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Is steady crime rate good news or bad?



Published: Fri, June 1, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



The preliminary figures for 2000 are in, and overall, says the FBI, the overall crime index hasn't changed very much. For those who had hoped that the crime rate would continue to decline, the news isn't good. On the other hand, that the rate seems to have leveled off may mean that more aggressive law enforcement and a higher level of incarceration has worked to make the nation's streets safer.

However, it takes a year or more to determine if what we're seeing is a trend or an anomaly.

The figures for Ohio illustrate how difficult it is to draw general conclusions from the specific data. Of the state's three largest cities, many folks might thinks that Cleveland, the hard-luck city, would have the highest crime rate. But surprisingly, it's Columbus that had the highest crime rate last year and which saw an increase in the number of crimes over 1999, while Cleveland saw a decrease.

Connection: Some analysts have suggested a connection between the economy and the crime rate: That the better the economy the fewer the crimes, as more would-be criminals are gainfully employed. But considering that Columbus, now the nation's 15th largest city, is in a county with an extremely low unemployment rate, the connection may be tenuous at best.

It seems like common sense to assume that crime rises as does poverty. But there may be other more telling factors.

The cities of Las Vegas, Nev., Cleveland, and Long Beach, Calif., are the 32nd, 33rd and 34th most populous cities in the United States. Las Vegas outranks Cleveland by all of 31 people. But Las Vegas experienced 47,400 major crimes in 2000 -- major crimes include murder, forcible rape, aggravated assault, robbery, -- burglary, larceny and auto theft. In Cleveland, the crime index was only 32,584 -- nearly one-third less. At the same time, Long Beach a large multi-ethnic suburb of Los Angeles, reported only 17,667 crimes -- for a rate less than half that of Las Vegas.

Studying why three cities of similar size should have such dissimilar crime rates could provide useful information in the fight against crime.

According to an FBI spokesman, the 2000 crime index for Youngstown will be reported later this year. (Only cities with populations greater than 100,000 show up in the preliminary report.) For 1999, however, the crime rate was higher than Cleveland's, but lower than Columbus'.

While murders, rapes and assaults get the headlines and are, of course, the most heinous crimes, a relative few are affected by them. Far more people are hurt by property crimes -- having their homes or businesses burgled or their cars stolen. It is these crimes that may be most amenable to crime prevention and prosecution efforts -- and to communities' perception of a high quality of life.




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