Readers — Please spread the word, especially to nervous parents: If 2013 keeps going the way it has BEEN going, crime-wise, we are about to experience the szybdynifr
LOWEST MURDER RATE SINCE 1906.Â That’s according to Rick Nevin, an economic consultant and anti-lead activist. (See his chart, below.)
THE LOWEST MURDER RATE in OVER A CENTURY?Â
Yes indeed. That’s not just lower than when WE were kids. That’s lower than when our grannies and even great-grandparents were kids, and I am pretty sure their parents didn’t make them wearÂ GPS watchesÂ to track them every second. Nor did their parents nervously drive them to the bus stop, or forbid them to play on the front lawn unsupervised. Nor were theÂ cops picking them up when the walked to town at age 7, or 11. And yet they were in MORE DANGER of being MURDERED than our kids are today.Â
Note: The decline is not a result of helicopter parenting, as most murder victims are adults and we have not been helicoptering them. And we certainly weren’t helicoptering back in the ’40s and ’50s, when crime was also low. In other words: This is simply good crime news. Nevin believes it’s a result of lowering the amount of lead exposure, which has meant less brain-addling. I’ve heard other rationales, too, from more police to better drugs for treating the mental illnesses that can lead to criminality.
Whatever the cause(s), maybe this is a sign that we should start allowing out kids back out into the world, rather than “protecting” them from it. Or, as policy analyst Ben Miller of Common GoodÂ says: Maybe it’s “aÂ sign that our priority should be promoting common sense, instead of letting fear of every conceivable risk take control of our laws and rules. While our communities grow safer, we keep thinking up new fears — and rules — that prevent us and our children from enjoying the benefits of our safety.”
Let’s not look this gift horse Â in the mouth. For one thing: Ick. All those teeth and horse breath. But also: A gift is to be appreciated. And what a lovely one to give our kids. – L.
I wish that we had a TV and movie murder chart. Perhaps government offices in charge of censorship classification would have that data. I wouldn’t be surprised if the chart for this year would say that we are in the triple digits for each week!
Wonderful news, Lenore! I wonder if the same is true through the rest of the Western world. I imagine it’s probably similar.
@Donald – I’m sure you’re right. Do you get the great British show ‘Midsomer Murders’ where you are? It’s cool drama, but completely ridiculous statistically. Basically Midsomer is a small village (read maybe a few hundred people in total), very picturesque, but someone gets murdered there every single week! And usually there’re multiple casualties. My husband and I did a rough count, and we think the entire population of Midsomer should already be deceased, and that’s only in the few seasons we’ve watched it. The joys of TV ….:-). In the exquisitely boring small town I grew up in, which would be larger in population than the fictional Midsomer, there have been a whole two murders over my forty-seven year lifespan, one of which was child abuse gone the whole hog, and the other a botched home invasion.
I’m so grateful to you for spreading this news, Lenore. I wish so much there was a way to make everyone know this!
of course the bonsai/helicopter parents, CPS agents, school dictators, etc. etc. would claim that the murder rate is down because of all that constant monitoring and preventing children from having a childhood (oops , “safety measures”).
I was about to say what J.T. said, and ask – How do we combat that argument?
I wish I could be happier about this. The low rate isn’t the result of wise policies, such as ending the violence-incuding drug war, it is substantially the result of putting massive numbers of Americans in prisons.
Before I get too excited, I’d like to know how accurate the statistics from 1906 are, and if the definition of murder has changed at any point. (Yes, changed. For example, does it constitute murder if the victim lingers in the hospital for a week before dying? I don’t know if there has been any change in this sort of thing in the past 100 years, and I’d like to make sure we are comparing like things.)
Uly – Huh? I see no view of science, criminal justice, or society that would lead one to believe that somehow murders are being LESS reported today than they were in 1906 or that the definition of “murder” was somehow MORE inclusive in 1906 than it is in 2013. In fact, I think that it is highly likely that the opposite is true – the murder rate was higher in 1906 than statistics reveal here and we are actually even farther below that level today than we appear.
JT – The answer is that crimes against Unhelicoptered ADULTS are also down, it’s safer for EVERYONE not just children.
The helicopters will also say “This is just the murder rate. It’s not the kidnapping rate, or sexual abuse rate, or sex trafficking rate, or the molestation-in-a-public-restroom rate.”
