When I moved to Los Angeles back in the early 1990s, it was one of the most dangerous cities in the United States. One year, there were more than 1,000 homicides (murders) in the city of Los Angeles itself. Even worse for me, when I first moved here I was living in one of the most dangerous parts of town (Echo Park) and going to a school (the University of Southern California) in a mostly unsafe neighborhood (South Central Los Angeles). But in the almost 20 years since I’ve lived in Southern California, violent crime, such as murder, rape (sexual assault), and burglary (theft) have all decreased dramatically. In fact, 2009 was one of the safest years in the city of Los Angeles in the past 50 years. Last year, there were a little more than 300 homicides, the lowest number of killings since 1967. This drop (decrease) in violent crime is not unique to Los Angeles, however. Almost every major city in the United States, including New York, San Francisco, Chicago, and Dallas, has seen a significant decrease in the number of violent crimes in the past 20 years. The big question is: What happened?
We may not be sure of what’s right (correct), but we definitely know what’s wrong, including the popular idea that increasing poverty causes an increase in crime. Last year was one of the worst years in the U.S. economy in several decades (decade equals 10 years), yet violent crime continued to drop.
There are at least three possible explanations why America is much safer now than it was 20 years ago, and all three might have contributed (had an influence, had an impact) to lower crime rates:
- Fewer young people. Statistically (numerically), most violent crime is committed by adolescent and young adult males. As the population gets older, there are fewer and fewer young people to commit (to do) crimes. As one researcher noted in an article in today’s Wall Street Journal, “The largest and fastest-growing segment (part) of the population is people over 50. People over 50 also happen to be the age group that is least likely to commit crimes.” The more old people there are, the safer the world is. (I guess that means that I am a “young” person, since I am not yet 50. But that also means that I am more likely to commit crimes, so be careful!)
- More prisons. The United States incarcerates (puts in jail or prison) more than seven million people, which is about the size of the population of the country of Jordan. One out of every 31 adults in the US is behind bars (in prison). Some people argue that putting more violent criminals in prison will logically lead to fewer crimes.
- Better policing. Police forces in major American cities have changed their tactics (approaches, ways of doing things) in the past 20 years, including what is called data-driven policing. Data is just another word for information, facts, or statistics. Something that is data-driven is something that is influenced or controlled by the information collected, rather than by some theory. The idea is that the police use computers to analyze, for example, where the most dangerous parts of town are and send more police to those areas. Police also make sure that petty (less serious) criminals (people who commit crimes) are punished more frequently, ensuring (making sure) that small crimes don’t lead to big ones.
It may be, of course, that there are other reasons to explain this decrease in crime in the U.S. Whatever the reason, it should be good news for those who want to visit the United States but are worried about their safety. So come to Los Angeles, and I promise that you (probably) won’t be killed!