Wednesday, September 21, 2011

If Crime's Down, Then Why Don't I Feel Better About It?

Last week we saw the release of the results of the 2010 National Crime Victim's Survey. While the Uniform Crime Reports compiles statistics of crimes reported to police, the Crime Victim's Survey studies victimization by surveying people to determine the level of crime victimization that may or may not have been reported to police.

NPR had a short piece on the release of the numbers. The result is that violent crime is down here in the US. This is consistent with the numbers that we've seen from the UCR numbers which also report crime is on the decline. What I thought interesting in the NPR story was this bit:

While total violent crime was down, people's perception is just the opposite. They believe crime keeps going up.

Why is it that after decades of crime reductions the public is more fearful than ever?

While it's probably easy to blame politicians and the media for hyping the fear of crime to their own ends, some of the blame may also lie in the fact that we in law enforcement have done a pretty poor job of addressing people's fears.

Last year the US Department of Justice's Office of Community Policing Services put out a book Reducing Fear of Crime: Strategies for Police. In the intro to the book there is this statement I think is important.

If the source of a neighborhood’s fear is poor street lighting, a community newsletter is not going to fix it. If the cause of fear is aggressive panhandlers in a shopping district, then showing homeowners how to put better locks on their doors will not work.

Often our crime prevention strategies don't include fear reduction. Yet, this fear of crime, even if it's unfounded, is just as problematic as a real crime problem would be. We have to work hard at making the public feel safe in their community whether their fears are justified or not.

What is your agency doing to dispel incorrect notions about the risk of crime?

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