Crime’s Up-What’s Wrong With My City? Crime in America.Net

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    Adam Smith

    We get requests from reporters to put crime rankings in perspective. So city “A” suffers from crime increases while other cities show declines. So what’s up with city “A,” they ask?

    Some reporters believe that the people in charge of city “A” are dunderheads and just don’t get what other cities already know. We’re not sure that’s the case

    There are cities with unique problems (see newspaper coverage of Philadelphia on this site). Either their systems are overwhelmed or inefficient or their drug problems have been entrenched for decades or there are historical inequities regarding race or class and on and on.

    The issue, however, is that virtually all cities have systems that are overwhelmed by the numbers of offenders processed (which is why 90 percent of all offenders in this country engage in plea-bargains and accept lesser charges for guilty verdicts).

    There is a ton of drugs (and serious drugs) in every city. Yes, some cities have a historical dependence on some types of drugs (Baltimore and heroin and west coast cities with meth) but the fact remains that any urban area is awash in an endless supply of drugs.

    Racial and class inequities? We are not aware of any city solving those problems.
    Gang problems (we may choose not to call them gangs and call them crews or associations) exist everywhere.

    But in the final analysis, we believe that it’s a matter of degrees. Some cities and metropolitan areas struggle with everything listed above but simply have greater degrees of the problems mentioned. Cities like Detroit, Newark, Baltimore and others simply have more of the above.

    Match “more of the above” with grinding poverty and low performing schools, and you have the perfect storm for systems in a jam.

    So when we are asked by reporters if it’s solely a matter of leadership, we respond with a resounding “probably not.” It’s simply too easy to blame people for circumstances they can’t control.

    Should we hold leaders accountable?

    Should we hold leaders accountable? Well, newspapers and the public are going to do it anyway but if one looks closely, regardless as to tactics, charisma and bluster, cities with crime problems in 1990 were the cities with crime problems in 2000 and cities with crime problems in 2010.

    Yes, tactics and resources do make a difference but the “difference” is also a matter of degrees. Violent crime may be down in city “B” 30 percent, but city “B” is still known for its crime problems and many consider city “B” (at least parts of the city) to be dangerous.

    All leaders have access to the same information. While a national blueprint for crime control does not exist, national organizations offer police, prosecutor, judicial and correctional standards that do provide guidelines.

    There are newspaper sites (see “Today’s Crime News Now” on this site) that do provide articles as to what’s working and what’s not.
    In fact, it’s probably the nation’s newspapers that prompt the bulk of networking among criminal justice authorities in this country.

    So “leadership” may be a dubious discussion. Sure, we have bad leaders who need to be replaced, but we simply do not believe that the mayors of some cities (where crime has gone up) are hopeless dimwits while leaders of other cities (where crime has gone down) are sophisticated masters of their domains.

    We believe that some cities struggle with enormous problems with few resources and some cities struggle with fewer problems and greater resources.

    In some cities, it will take massive amounts of money to hire more police officers, provide drug treatment, work cooperatively with communities and streamline judicial systems and provide prison beds or treatment options.

    Reporters who approach the problem from the standpoint that “leadership” may be selling the problem short. We may be putting out massive fires with portable fire extinguishers and blaming the fireman for not doing a better job.

    Yes, cities like New York have done remarkable jobs of crime control and citizens of New York City do seem inclined to exert more control over the lawless as a result (they never want it to go back to what it was) and yes, leadership did get them to this position.

    But they spent massive amounts of money to fix problems with the system first.

    Please see our section on Crime Rankings for Cities at

    Crime in America.Net staff.

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