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Saturday, August 28, 2010


Today's Buggy Topic

. . . Is captured faithfully by the subject-title.  The topic itself was raised in a thread at Economist's View, and prof bug's lengthy reply follows here


Lafayette Said:

"Of course, some Americans will be proud of the above number. We're not sissies, are we? No Creeping Socialism in the US, right?Right, just a lot of misery if you are locked into poverty, that shows up in the crime/delinquency stats. Want to have a comparative look at those numbers for the countries cited above? Go for it! Put them up here in this forum!" --- Lafayette

1) Alas, Very Wrong, Mon Vieux

There are essentially four sources of crime-data within countries:

* Officially reported crimes to the police and investigated by them.  In the USA, the FBI collects the data from local police forces throughout the country, and the Department of Justice is responsible for analyzing and reporting the data.

* Crime-victims opinion surveys.  These almost always show a higher rate of crime, especially the violent sorts: rape, assault, armed robbery, attempted homicide.    In the USA, the Department of Justice administers an annual National Crime Survey every year.  The survey shows that about half the violent crime isn't reported to the police --- a finding more or less paralleled in other rich democratic countries.

* Interviews and surveys with incarcerated criminals.  For instance, in the early 1990s, a team of criminologists interviewed simultaneously inmates in a prison in New York state and Wisconsin.  They found in each prison that the interviewed prisoners confessed to 11 crimes they had committed for which they weren't arrested or convicted.

* Murder victims.  They are hard to get rid of.

Click on the "Continue" button below.

2) Across countries,

  •  Interpol gathers the data from each governments' legal centers and makes them available to the authorities. In the EU, Europol does the same for its members.  Neither agency will allow non-legal authorities to access the data.


  • A problem with the officially reported crime-stats --- aside from their under-estimation of actual crimes --- is that the legal definitions of crime can vary across countries . . . even if all legal statutes, at any rate in more developed countries that are democratic, prohibit the use of force or fraud (even by the police in unauthorized ways).  And so the International Crime Victims Survey, sponsored by the UN, was administered four times between 1989 and 2001, then taken over by the EU in 2006 with a smaller range of countries that omitted a fair number of dictatorial and unstable democracies.

3) Officially Reported Violent Crime

 Against this background, the British Conservative Party's research center --- authorized to access Interpol and Europol data --- made public through the Shadow Minister of the Interior in July 2009 (shadow means the official opposition cabinet-minister) the following data.   Source.

Rate of Violent Crime Per100,000 People

UK ..... ..2,034 violent crimes / 100,000

Austria . . . 1,677

South Africa . . . 1609

Sweden . . . 1123

Belgium . . . 1,006

Canada . . 935

Finland . . . 738

Holland . . . 676


France . . 504


USA (14th place) . . . 466

4) Crime-Victim Surveys

The rankings are more or less paralleled in International Crime Victims Surveys that the UN sponsored four times between the late 1980s and the early part of the last decade . . . after which, with a smaller number of countries (the data for under-developed countries and dictatorial or dubiously democratic countries suspect), the EU took over the surveys and the last one appeared in 2006.

  • (i.) In those studies, the US among rich industrial countries ranked in the bottom quarter in "contact crime" (violent).

  • (ii.) One of the more interesting survey questions was whether people were afraid to go out into the streets at night.

In the 2001 survey, the American population was the least fearful (14%) and showed the most confidence in its police force.  In the 2006 EU survey, the US tied Sweden at 19% (slightly higher than Denmark and Holland).  Most EU countries were anywhere from 25-39% fearful . . . lots of them in the 30-39% range.

5) USA Violent and Property Crime at an All-Time Low

The Justice Department is responsible in the USA for officially reported and investigated crime.  The modern data-system dates back to 1960.  The data, remember, are of two-sorts: officially reported crime and property crime.

In 2009, the declining trend in violent crime since the early 1990s culminated in the lowest rate country-wise since the modern data-collection and analysis were instituted in 1960.  The decline has so far continued this year: click here.  The same is true of property crime.

The same outcomes for both violent crime and property crime show up in the National Crime Surveys:. 

The summation from the National Crime Survey (cited above) is as follows: "Violent and property crime rates in 2008 remain at the lowest levels recorded since 1973, the first year that such data were collected. The rate of every major violent and property crime measured by BJS fell between 1999 and 2008. The overall violent crime rate fell 41 percent and the property crime rate declined by 32 percent during the last 10 years." http://crimeinamerica.net/crime-rates-united-states/

6)  All sorts of new crime-prevention and crime-detection Have Been Innovated,

Including community-based work.  But the most influential?

Well, consider this.  In 2002 or 2003 --- I forget the exact year --- the NY Times had an op-ed by the Swedish Ambassador to the UN in that city who nominated Rudy Guilliani for the Nobel Peace Prize . . . what with his admiration for the enormous decline in crime in the city that he himself had witnessed over the previous decade. 

Several police forces in the EU have tried to emulate the "Broken Windows" approach to crime prevention that dates back to the Early 1980s created by James Wilson (a former prof bug professor) and George Kelling.  It was this approach that Mayor Guilliani and Chief Bratton instituted in New York city early in the 1990s.  Click here for the source.

Chief Bratton then moved on to Los Angeles and served as its police chief through most of the last decade until he retired last year.  The same enormous decline in crime --- especially violent crime --- occurred there too.

7) The crux conclusion? 

Whatever the causes of crime --- violent or property-based --- it seems to have no correlation whatever with income- or wealth-inequality across rich industrial countries.  If anything, it runs in the opposite direction: the more equal the income-distribution in West Europe has become, the more violent crime it has experienced.   And vice versa in the USA.

Michael Gordon, AKA the buggy professor