Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Poverty Causes Crime? A Crime Theory Demolished

As Heather MacDonald notes in her piece in the Wall Street Journal, the recession of 2008-09 has undercut one of the most destructive social theories that came out of the 1960s: that the root cause of crime is poverty and social injustice

MacDonald goes on to state that the crime free fall continues a trend of declining national crime rates that began in the 1990s, during a very difficult economy.

As any cop will tell you, most crimes are committed by a small group of career criminals. When these career criminals are released early from prison, they go on to commit more crimes.

I agree with MacDonald that an increase in criminals incarcerated has largely caused the lower crime rate. I also agree with her view that the innovative policing of former LA police chief William Bratton and New York City Ray Kelly has helped reduce crime.

Their use of COMPSTAT has brought crime way down in their cites, as well as other cites across the country. The COMPSTAT police system is a simple one, yet it is highly effective. Identify the specific areas where crimes are committed and place more effective police resources in those high crime areas. COMPSTAT also aids police chiefs in holding police captains accountable for their crime statistics.

I attended a COMPSTAT meeting at the Philadelphia Police Academy when John Timoney was the Philly police commissioner.

A huge COMPSTAT computerized map was on the wall and the crimes committed that week were represented by little symbols. A small car represented stolen autos.

I recall Timoney making the comment that the district looked like a used car lot. Everyone laughed except the captain of that district. The district captain was told in no uncertain terms by Timoney to crack down on those car thieves.

I also recall Timoney telling reporters at one meeting I attended that the police can lock criminals up, but if the prisons won’t hold them, they will simply be back out on the street committing the same crimes.

I’ve heard more than one commentator lament our large number of incarcerated persons, but I’m thankful that career criminals are behind bars.

And even though we are in a tough economy, our crime rate lowers because poor people don’t cheat, rob, rape and kill — criminals do.

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