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The Disappearance of U.S. Crime?

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The Disappearance of U.S. Crime?

Statistics report that American criminal activity is down. What does this mean for the country as a whole?

Learn the why behind the headlines.

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Millions have seen the numbers. Decreasing crime rates in the United States are no longer considered an anomaly.

People are taking the declines over the last two decades seriously and headlines reveal as much: “Steady Decline in Major Crime Baffles Experts,” “Good News Is No News: America’s Falling Crime Rate,” “America’s Safer Streets,” and “Triumph Over Crime.” These are only a few of the article titles that appear to show law-enforcement and other officials are winning the war on crime.

A December 2011 Washington Post article declared the 20-year trend of decline in crime according to statistics is “as positive as it is underappreciated.”

The article continued stating: “Between 1991 and 2010, the homicide rate in the United States fell 51 percent, from 9.8 per 100,000 residents to 4.8 per 100,000. Property crimes such as burglary also fell sharply during that period; auto theft, once the bane of urban life, dropped an astonishing 64 percent…With luck, the United States could soon equal its lowest homicide rate of the modern era: 4.0 per 100,000, recorded in 1957.”

The challenge lies in understanding the reason.

Generally, when times are tough, crime spikes. At least this has been the prevailing theory touted by social scientists and others who connect challenging economic times and criminal activity.

The latest statistics, however, appear to contradict this concept. The Economist stated: “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.

“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…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. [As of 2011] America’s violent-crime rate [was] 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.”

Do such positive statistics imply America is finally on a path to overcoming crime once and for all?

Proposed Theories

Though experts are baffled by the apparent disconnect between hard times and crime, they are not without theories to attempt to explain it.

  • Reduction in exposure to lead: “One of the newest explanations for the precipitous drop in crime over the last twenty years…[is based on] the well-established relationship between lead exposure and brain development, which is that lead exposure in small children is associated with many complications later in life, including lower IQ, hyperactivity, behavioral problems, and learning disabilities, and likelihood to take part in criminal activity…[A researcher] discovered demand for leaded gasoline declined unevenly in states around the country beginning in the 1970’s, with some states banning leaded gasoline early while others continued selling the product well into the 1980’s. [This researcher] found that in states where consumption of leaded gasoline declined slowly, crime declined slowly. Conversely, in states where it declined quickly, crime declined quickly” (Deseret Morning News).
  • Aging criminals: This theory purports that, since Americans are getting older, the bulk of the population is beyond the age demographic known to commit crimes. The Economist explained: “The baby-boom in the decades after the second world war created a bubble in the 16- to 24-year-old population a couple of decades later, and most crimes are committed by men of that age. That bubble is now long deflated. In most Western countries, the population is [aging], often quite fast.” As plausible as this theory may seem, the magazine also presented evidence against it: “The sheer magnitude of the improvement in places such as New York and Los Angeles, where the incidence of some crimes has fallen by as much as 90%, cannot be explained just by a young-person deficit.”
  • Legalized abortion: Proponents of this idea say that neglected, abused and unwanted children tend more toward criminal behavior. Therefore, abortion leads to fewer unwanted children, which leads to fewer criminals committing crimes. (How ironic that the increased murder of innocent children is pushed as the cause for a reduction in crime!)
  • “Obama effect”: This theory states that the reduction in crime committed by some minorities in the U.S. is a result of having a minority president. The Economist wrote: “…Al Blumstein, [who] heads the National Consortium on Violence Research, posits an ‘Obama effect’ [meaning that] the election of America’s first black president inspires a significant number of young black men away from violence…between 2008 and 2009, the numbers of blacks arrested for murder and robbery each declined by over 2%…”
  • Improved car security: With this theory, supporters say that since car theft is an entry-level and accessory crime, the inability to steal cars as easily has led to an overall decline in crime. “Car theft…is an opportunistic ‘debut crime’ which can start a criminal career. Those who steal cars for fun often go on to become burglars or muggers…[also] a stolen getaway car is often necessary to commit serious crimes such as armed robbery. Technology that makes it harder to steal a car, such as vehicle immobilisers and central locking, thus reduces the number of career criminals” (The Economist).
  • More children playing video games: The idea for this derives from the fact that since young people spend more time playing video games inside, they spend less time outside committing crimes. (Who could have predicted the day when playing video games would be considered a solution for social ills!) Some of these explanations are so far-fetched that it seems experts are only grasping at straws.

Can the Numbers Be Trusted?

Much of the evidence regarding improved crime prevention is based on plummeting numbers. Yet inefficiencies, inconsistent reporting, and in some cases, outright manipulation have brought much uncertainty to the data.

A June 2012 New York Times article titled “Crime Report Manipulation Is Common Among New York Police” showed the extent of the concern: “An anonymous survey of nearly 2,000 retired officers found that the manipulation of crime reports—downgrading crimes to lesser offenses and discouraging victims from filing complaints to make crime statistics look better—has long been part of the culture of the New York Police Department.

