Posted by Jay Livingston
Do most of us know the crime statistics for our neighborhood?
In a comment on the previous post, Bob S. asked, “If people knew how many index crimes were in their neighborhoods, do you think there would be more involvement in handling the issues before governmental interference?”
The point of my post had been that our estimates of crime are impressionistic, and those impressions are much more affected by the appearance of a neighborhood than by numbers on the police books. The “signs of crime” – abandoned cars and buildings, tough-looking groups of kids, garbage strewn on the sidewalk, etc. – are visible, and you can see them every day. When I was in the crim biz and the newspaper would publish crime statistics once or twice a year, I’d note the numbers for my precinct, and I’d clip the article and file it. A week later I wouldn’t remember whether robberies or other crimes in my neighborhood were up or down from the previous year.
That was before the Internet. Now, some cities make their crime data easily accessible. Here, for example are the crimes known to the police for the last six months in the area of Boston where my niece lives.
Houston too has a user-friendly site. You choose the area of the city you want. The map shows and describes the boundaries, and it lists the zip codes in that “beat.” Another click takes you to a list of all crimes in any month you choose – type of crime and address.
At the NYPD Website, you can get data by precinct for the seven Index crimes for the most recent week. If there’s an option for other time periods and details about location, I couldn’t find it.
If you're interested, try your own city. Googling the city name and “police department” will get you there. Then see what kind of information you can get about your neighborhood.
Then there’s Bob’s question about knowledge of crime and ideas about the role of government. I don’t have good data at hand, but my guess is that most people still see crime as a matter for government, especially when crime rates are high. Individuals and businesses may adopt preventive measures, but when crime becomes a public issue, most people look to the government and its agencies – the police and courts. When people are afraid – of crime, terrorism, communism, drugs, illegal immigration, etc. – they look to the government for protection. When people think that crime rates are rising, they’re willing to grant more power to the state. It’s only when they perceive the government as incapable of protecting them that they turn to vigilantism and other non-state protection schemes. Even then, they see their activity as supplementing government action, not replacing it.