What’s Behind the Drop in Violent Crime Rates in the U.S.?


In the 90’s the crime rates in the country had been on an upward climb. However, since about 26 years ago, the crime rates started mysteriously going down, and in this period, violent crimes have dropped by 51 percent while property crimes have dropped by 43 percent. This is according to data collected and analyzed by the Brennan Center for justice. Many theories have been fronted to try and explain the trend, and while some make sense, others sound like a bit of a stretch. Here are a few factors that could have led to the U.S. becoming a safer place to live in.

More criminals are getting incarcerated

This explanation makes sense from an intuitive perspective. Simply put, because more criminals have been removed from the streets, there are fewer people to commit crimes. Steven Levitt, in his publication, Freakonomics, noted that the 58 percent drop in crimes in the 90’s was because of incarceration. This sounds like a sensible theory. However, some people argue that the data that was analyzed only accounted for a few years of decline in crime. Also, while incarcerating violent criminals lowers violent crime rates, most of the criminals in the American justice system are not incarcerated for violent crimes. But generally, incarceration has had some impact on the dropping crime rates.

There are more law enforcement officers on the streets

When there are more police officers in a particular jurisdiction, it becomes very easy to respond to criminal activities. When police are actively patrolling, they deter would-be criminals from committing a crime. On the other hand, there is the notion that when crime rates rise in an area, the sensible response is to hire more law enforcement officers. The Brennan Center research of the 90’s showed that there was a 10 percent drop in crime rates which resulted from hiring more police officers.

More permissive gun laws

If a burglar thinks that the occupants of a house they are targeting have a gun for home defense, there is a high chance they will not risk their life by breaking in. When many states passed laws to allow people to carry firearms in the mid 90’s crime rates started falling. John Lott, in his 1997 study had predicted that permissive gun laws would prevent more than 1,600 murders a year. There are others who feel that gun laws have not affect dropping crime rates.

Other factors that are thought to have led to the drop in the crime rates include improved economic situation which has led to lesser need to engage in crime, and less use of cash in transactions. While it may be hard to point to one factor that has led to dropping crime rates, a combination of factors seems to be at play.


Pew Research | 5 Facts About Crime In The U.S.

ADT | Protect Your Home

City Lab | Understanding the Great Crime Decline


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