“The results showed that pressure on officers to artificially reduce crime rates…has intensified in the last decade, the two criminologists who conducted the research said in interviews…‘I think our survey clearly debunks the Police Department’s rotten-apple theory,’ said Eli B. Silverman [professor emeritus at John Jay College of Criminal Justice], one of the criminologists, referring to arguments that very few officers manipulated crime statistics. ‘This really demonstrates a rotten barrel.’”

The article stated that Dr. John A. Eterno, a retired New York police captain, and Dr. Silverman “have previously argued that the Police Department’s longstanding focus on reducing major felony crimes has given rise to ‘a numbers game.’”

New York City, as with a number of other major U.S. cities, relies on computer software called CompStat to geographically track criminal activity. Also known as “knowledge-based law enforcement,” the data is used to develop solutions to address problem areas or criminal hot spots.

CompStat was developed in the mid-90s with the philosophy that “the success of a police department should not be based on the quantity of arrests or response times, but rather by the department’s success in reducing crime,” the Times reported.

While this focus on the core problem is admirable, one can readily see the potential conflict of interest when it comes to incentives to reduce crime numbers.

The media outlet stated: “One officer, who retired in 2005, wrote that he heard a deputy commissioner say in a ‘pre-CompStat’ meeting that a commanding officer ‘should just consolidate burglaries that occurred in an apartment building and count [them] as one’…Another respondent, who retired in 2008, wrote, ‘Assault becomes harassment, robbery becomes grand larceny, grand larceny becomes [petty] larceny, burglary becomes criminal trespass.’”

The actual experience of citizens also calls the reality of reduced crime into question. A different New York Times article stated: “…W. Taharka Robinson, who runs a [local] community group called the Brooklyn Anti-Violence Coalition…[believes there is] a lack of police receptiveness toward crime victims, particularly in minority neighborhoods. ‘If you go sit in the precinct, you’ll see the nonchalant, lax attitude when people come in wanting to report crimes,’ he said. ‘It discourages people who were victimized because they’re not getting an appropriate response.’”

“Berry Hatfield…who lives in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, said that he was disappointed after a crime report that he filed about being menaced with a gun disappeared from the police records. And Chris Henderson, an event planner, shared his experience of being attacked in Brooklyn by a group of teenagers, one of whom struck him with an aluminum pipe. As the assailants fled, he picked up the pipe, which had been dropped, but the police refused to take it and never followed through with a promise to call him about the attack, he said. ‘They’ve been twisting these statistics,’ Mr. Henderson said.”

While corruption does play some part, opponents of this belief say that it does not explain the steep decline across broad categories of criminal behavior.

Take, for example, incidents of murder and negligent manslaughter over the last 20 years—a crime that is almost always reported to police due to its very nature. According to FBI crime statistics, in 1993, there were 24,526 murder victims. Yet, during the last three years, there have been an average of nearly 10,000 fewer victims annually! Property crimes and other nonviolent offenses reflect similar decreases.

These significant numbers are truly difficult to dispute or deny. In the end, evidence strongly indicates that crime is down to some degree, and that it has been for an extended period of time.

What does this mean for the future?

Historical Perspective

A look back over the last century reveals that crime statistics have ebbed and flowed. In reality, the current decline in the amount of crimes being committed is not a new phenomenon.

Notice what Claude Fischer, professor of sociology at the University of California, Berkeley, wrote on his website regarding crime statistics: “We see a cyclical pattern, a high plateau in the 1920s and early ‘30s; a rapid drop of more than half to a low point in the late 1950s; then, a sharp rise, more than doubling, by 1980 and 1990; and then what will probably be a drop of nearly half by 2009. These are huge swings…The [data] shows that progress was hardly uniform, as there were many upswings of violence. Spurts often coincide with wars and the aftermaths of war—notably having many demobilized soldiers, trained and armed fighters, roaming the land. Another short-term influence is bloody competition among armed criminals—for example, over alcohol distribution during Prohibition and over crack cocaine during the 1980s.”

With this in mind, and if history is any indication, the truth behind today’s receding numbers may simply be that the U.S. is in another of what have been multiple lulls in criminal behavior.

Incidentally, the year 2012 saw the first rise in violent crime in six years. Murder, rape and aggravated assault were significantly up. The numbers for 2012 included: 14,827 murders, 84,376 forcible rapes, 354,520 robberies, 760,739 aggravated assaults, and 8,975,438 property crimes. These numbers, though, were still down from two decades ago—and significantly in some cases.

So, is U.S. crime up or down? Is there statistics tampering? Has America simply entered a cyclical or periodic low?

Mankind’s Nature

While some social scientists speculate that declining numbers over the last period of time have hit bottom and will only increase moving forward, overarching all of the questions surrounding crime is a simple fact: experts are forced to admit that they are clueless as to the root cause of it.

Though crime is a global problem, America is particularly without excuse for being unaware of the cause of criminal behavior.

