Falling crime

Written By: - Date published: 11:35 am, April 3rd, 2013 - 24 comments
Categories: crime, law and "order" - Tags: , , ,

Causing the predictable annual flutter in the news, recent figures show that (with some caveats) we have falling crime rates in NZ. (Or falling rates of reported crime at least.) There was the usual round of editorials, posturing from the current Police Minister, silly chatter on blogs and so on – most of it missing two salient points, first that this is the continuation of a long slow trend, and second that it is a (“Western”) world-wide phenomenon.

Consider these recent international news items:
From the UK: Fall in UK crime rate baffles experts
From America: What’s Behind America’s Falling Crime Rate
From Canada: Crime rate falls to lowest level since 1973
From Australia: New figures reveal falling crime rates

There are various theories out there (including reduced exposure to lead in paint and petrol). Here’s the one that makes most sense to me:

Reduced crime thanks to ‘ageing population’

A criminologist says the falling crime rate is not unique to New Zealand and is the result of changing demographics. …

But a Victoria University criminology professor says the decrease is actually because of the country’s ageing population.

“That cohort of 15 to 20-year-old men are the most criminogenic group of any society and if you have far fewer of them in your population then that’s going to have an impact on crime rates,” Professor John Pratt says. …

Professor Pratt says over the last 20 years the western world has seen a similar trend in falling crime rates …

Falling crime is good news – but the reasons are probably not the ones that occupy most of the politicians and the commentary.

24 comments on “Falling crime”

  1. Raymond a Francis 1

    It seems to make sense because “that cohort of 15 to 20-year-old men are the most criminogenic group of any society and if you have far fewer of them in your population”

    I guess we really will have to wait till the latest census figures come out but my understanding is that that cohort might be a smaller percentage of our population due to the ageing baby boomers their actual numbers have not fallen

    But as I said it seems to make sense and certainly makes good news for the future

    • Being a smaller percentage of the population inherently lowers the crime rates. What it leaves untouched is the absolute numbers, which honestly are rather irrelevant to how much crime is occuring.

  2. Another theory that fascinated me and appeared to have an extraordinarily strong correlation was the level of lead in gas and the associated crime rate.

    A description is at http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2013/01/lead-crime-link-gasoline

    • ianmac 2.1

      In your link mickysavage they note that in spite of the bulge in the numbers of at risk youth in New York, the crime stats still dropped. So maybe not the rising numbers of older folk.
      Lead is an interesting proposition (though I believe that lead poisoning does not leave the body as part of normal cleansing so once poisoned always poisoned).

      • Murray Olsen 2.1.1

        It’s possible that both aging and lead poisoning have an effect, so that after a certain age, the aging effect would be dominant. (Given that either may or may not exist).

  3. Pete 3

    Freakonomics by Steven Levitt covers this more in depth. He also points to the increase in contraception and abortion as a cause behind the drop in crime rates – which kinda strays into social Darwinism a little too much for my tastes.

    • One Tāne Huna 3.1

      Continuing from mickysavage’s comment above:

      From Wikipedia:

      “Rick Nevin suggests an alternative explanation for the correlation observed by Donohue and Levitt. His study, which included several other countries in addition to the United States, suggests that variations in estimated early-childhood blood lead levels (from exposure to leaded gasoline and paint) can better explain the variation in violent crime rates over the years.[14][15][16] For example, it better explains why crime rates rose in the first place, and continued to rise in the UK (who continued to use leaded gasoline after the USA phased it out) even though abortion was legalized. It also explains why New York (especially NYC) and California (which legalized abortion before Roe) saw crime rates drop earlier than the rest of the nation, since they were also more proactive in reducing lead exposure. The theory is biologically plausible, given that lead is a known neurotoxin which has long been linked to impulsivity, delinquency, violence, and reduced IQ.”

      My emphasis.

      • Jackal 3.1.1

        It’s not just lead that does those things… There’s lots of substances that humans often come into contact with that have neurotoxic effects. Interestingly, the total fertility rate has also declined in many countries at a similar rate. The TFR is the average number of children according to a given fertility rate at each age, so cannot be explained by an aging population. Many substances that have been shown to be neurotoxic also reduce fertility.

