Violent crime has plummeted in the Washington area and in major cities across the country, a trend criminologists describe as baffling and unexpected. The District, New York and Los Angeles are on track for fewer killings this year than in any other year in at least four decades. Boston, San Francisco, Minneapolis and other cities are also seeing notable reductions in homicides.
In his excellent forthcoming book on crime Mark Kleiman makes the point that it’s much easier for a law enforcement system to be effective when there’s relatively little crime. With few people committing offenses, it’s pretty easy to monitor crime hotspots and to deploy swift and effective punishment. And because it’s pretty easy to capture offenders and punishment for offenses is likely to be swift and effective, people tend to be deterred from committing crimes. Which makes enforcement easier which makes crime decline which makes enforcement easier and on and on and on.
In other words, there’s at least some reason to expect that the past 15 years’ worth of success at better controlling crime in many of America’s major cities will just have a lot of momentum that can carry us forward even through unfavorable labor market conditions.