The FBI released its preliminary report yesterday on violent and property crime in the United States in 2008.
Overall, reported crime was down 2.5 percent from 2007. But in Oklahoma City and Tulsa, the incidents of violent crime rose.
Much of the conventional wisdom out there holds that when the economy sours, crime rises. But how does that explain the increase in Oklahoma City and Tulsa, both of which have been fairly insulated from the worsening economy in other parts of the country? (For what it’s worth, business magazine Forbes last year declared Oklahoma City as one of the nation’s most “recession-proof” cities.)
I came across a recent series put out by the Federal Reserve Bank in Minneapolis. In the March issue of their FedGazette, bank researchers and economists looked into the relationship between the economy and crime:
The matter is complicated, at least somewhat, by findings from economic theory and empirical research. Though some research supports the conventional view of rising crime during economic downturns, a closer look at theory finds a more complex story, and empirical studies over the years haven’t found as solid a relationship as one might think between economic downturns and criminal activity. Many other factors are at play, from demographic changes and shifting cultural norms to legislative initiatives and technological innovation. Thus, forecasting crime trends—like predicting the weather or the economy—is an uncertain venture.
Researchers have different theories on the links between crime and the economy:
… Similarly, economist Philip Cook at Duke University recently examined the course of crime rates in urban areas of the United States in recent decades and concluded that “the statistical evidence presented here indicates that [the 1990s crime rate] decline, like the crime surge that preceded it, has been largely uncorrelated with changes in socioeconomic conditions.”
Others, like University of Missouri-St. Louis sociologist Richard Rosenfeld, future president of the American Society of Criminology, continue to hold that macroeconomic conditions do indeed have a strong influence on crime rates. “Crime rates are likely to increase as the economy sours,” Rosenfeld wrote in a Los Angeles Times opinion piece in March 2008, which warned Angelenos “to brace themselves for more crime to come.”
But other scholars, including political scientist James Q. Wilson, former chair of the White House Task Force on Crime, are less certain. Almost a year after Rosenfeld predicted a rise in L.A. crime, Wilson wrote an editorial for the Los Angeles Times, noting that during 2008, crime had fallen in the city “at a time when the economy was reeling and unemployment was rising.”
Whatever the case, it helps to put the most recent FBI stats in context. The FBI itself cautions about drawing comparisons among cities:
Figures used in this Report are submitted voluntarily by law enforcement agencies throughout the country. Individuals using these tabulations are cautioned against drawing conclusions by making direct comparisons between cities. Comparisons lead to simplistic and/or incomplete analyses that often create misleading perceptions adversely affecting communities and their residents. Valid assessments are possible only with careful study and analysis of the range of unique conditions affecting each local law enforcement jurisdiction. It is important to remember that crime is a social problem and, therefore, a concern of the entire community. The efforts of law enforcement are limited to factors within its control. The data user is, therefore, cautioned against comparing statistical data of individual agencies.
Here’s the FBI preliminary stats for Oklahoma City, Tulsa and Norman. The full report, along with the stats of other Oklahoma cities, will be out later this year.
And if you’re still curious, another source of crime information is the National Crime Victimization Survey by the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics. It surveys people (rather than police departments), and its numbers are usually higher than the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports. That’s because residents sometimes don’t report crimes to their local police departments.
Written by Paul Monies