 2,8 % respectivement. Le vol qualifié (une infraction que l’on pourrait s’attendre à voir se multiplier en temps de crise) a même reculé de 9,5 % entre 2009 et 2010. D’une manière générale, les crimes avec violence sont à leur niveau le plus bas depuis quarante ans et les homicides à leur niveau le plus bas depuis cinquante ans.

A en croire les spécialistes, cela n’aurait pas dû se produire. James Wilson, l’auteur de la fameuse théorie du “carreau cassé” en matière de prévention de la délinquance [selon laquelle il faut réparer immédiatement toute dégradation sous peine de les voir se multiplier] avait annoncé en 1995 que le pays compterait en l’an 2000 “30 000 jeunes agresseurs, meurtriers et voleurs de plus qu’aujourd’hui”. Un an plus tard, le politologue John DiLulio mettait en garde contre un raz-de-marée d’“adolescents superprédateurs” qui, à l’horizon 2010, allaient semer le chaos. Pourtant, au moment même où ils formalisaient leurs prédictions, la criminalité avait déjà commencé à baisser et, hormis une légère hausse entre 2004 et 2006, elle n’a cessé de reculer depuis 1991.

Si personne n’avait prévu la baisse spectaculaire de la délinquance des années 1990, les théories pour l’expliquer rétrospectivement abondent. Certains l’attribuent à l’amélioration des stratégies policières. D’autres mettent en avant l’accès de plus en plus large à l’avortement, qui a permis de diminuer les naissances d’enfants de mères adolescentes, célibataires et pauvres – ceux, en d’autres termes, qui ont le plus de risques de sombrer dans la délinquance à l’adolescence. Parmi les autres facteurs avancés figurent le déclin des violences liées au trafic de crack et l’augmentation du taux d’incarcération.

Mais si ces facteurs peuvent expliquer la baisse de la criminalité depuis la fin des années 1980, ils ne disent rien de sa chute spectaculaire au cours des deux dernières années. Pour cela, le criminologue Al Blumstein, qui dirige le National Consortium on Violence Research (NCOVR), avance un “effet Obama” : l’élection du premier président noir de l’histoire des Etats-Unis aurait éloigné de la violence un nombre important de jeunes Noirs. De fait, entre 2008 et 2009, le nombre de Noirs arrêtés pour homicide ou vol a reculé de 2 %. Une autre hypothèse pointe du doigt le plomb. En effet, des liens ont été mis en évidence entre exposition au plomb dans l’enfance et comportement délinquant à l’âge adulte. Jessica Wolpaw Reyes, économiste au Amherst College, estime que la moindre exposition des petits Américains au plomb explique pour une bonne part la diminution des crimes violents dans les années 1990. D’autres enfin mettent en cause ces éternels épouvantails que sont les jeux vidéo et Internet, arguant qu’ils permettent de maintenir les individus à l’intérieur de leur foyer et donc de les tenir éloignés du crime et des drogues.

Voir enfin:

La criminalité continue de baisser dans les pays riches malgré la crise

Grégoire Fleurot

Slate

22 juillet 2013

Que vous soyez spécialiste de la question ou pas, vous avez sans doute déjà entendu cette théorie: quand les temps sont durs, la criminalité augmente. Pourtant, malgré une croissance économique stagnante et un chômage élevé, la criminalité a baissé dans la plupart des pays riches au cours de la dernière décennie.

L’hebdomadaire britannique The Economist s’est intéressé dans un long article à cette tendance plutôt contre-intuitive qui a commencé en 1991 aux Etats-Unis, autour de 1995 en Grande-Bretagne et en 2001 en France pour les atteintes aux biens.

Comment expliquer cette tendance générale qu’un rapide coup d’œil aux statistiques des Nations unies suffit à vérifier? Si la démographie est sans doute un facteur (la population vieillit, alors que ce sont les hommes de 16 ans à 24 ans qui commettent la plupart des crimes), The Economiste souligne qu’elle ne peut pas expliquer à elle seule la baisse spectaculaire d’un certain type de criminalité dans des villes comme New York, Los Angeles ou Londres.

D’autres hypothèses, comme l’augmentation du nombre de prisonniers, sont difficiles à prouver: si la population carcérale a doublé en Grande-Bretagne, en Australie et aux Etats-Unis, elle a diminués au Canada et aux Pays-Bas, pays qui ont aussi connu une baisse de la criminalité.

Le blog de «factchecking» de la chaîne britannique Channel 4 s’est également posé la question, alors que les autorités viennent d’annoncer une nouvelle baisse de la criminalité malgré des réductions budgétaires significatives, et rappelle que «la plupart des experts concluent que les causes du crime sont si complexes que les changements économiques seuls ne l’emportent pas forcément sur d’autres facteurs».

Le Guardian expliquait quand à lui en avril dernier que certains autres éléments concrets, comme de meilleurs antivols sur les voitures ou des portes et serrures plus résistantes rendaient les atteintes aux biens plus difficiles aujourd’hui. La technologie, qu’il s’agisse des tests d’ADN, de la localisation par téléphone portable ou des caméras de surveillance, a augmenté le risque de se faire prendre.

Selon The Economist, l’explication la plus convaincante est plus simple encore. La police fait mieux son travail:

«Une combinaison du fait que les policiers parlent aux habitants des quartiers où ils travaillent et du ciblage intensif des endroits mal famés a transformé la manière dont les rues sont protégées.»

Si le poids de chaque facteur reste impossible à déterminer, la majorité des experts semblent aujourd’hui s’accorder sur un point: l’augmentation de la criminalité qui a eu lieu un peu partout entre les années 1950 et les années 1980 ressemble de plus en plus à une anomalie de l’histoire.

2 commentaires pour Criminalité: Cachez cette religion que je ne saurai voir ! (Crime mystery of the century: Why don’t people turn to crime when times are tough ?)

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