Sunday, November 18, 2007

Perspectives on Murder and Crime

I came to the Washington DC Metro area back in the summer of 1988. As the rest of the year progressed murders became a top news item. The murder total was on course for a "murder a day" pace. By the end of the year the count was somewhere around 365 or 366. In 1989 the murder total was over 400. This isn't an astonishing number compared to New York or LA, but for DC it's comparatively high. This was during the Marion Berry era.

Fast forward 20 years and the murder rate in DC is again in the news. The current murder count in DC (as of this morning) stands at 169. That's the same amount for all of 2007. So why is the media presenting the same coverage for two completely different numbers? Perception.

Since the time around '88 to '90 the murder rate in DC has been falling. The District has had a few different mayors over the years (including Marion Berry, who was reelected after his release from prison) and a lot of work has been done to build up the police and clean up the crack houses. The US Capitol is a much safer place than it was two decades ago. But when the murder rate starts raising it is not something that goes unnoticed. Yet still, why the same coverage and concern for a rate less than half of what it was back then? Again, perception.

DC was, back in the late 80's and early 90's, a city that was renowned for it's crime. Crack was practically flowing down the streets and there were placed in DC where even the Mafia feared to tread. Now, it's so much better it's like coming out from under a dark cloud. The city is not crime free, but then what city is?

So where did the crime go? To the Virginia and Maryland suburbs. In the last decade a gang has risen to take over the crime trade. They are MS-13. These guys make the Bloods and the Crips look like Boy Scouts. But while MS-13 is cutting off kids hands for looking the wrong way, the District much safer due to all the work that went into cleaning it up.

Well then, what's the point of this post?

That focusing on murder rates without matching crime stats is misdirected. And the way the local & state governments look at and handle crime, especially murder, is misconceived. You can't get a handle on these things unless every police jurisdiction works together in a seamless way. Back in the Old Country this problem didn't exist because there was only one police force for the whole country. It handled all the city, state and national needs for a police force. Obviously this can't be implemented in the US. But more effort should be put into building a system where all emergency services are linked together and share data. We saw the need for this on 9/11 but since then the effort is losing steam.

Is it going to take another disaster on the scale of 9/11 to make this happen? I certainly hope not.

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