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Is crime decreasing in the big cities of the world?

July 2, 2008

All of us want to feel safe when we walk on the streets and go to bed at night. We want to be safe from physical harm and we want our property to be safe too. But open the newspaper and there it is – news about violent crime and burglaries and assaults. It makes us insecure as we feel that crime is on the increase…specially in big cities. But is this the reality?

Crime decreasing all over the developed world
Well, in the developed countries there is a clear trend that overall violent crime is on the decline. For example, in America violent crime is decreasing. And it’s decreasing in Canada and in the European Union as well. And not just in western Europe but also the Balkans (south-eastern Europe). It’s a similar story in Japan.

Violent Crime increasing in India
The National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) statistics say that murder, rioting, kidnapping and robbery have all increased from 1953 to 2006. It is violent crime which is of utmost concern to citizens and the murder rate is considered a good barometer of the overall crime situation in any country (other crimes often go unreported or or the police fudge figures and not just in India) as violent crimes, particularly homicide, is usually accurately reported. The murder rate in India is going up and

Big cities have less crime!
Talking about developed countries, the decline in crime is mostly being seen in urban centres. The quality and quantity of policing is said to be a cause. For example in Canada, large urban centers like Toronto are “among the safest communities in the country.”

In America, in large cities like New York (population 8.2m) murder rates have dropped as much as 20 percent (2007 figures) and in Los Angeles (population 3.6m) they’ve dropped by 19 percent! In fact even in slightly smaller cities (populations more than 1m) murder rates dropped, though not so dramatically – by 9.8 percent. As high profile cities are better policed, this is thought to play a part.

But, crime is also falling even in very small places (in the U.S) like in place with a population of less than 10,000! Murder rates here have dropped significantly and this could perhaps be because in a small places people are happier (small communities). However there seems to be no explanation for this.

It’s the medium sized cities which are showing a rise in crime. These cities are often growing cities with a huge influx of newcomers…but this could hold true for a few cities, not all. Each city has a different character and history and it’s impossible to generalise. In fact even experts haven’t found satisfactory answers to the increase and decrease in crime trends. There is often a large variation in pattern across regions. In the United States for example, north eastern America is showing the greatest decline in crime and with some big cities in other parts (Atlanta, New Orleans) actually showing an increase. Such wide variations are natural in a large country like the United States. Crime in New Orleans increased after hurricane Katrina.

What about crime patterns in India?
Again, large variations across regions. But I was curious to know whether in India too there is some sort of decline in violent crime in big cities. Unfortunately I could not get any report which could give me trends of a few years and I suspect (India does not have a national database of crime and criminals) that no such figures have been collated. What I do know however is that the police and the national media put the spotlight on urban crimes. This could have perhaps led to a decrease in crime in big cities over the past few years…because if even an assault in a posh building is reported widely, it is likely that criminals will target more vulnerable areas.

A small percentage of the population is a victim of most violent crime?
There is infact research in the United Kingdom which shows that “just 1 percent of the population suffers 59 percent of all violent crime; that just 2 percent of the population suffers 41 percent of all property crime. This happens because when crimes are committed in poorer areas, the police will investigate with less vigour and also because the victims, not being powerful or influential (and often uneducated) may not even file a report! I am sure a similar thing happens in India. This is about actual crime, not just reported crime.

Causes of decrease in violent crime in developed countries
No one has really been able to pinpoint the exact reasons for the steady decline in the violent crime in developed countries over the past few years. Sure, better policing is one reason, but other reasons like political stability, a weakening of the links between business, politics and organized crime and an ageing population are all considered important.

On the other hand a political-criminal nexus, political instability, large numbers of young males in the population (young males are most likely to be involved in crime) all contribute to an increased crime rate. In fact one of the reasons for China’s increasing crime rate is said to be the high proportion of males in the population. Well, India is in the same boat as we have a skewed sex ratio.

