Imaginary fiends - The Boston Globe
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Imaginary fiends In 2009, crime went down. In fact it's been going down for a decade. But more and more Americans believe it's getting worse. Why do we refuse to believe the good news?
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The year 2009 was a grim one for many Americans, but there was one pleasant surprise amid all the drear: Citizens, though ground down and nerve-racked by the recession, still somehow resisted the urge to rob and kill one another, and they resisted in impressive numbers. Across the country, FBI data show that crime last year fell to lows unseen since the 1960s - part of a long trend that has seen crime fall steeply in the United States since the mid-1990s. At the same time, however, another change has taken place: a steady rise in the percentage of Americans who believe crime is getting worse. The vast majority of Americans - nearly three-quarters of the population - thought crime got worse in the United States in 2009, according to Gallupâ€™s annual crime attitudes poll. That, too, is part of a running trend. As crime rates have dropped for the past decade, the public belief in worsening crime has steadily grown. The more lawful the country gets, the more lawless we imagine it to be. The implications for the country at large are stark. Democracy is based on an informed public calling upon its representatives to address problems facing their society. If we believe crime is on the march in the streets all over the country, it influences our beliefs on critical issues from gun control to sentencing laws, from how we run our prisons to how much money we spend on law enforcement. Misinformation on the part of the public makes for bad lawmaking on the part of the government.
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Imaginary fiends - The Boston Globe
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How did we get this idea in our heads? Why do we persist in believing the United States is inexorably sliding into lawlessness when we should be rejoicing that exactly the opposite is happening? The short answer is that we’ve been taking our cues on crime from a host of things that are both abstract and wholly unrelated to crime. And perhaps, by understanding why we’ve come to believe what we believe, we can take some steps toward mending our relationship with reality. Take murder. The murder rate rose and fell over the 20th century, climbing to an early peak in 1933, then dropping sharply and staying low through the Depression, World War II, and into the 1960s. It rose to a record level in 1974, broke that record in 1980, and stayed prodigiously bloody through the early ’90s. This is when Bill Clinton boosted funding for local police forces, and police began experimenting with radical new approaches to policing, such as those employed in the so-called Boston Miracle. In 1994, the murder rate started to fall, and it’s been falling ever since. Rape, robbery, and aggravated assault have dropped along with it. Last year was no exception. According to preliminary FBI data, the murder rate dropped 10 percent from 2008 to 2009, robbery fell 6.5 percent, aggravated assault fell 3.2 percent, auto theft was down a whopping 18.7 percent. Continued...
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Published on Aug 15, 2010
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