  4. karol 4

    The recording of crime needs to be looked at. tThere’s this, where instead of recording reports of assaults in dwellings as crimes, measures are used to intervene and work with the offender:

    Mr Rickard said police now had the ability to issue PSOs – Police Safety Orders.

    Last year police issued 10,064 PSOs – up more than 40 per cent on the 7133 PSOs issued in 2011.

    “Most people are respecting these orders. The reduction in dwelling assaults is an encouraging sign that PSOs may be helping.”

    I think this involves removing the offenders from the premises.

    The stats depend a lot on the policing processes.

    And the crimes that have been recorded are resulting in fewer being solved.

    • McFlock 4.1

      That’s another issue, too, Karol. Not even necessarily from a “juking the stats” perspective – PSOs might be easier and quicker to process for the officers than an assault arrest, so it raises the threshold of what counts as an “assault”.

      If I recall correctly, PSOs are basically 5 day restraining orders issued by the police.

  5. Nine to Noon today – the wonderfully curmudgeonly Robert Lithgow QC on the damage Simon Power has done to the legal process in NZ while in office.

  6. aerobubble 6

    So pensioners, like Key’s mum, are flagging in their duty to keep crime stats up and prisons filled. Key’s mum and other pensioners will make private prisons unprofitable! Where is grey power when you need them!

  7. Andre 7

    Smarter people- Emotional intelligence is having an effect ……. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emotional_intelligence

  8. The Gormless Fool formerly known as Oleolebiscuitbarrell 8

    I have retired from my life as a gentleman cat burgler. I suspect this to be wholly responsible for the drop.

  9. Crims have probably realised that they can go and get a high powered job in finance, marketing, politics, spying etc and carry on their predilections without the bother of a criminal record…and get well-paid for their criminal abilities to boot.

    • Murray Olsen 9.1

      That’s the best explanation I’ve seen yet.

      • trickldrown 9.1.1

        criminals are getting smarter I know some career criminals they are still doing crime lots of it, gangs are still flourishing!
        Whats happening is the level of evidence and quality of defense has increased allowing criminals to flourish.
        How many of the cars and goods stolen are ever return not to mention unreported stolen goods

  10. xtasy 10

    Truth behind the crime figures is partly, that the NZ Police have for some years now strongly followed a “de-escalation” approach, when dealing with disputes and crimes.

    If it is not perceived to be life threatening incident, or where serious harm may occur, they will apply this, and actually just warn offenders or alleged offenders to stop, correct and not do something wrong again.

    It was never applied like this before, so this naturally is part of the reason for the drop in crime reported.

    Also are there many cases simply not taken up anymore. People have to jump through a few hoops to succeed with laying a complaint now. If there is any doubt, any perceived irregularity or something considered not matching or missing, the police simply will not even accept a complaint.

    And of course, since there have been more draconian laws and bylaws introduced over years, the police now have a lot more power, and when apprehending perceived or alleged offenders, the mere threat of prosecution, intimidation and warnings do usually work, so people shut up and go away.

    This will make for more to happen in homes, drinking, drugging, abuse and more, so most of domestic stuff never gets reported. That is one way to lower the “crime rate”, for sure.

  11. TightyRighty 11

    I think poverty has gone down in New Zealand. That’s a major factor in crime according to the posters on this site.

    • McFlock 11.1

      Indeed it is. As is population size. And number of frontline police staff.
      Maybe falling crime levels, if reported accurately, are a hidden bonus to our emigration levels over the last few years?

    • One Tāne Huna 11.2

      Not so much poverty, Tighty, more inequality. Can’t you even get that right? Sheesh!

    • xtasy 11.3

      TR: Poverty has gone down??? I dare to ask your reason! Maybe in your mind poverty has gone down, but not in your brain cells. They must be undernourished and extremely poorly fed and arranged to come up with such idiot comment.

  12. DH 12

    I’m just thinking aloud here but the falling crime rate does seem to have coincided with the creeping increases in sentences and the growth in the prison population. I can’t be bothered crunching the numbers but it stands to reason that if repeat offenders were in jail for longer periods then the crime rate would fall a bit.

    Some quick figuring says we only need to imprison another 90,000 and we’ll be almost crime free….

  13. Lloyd 13

    Surely the falling crime rate is due to the cohorts of youth raised under the former Labour government coming into the crime causing age group, and the Ruthonomics group now growing out of the worst crime causing age?

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