Is There A Link Between The Economy and Public Safety?

Is There A Link Between The Economy and Public Safety?
by the National League of Cities


According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)’s recently released Preliminary Annual Unified Crime Report, cities across the country experienced a 2.5 percent drop in violent crimes and a 1.7 percent decrease in property crimes. These preliminary figures for 2008 show a continuation of the nationwide decline in violent and property crime over the past two decades.

With speculation in the media that the recession might lead to a spike in crime in America’s cities and towns, the decrease came as a surprise to some. NLC staff sat down to discuss the possible impact of the economy on public safety with Dr. Robert Nash Parker, professor of sociology and co-director of the Presley Center for Crime and Justice Studies at the University of California Riverside.

“Variables like unemployment have been shown to be related to crime, but given the previous 10 years, another year of decline can be expected,” said Parker. “We’re in a severe recession with less people shopping and higher numbers of police available in many cities, mainly due to personnel buildups over the last two decades, so the chances for crime are highly diminished.”

Parker did warn that if poverty and unemployment continue to rise, crime could also trend upward. “If higher unemployment becomes chronic, lasting longer and longer, and going higher and higher, and poverty increases, this will push the crime rate upward. But in the first couple of years of a recession like this one, the weight would be on the downward push.”

To ensure crime remains low, Parker advised cities to monitor crime data on a real time basis, pay attention to crime patterns, and implement interventions. “Monitoring data in a real-time basis is something many cities don’t do. Some cities have set up systems in which data can be mapped the next day. Los Angeles is one of them, and they are able to look at real time data and at the trends that develop. Cities with established systems are then able to notice and react to those crime patterns.”

The Presley Center is working on a number of crime prevention initiatives with cities. The first brings police officers and criminologists together to not only monitor and respond to real-time crime data, but also measure the effectiveness of the police’s tactical response.

“The research mindset brings experience from looking at data over time and the police mindset brings experience from the ground, so they each might notice a pattern that the other doesn’t,” said Parker. “This makes the data evaluation process richer and more extensive.”

The Presley Center is also working with cities to conduct comprehensive neighborhood evaluations. These merge quality of life indicators and crime statistics to assess the direction in which a neighborhood is headed.

“We look at data for street repairs, libraries and other life indicators with crime data as a way of taking a more comprehensive look at what a resident’s quality of life is really like,” said Parker. “This means cities end up saving money by devoting their resources to preventing a neighborhood from deteriorating and contributing to crime.”

With crime predominantly declining over the last two decades, cities have been able to continue the downward trend through maintaining a strong police force and utilizing new crime prevention initiatives.

Details: The final Unified Crime Report for 2008, which will publish data on individual cities and towns, will be available in September. To learn more about the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting Program and access data for 2008 and previous years, visit

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