In any case, the subject of why crime increases or decreases is very complex and varies greatly within one country. It depends on the region’s socio-economic, historical and cultural influences. What we do know however is that urbanisation does not play as great a part as we think. Political disturbances (we have that in India in plenty) and a criminal-political nexus are far important influencing factors.

Not that we in big cities actually believe we are safer. In India, as well as abroad people aren’t feeling any safer. This could perhaps be because the media sensationalizes urban crime. In the United Kingdom, where violent crime has decreased significantly, a British Crime Survey showed that the “sustained falls in crime have still to be reflected in the public’s perceptions of crime.”

Related Reading: Violent Crime in the world
Conviction rates of the world
Social Trust varies from country to country and is connected to crime and corruption
Shortage of police in India
Mob violence in India on the increase
Too many policemen on VIP duty in India
Rich countries are the least corrupt!

22 Comments leave one →
  1. July 2, 2008 9:32 am

    One thing is very clear – in countries with population growth rates that have either stabilised or begun to fall, crime rates also come down. More people competing for the same resources leads to more crime.

    Income disparity has a huge part to play in crime rates. Countries with greater income disparity have much higher rates of violent crime and indeed every other crime!

    The crime rate may be falling in some cities of the U.S.A. but it is the only developed country where the crime rate is extremely high.

    From wikipedia:

    The United States has the highest documented incarceration rate, and total documented prison population in the world. As of year-end 2006, a record 7.2 million people were behind bars, on probation or on parole. Of the total, 2.2 million were incarcerated. More than 1 in 100 American adults were incarcerated at the start of 2008. The People’s Republic of China ranks second with 1.5 million, despite having over four times the population of the US.

  2. July 2, 2008 9:41 am

    More than 1 in 100 adults of the population in prisons! Now, that is a wonderful record for a country that claims to be “free” 😡

    Since the reinstatement of the death penalty in 1976, there have been 1,109 executions in the United States as of July 2008. There were 42 executions in 2007.

    A nice record for a country that gives lectures to other countries on “human rights”. 😡

  3. July 2, 2008 11:01 am

    The United States has the highest documented incarceration rate, and total documented prison population in the world.

    Shush, Raj. We don’t say anything against the “greatest country in the world” which has no faults. 😉 😀

  4. July 2, 2008 1:18 pm

    Raj, my post is about crime trends, that’s the main thing. As you say, the actual rate of crime (per 1000 population) is higher in America and amongst EU nations it’s highest in Britain. India as a lower crime rate.
    Also your premise that income disparity has a huge role to play in crime rates has not been conclusively proved. In any case if you look at just India you will see the fallacy of this premise. We have great income disparity but a lower crime rate. In India a well dressed person can walk in a slum without fear, so it’s not just that as you say. In fact the causes of crime are very very complex and while poverty will certainly play a part, it plays less of a part than other factors which are socio-cultural and political, as I have mentioned in my post.

    Amit, the “greatest” country in the world has it’s faults and its good points, just like India has!

  5. July 2, 2008 2:14 pm

    our judicial system sucks people genrelaly second the thoughts of getting they try it more freely
    poverty of course plays a major role..

  6. July 2, 2008 4:13 pm

    hmm….i wonder why people should kill each other..

  7. July 2, 2008 5:04 pm

    In the UK they have cameras on every street corner, that helps them nab criminals in action on the streets. that wud have also reduced the crime on streets in the cities to some extent.

  8. July 2, 2008 5:50 pm

    //No one has really been able to pinpoint the exact reasons for the steady decline in the violent crime in developed countries over the past few years// Have u read Freakonomics? In the 1st chapter the author has analyzed the fall in crime in US against the predicted rise of it. He traces it back to the law making abortion legal. According to him, most of the criminals are those who dont receive good parenting or education, live in poverty, are exposed to alcoholic abusive parents or single mother. So by passing that law, the percentage of such children fell and slowly crime decreased whereas it had been predicted to rise. Its quite interesting how he analyzes the real reason behind things and events.

