January 29, 2024
Last fall, New York Times columnist Paul Krugman
wrote "public views about crime needn't have much to do with personal
Prior to the pandemic, crime rates were at historic
lows. Take, for instance, New York City. In 2019, there were 319 murders; in
1990, there were 2,262. Homicide did increase during the pandemic, but those
numbers are beginning to decline.
New York City had 386 homicides in 2023, a 12% drop
from the 424 in 2022. Shootings were also down. Last year, about 1,166 people
were shot in New York City, down approximately 400 from 2022 — hardly
indicative of out-of-control violent crime.
The trend extends beyond New York. A recent study by
the Council on Criminal Justice examined crime rates reported by law
enforcement agencies in 38 American cities. The number of homicides was down
10% from 2022 — representing 515 fewer homicides in 2023.
So why did a Gallup Poll in November of last year
find that 63% of Americans describe crime in the U.S. as either extremely
serious or very serious?
The answer is simple; fear of crime drives up
television ratings, social media traffic and provides fodder for tough-on-crime
True crime television is at an all-time high. The
local nightly news reports neighborhood crime like it is the only thing going
on in town. Crime and courtroom dramas are on major networks nearly every night
and what you've missed you can stream anytime day or night.
It has long been established that people who watch a
lot of television tend to be more afraid of crime. A recent study released in
May of last year found that, for many people, time spent on social media
appears to similarly heighten fears of being a crime victim. Grisly stories of
murder and mayhem pop up as podcasts and docudramas.
In addition, the rhetoric of fear, especially the
politically expedient rants about crime and immigration — some of which are on
display in the escalating border dispute between Texas and the federal
government — contributes to "a positive correlation between media
consumption and fear of crime."
Don't overlook the politics of crime. For instance,
former President Donald Trump's declaration in his inaugural address that
violent crime was experiencing its largest increase in nearly half a century
and that the carnage must stop "right here and now" was simply not
true. In 2017, violent crime in America was at near record lows.
Trump has never stopped berating big cities about
"out-of-control crime." He called Washington, D.C. a "filthy and
crime ridden embarrassment to our nation." He once said, "All over
the world they're talking about Chicago. Afghanistan is a safe place by
comparison." Last fall he inaccurately posted about New York City,
"MURDERS & VIOLENT CRIME HIT UNIMAGINABLE RECORDS!"
The continued political rhetoric on the perceived
threat to public safety posed by groups advocating and protesting for racial
justice has also contributed to some believing that violence is out of control.
Most Americans seems detached from reality when it
comes to crime. An interesting set of demographics may be playing a role in the
unsubstantiated fear of crime — America is slowly getting older and richer and
In the last 60 years, the median age of Americans
has risen from 29.5 to 44.3. According to John Roman, Ph.D., director of Center
on Public Safety and Justice at the University of Chicago, "Older,
wealthier people are more risk averse ... (their) tolerance for that disorder
will decline ... and they will vote for politicians who vow to restore
Without regard to reality, crime is polling well in
America. That means better ratings; better election results; and the
perpetuation of the myth of "out-of-control violent crime."
T. Mangino is of counsel with Luxenberg, Garbett, Kelly & George P.C. His
book "The Executioner's Toll, 2010" was released by McFarland
Publishing. You can reach him at www.mattmangino.com and follow him on Twitter
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