Crime & Courts

In recession, U.S. crime is down

WASHINGTON — High unemployment. More folks on food stamps. Fewer owning their homes. Yet for all the signs of recession, something is missing: more crime.

Experts are scratching their heads over why crime has ebbed so far during this recession, making it different from other economic downturns of the past half-century.

Preliminary FBI crime figures for the first half of 2009 show crime falling across the country. Most surprisingly, murder and manslaughter fell 10 percent.

"That's a remarkable decline, given the economic conditions," said Richard Rosenfeld, a sociologist at the University of Missouri-St. Louis who has studied crime trends.

Rosenfeld said he did not expect the drop in killings to be sustained over the entire year, as more data is reported. But he said the broad declines are exceptional, given that recessions back to the 1950's have boosted crime rates.

Bill Bratton, the former chief of the Los Angeles Police Department, said the decrease comes from major police departments closely tracking developing crime patterns.

"Police have gotten much better at analyzing numbers and responding quickly," said Bratton, now chairman of Altegrity Security Consulting, a private security firm based in Virginia.

In times of recession, property crimes, in particular, are expected to rise.

They haven't.

Overall, property crimes fell by 6.1 percent, and violent crimes by 4.4 percent, according to the six-month data collected by the FBI. Crime rates haven't been this low since the 1960s, and they are nowhere near the peak reached in the early 1990s.

Rosenfeld said there are several possible explanations, including that extended unemployment benefits, food stamps, and other government-driven economic stimulus "have cushioned and delayed for many people the big blows that come from a recession."

The new figures show car thefts also dropped significantly, falling nearly 19 percent and continuing a sharp downward trend in that category. Some believe that big drop in car theft is due largely to the security locking systems installed on most models, as well as more high-tech deterrents like car recovery devices that use the Global Positioning System.

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