  9. wishtobeanon permalink
    July 2, 2008 6:07 pm

    There have been many instances when we left our doors open or unlocked (due to forgetfulness) when we went out and nothing happened – maybe its also due to the kind of neighbourhood that we live in. I generally feel very safe here and I feel safer when I see the police cars patrolling the streets and neighbourhoods. I see police cars almost everyday and this is a small city!

  10. July 2, 2008 6:51 pm

    Arvind, true criminals with “pull” and political links can get away with almost anything! At times I think this is changing, but it’s changing only when victims are high profile too.

    Vishesh, strange no…because even animals don’t usually kill their own species.

    Xylene, I have read about that. I think that plays a huge part in preventing crime.

    Reema, that sounds like a very interesting book. I would love to read it and definitely what the author says seems to make sense. Neglected and abused children are prime candidates to fall into crime.

    wishtobeanon, I guess some countries are really safe. Here in mumbai you can’t do that. If no one else, the next door neighbour’s maid could walk in and walk out with one’s stuff! There are just so many people here at any given time, milkmen and courier boys for example. You can never take a risk of leaving the door open. But then petty crime is very common in India.

    • steve permalink
      June 4, 2011 10:05 am

      Many animals kill their own kind.. Cannibalism is common in carnivorous species. Great apes(especially chimps) will actually wage group warfare on each other. The myth that humans are the only animal that commits murder is just another fallacy created by people to convince themselves they aren’t just smart monkeys….

  11. July 2, 2008 7:50 pm

    Statistics lie in India. We all know how many crimes are committed which go unreported and who commit them. India today is an anarchy. Some hopeful middle class idealists think that things will improve. No, I see too much of baseness all around me to hope for anything like that.

    Statistics tend to lie everywhere. But usually violent crime, specially murders, are accurately reported. Difficult to hide a murder! But other kinds of crime do go unreported. I think things will improve, but they will get worse before they start to improve. – Nita.

  12. July 2, 2008 7:50 pm


    // Also your premise that income disparity has a huge role to play in crime rates has not been conclusively proved. //

    I don’t need someone with a Ph.D. in criminal sociology to tell me that there definitely is a link between income disparity and the crime rate. Please take a look the the following links and decide for yourself:

    Except for a few exceptions, both maps are very, very similar!


    // We don’t say anything against the “greatest country in the world” which has no faults. //

    The we, I hope is an “exclusive we”. I am certainly not a part of that “we”. 🙂

    Raj, At this point of time at least I do not believe that there is a “huge” link between income disparity and crime and that is what you stated in your first comment. If you have changed your mind and said there is a link, I don’t have an argument with that. Having said that, I am more in agreement with the Freakonomics book which Reema wrote about. Violent crime specially is not strongly influenced by poverty but many other factors. Plus, I believe that materialism is a cause. I think we are moving towards becoming a materialistic society and crime is going to increase. – Nita.

  13. July 3, 2008 9:33 am

    I have not changed my mind, Nita. I still believe that there is a huge link between income disparity and crime. While the maps definitely prove that there is a link, they do not give data for all countries, especially in Africa. And as we know, the data for a few countries may not be reliable. If we get reliable data for all countries, there would be conclusive proof that there is a huge link between income disparity and crime. Why do Japan, Denmark, Norway, Sweden and other countries in Western Europe (the most equal in terms of the Gini coefficient) have the lowest rates of violent crime while the Latin American countries and South Africa (the most inequal in terms of the Gini coefficient) have the highest rates of violent crime while all other countries fall inbetween the two? The Gini coefficient almost decides the crime rate! (Ofcourse, a few exceptions to any rule will always be there)

    Sure, there are many factors involved in violent crime, but income disparity (not poverty as such) and unemployment rates (in the absence of social security) have the greatest role to play in determining crime rates. Materialism has only a minor role to play. The countries in Western Europe are materialistic but they have the lowest rates of violent crime in the world! If crime increases in countries like India and China, it can only be because of the increasing economic disparity measured in terms of the Gini coefficient!

    About the EU I think good policing, excellent administration and lack of corruption plays a big role.They are the least corrupt countries, with a clean police force. But as I said I do not think any one factor plays a huge part. I think the issue is too complex. So in that case, we have to agree to disagree. 🙂 – Nita.