The Founding Fathers built the U.S. on what are considered Judeo-Christian principles and borrowed heavily from the Bible for its laws. Three-fourths of the nation profess to be Christian. The American Bible Society’s The State of the Bible, 2013 found that 88 percent of the nation has a copy of the ancient text and 80 percent consider it sacred.

Most, however, do not realize that God’s Word is an Instruction Manual for mankind. It explains the real reason that crime exists and persists.

The Bible describes itself as “a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart” (Heb. 4:12) and gives a window into the mind of man: “The heart [mind] is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” (Jer. 17:9). Elsewhere, it states that everyone is naturally a “hypocrite and an evildoer, and every mouth speaks folly” (Isa. 9:17).

This statement not only describes criminals—but all people!

Most will never admit that left to their own devices they are “deceitful above all things,” “desperately wicked,” or both a “hypocrite and evil doer.” Instead, almost all feel people are innately good, with the exceptions being those who commit crimes.

But God’s Word counters such thinking: “All the ways of a man are clean in his own eyes; but the Lord weighs the spirits” (Prov. 16:2). Verse 25 states, “There is a way that seems right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death.”

The existence of human nature within all of mankind is why crime never disappears. (To learn more about human nature, order David C. Pack’s booklet Did God Create Human Nature?)

Rebellious Nation

The fact that crime is a result of human nature is not the only problem. There is another aspect—and it directly corresponds with the United States.

Most never ponder why America has such strong ties to the Bible. Yet The Real Truth magazine has regularly proven the connection of America, Britain, and the nations of Western Europe to ancient Israel. For those unfamiliar, request the free book America and Britain in Prophecy. It clearly explains the origins of the U.S. and other great nations of the world and their connection to Scripture.

In short, history and the Bible prove that America is one of what are known as the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel. Therefore, when God speaks to Israel in the Bible, it should land with extra force for the modern nations descended from that ancient nation.

For this reason, there is no excuse for America’s ignorance on biblical topics—including what drives people to commit criminal acts.

God clearly declares what He desires from the U.S.: “For in the day that I brought them [Israel] out of the land of Egypt, I did not speak to your fathers or command them concerning burnt offerings and sacrifices. But this command I gave them, ‘Obey My voice, and I will be your God, and you shall be My people; and walk in all the way that I command you, that it may be well with you’” (Jer. 7:22-23, Revised Standard Version).

Widespread disobedience is a core cause of America’s crime problem. Understand. Regardless of fluctuations in crime data, true lawlessness is actually increasing at an all-time rate and showing no signs of stopping.

A crime is an illegal act or action prohibited by law. The label is typically attached to a violation of laws created by men. But what about the laws created by God? Should not breaking one of His laws amount to a “criminal act?”

Consider. If a person broke every one of God’s Ten Commandments, he would only technically have broken at most three of man’s established laws—murder, stealing and lying. Even stealing and lying over time are earning less punitive action.

Does this mean that the other seven commandments are fair game and that violating them brings no consequences? Of course not!

Breaking God’s Law, by definition, is also a crime—yet most do so without giving it a second thought.

Think about the number of people committing adultery (Sixth Commandment). How many children do not honor their parents (Fifth Commandment)? Look at the number of graven images that exist in churches around the world (Second Commandment). What about those who break God’s Sabbath command (Fourth Commandment)?

From ancient times to the present, God has continually and lovingly warned His people of the error of their ways: “From the day that your fathers came out of the land of Egypt to this day, I have persistently sent all My servants the prophets to them, day after day” (vs. 25, Revised Standard Version).

Each time a person reads the words of the Old Testament prophets, they are being warned by God! Yet America as a whole still will not listen.

Until the fundamental issue of obedience to God is addressed, problems such as crime will never go away. In fact, they are foretold to worsen drastically as a result of national sins.

But the Creator does not want it this way. He continues to warn America of what is coming: “Hear the word of the Lord, you children of Israel: for the Lord has a controversy with the inhabitants of the land…” (Hos. 4:1).

The original Hebrew word that is translated “controversy” is defined by Gesenius’ Hebrew-Chaldee Lexicon to the Old Testament as “to conduct a case or suit (legal), sue.” America needs to realize that the God of the Universe has brought an ironclad criminal case against it!

What are the charges? Hosea continues: “…because there is no truth, nor mercy, nor knowledge of God in the land. By swearing, and lying, and killing, and stealing, and committing adultery, they break out, and blood touches blood” (vs. 1-2).

In verse 6, God states: “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge: because you have rejected knowledge, I will also reject you…seeing you have forgotten the law of your God …”

The Creator is calling for America to wake up and remember His Law, which in turn will bring blessings and peace. (Read Leviticus 26.) Until then, criminal acts seen daily on the evening news including rape, murder, assault, and more, will persist. So will divorce, unemployment, and general unhappiness.

Yet you do not have to remain ignorant about what God desires for mankind. Read David C. Pack’s The Ten Commandments – “Nailed to the Cross” or Required for Salvation? to learn the incredible positive benefits of obedience to the laws of the Bible. 

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