Is crime decreasing in the big cities of the world?
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 up.
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
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Rich countries are the least corrupt!