  14. Sakhi permalink
    July 3, 2008 9:56 am

    I stay in gujarat and it is suppose to be the best place to live if you consider crime rate1 but here also the crime rate has increase in the recent years! 😦

    Recently there was a burglary inmy house and i lost all the jwellery that i had @ home.. when i went to the police station the police inspector on duty refused to file FIR! can u imagin this! But i persisted and got the FIR done on the next day since it was a huge amout of jwellery that i had lost. :X

    Later i came to know from a lawyer friend that this is the way they keep their police stations crime record low… by not registering the complaint! :X

  15. July 3, 2008 9:56 am


    I think good policing, excellent administration, lack of corruption, good social security, excellent state sponsored education and healthcare, low crime rates and income equality measured in terms of the Gini coefficient all flock together as they are the products of social democracy in countries that are wise enough to adopt such a model. You may not agree, so I guess we have to agree to disagree 😐

    But I am not disagreeing with this. I am simply disagreeing with the premise that income disparity is the main or a huge cause of the increase in crime. In fact I very strongly disagree that your that statement and this comment of yours seems to be deflecting the issue of our disagreement. I am writing this so that my views are clear As your this comment illustrates, the issue is far more complex that it appears. But peace now, we’ve agreed to disagree so why go on about this? 🙂 – Nita.

  16. Sakhi permalink
    July 3, 2008 9:57 am

    And no i have not yet recovered any of the lost stuff nor was any interaction from the police! 😦

    Sorry to hear about this Sakhi. Burglaries, specially small ones, are often not registered by the police. You can imagine what happens when a poor person goes to register a complaint! I don’t trust police statistics at all. – Nita.

  17. Sakhi permalink
    July 3, 2008 9:58 am

    I agree with Raj

  18. July 3, 2008 10:04 am

    Thanks, Sakhi 🙂 I’m saddened to hear of the theft in you home. The police in almost all the states of India behave in the same manner 😡 They deliberately under-record the crimes so that they can have a “clean” record and also less work 😡

  19. July 3, 2008 1:38 pm

    @ Nita and Raj

    Thanks for the concern

    I sometimes feel if this is the state in Gujarat, how bad it must be in UP or Bihar! :X

  20. July 4, 2008 9:21 pm

    The issue of income disparity is only one aspect of the story. The other side of the coin is the aspirations of the have-nots who see the well off living a life which they can only dream about because they cannot afford any of it, because, they are unemployable. They take to crime to generate the cash for living a lifestyle comparable to that of the middle classes who, today make a vulgar display of extravagance. There is yet another factor and that is the need to feed expensive habits acquired to cope with pressures of living as a have-not. Alcohol and drugs need a great deal of money to finance. Crime generates the cash.

    The Middle Class of India, primarily urban, is blissfully ignoring such trends, and live an ostrich like life thinking that it will not affect them as individuals. I do not agree that we can see improvement in the foreseeable future, unless we can come to grips with this very big socio-psychological problem by some very quick and aggressive regeneration.

    As vested interests, we of the middle class, to which, I too belong, do not have the gumption to get moving on that front nor get our Netas to move.

    I agree Ramana, greed is an important factor. And in fact a lot of crimes are being committed by young teens nowadays as they want money to go to clubs, have expensive mobile phones and fancy motor-bikes. They are often educated and don’t necessarily come from the slums. – Nita.

  21. July 13, 2008 3:43 pm

    You wrote it so well. But I think someone has copied this entire content on his blog without your permission. You can report him if you want to. Here is the link.

    Best Regards

    Thansk SunSeven. I have written an email to him, its someone called teesmarkhan, a 22 year old. He is being hosted by blogger and is violating blogger rules. I wrote him a polite letter and I hope he takes it down. The blogger code of content ( ) clearly says he can’t copy but he has gone ahead and done it! I really wonder at these guys!! The photo clearly has my watermark on it!!- Nita

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