How about this, then, Donna? Maybe due to better medical care, attempted murders are less likely to be, well, murders.
All I’m saying is that I would like to know exactly what is being tracked before I try to look at numbers separated by more than a century.
And to Uly’s example — yes, it constitutes murder if the victim lingers. I’ve seen cases where someone is charged with aggravated assault and more charges are filed after the victim dies, or a traffic accident where appropriate charges (e.g. involuntary manslaughter) are filed if the victim dies later.
You only have to think of the unfortunately common cases of death by child abuse — all too often, you pick up the paper and read of a child who’s been life-flighted to a bigger city hospital for treatment of brain injury after suffering apparent assault at the hands of its parents. Then a few days later, you read of the child dying. Nobody ever says, “Well, it’s not murder because the baby lived for a few days.” The responsible party is ALWAYS charged with at least some form of homicide if foul play (as opposed to an accident) is determined to be the cause.
Not in San Jose…if I’m not mistaken, last year there was a record high…but that’s to do with the essential de-funding of sjpd and a whole other mess of problems. I do know that it’s localized and specific, and my kids are too young to be unsupervised for more than 5 minutes anyway (3.5 and 9 months) so it doesn’t change our behavior…but it’s always in the back of my mind 🙁
Uly – you actually do have a point. There is a difference between murder and homicide in the justice system. So I too would ask if homocide is included in the contemporary stats as reflective of actual crime related deaths.
Hi Uly, I would think that due to records being better attended, and things just better organized in general nowadays, that rate back in 1906 is probably higher. But I could be wrong.
P.S., I’m not the same Emily who asked about the difference between murder and homicide here. I brought up that question on Facebook, so I guess this is just a coincidence.
Uly, I am sure that people in the US do live through injuries today that they would have died from in 1906. And modern forensics allows for more definitive causes of death today and crimes that were swept under the rug or ignored in 1906 are fully prosecuted today. We can’t recreate 1906 life under 2013 standards. But if you require exactitude, you can never compare anything, particularly things as capricious as death. For example, is the murder rate different in Atlanta and Denver because of a different levels of crime or does one simply have better medical resources than the other?
All this ignores that medical care, science and society doesn’t change overnight. If we were simply looking at two statistics – 1906 and 2013 – the questions would be more valid. But we aren’t. We are looking statistics from every single year between 1906 and 2013. And we are seeing steady trends of changes that seem pretty valid and not strongly tied to legitimate advances in medicine or other scientific discoveries. Medical science hasn’t so improved since 1990 to account for the dramatic decline in homicide deaths since anymore than we can argue that medical science took a nosedive in 1960 to lead to the substantial increase in homicide deaths over the next 30 years.
Emily, the statistics are actually for homicide deaths, not murder. Lenore used the term murder, but the number of homicides is what is being tracked back to 1906.
They just do not want to believe it. They need to find some way to dismiss the numbers.
The mid 90’s (when the murder rate began to drop dramatically) was when many states began to pass conceal and carry laws where citizens for whom it was legal for them to own firearms could legally carry a firearm concealed to defend themselves and their families. Also many states passed Castle Doctrine laws where a person who had a firearm was not obligated to retreat before using a firearm to defend themselves.
Before keep the good news and the truth coming. We will win tis in the end.
“The low rate isnâ€™t the result of wise policies, such as ending the violence-incuding drug war, it is substantially the result of putting massive numbers of Americans in prisons.”
would be true if all those people were potential murderers (except in the sense that everyone is). They’re not. The vast majority are there for things like failing to pay a speeding ticket on time, not giving way to an unmarked police car that indicated (by tailgating usually) that they were in a hurry, picking flowers in a public park, and other trivialities like that.
” yes, it constitutes murder if the victim lingers. Iâ€™ve seen cases where someone is charged with aggravated assault and more charges are filed after the victim dies, or a traffic accident where appropriate charges (e.g. involuntary manslaughter) are filed if the victim dies later.”
Even years later. Had one case here a while ago where someone was arrested and charged with murder when the victim of a car crash he was involved in died 6 years later.
Never mind that it never was the intent to kill anyone, it was a true accident, but the 2-3kmh that the “perp” had been speeding was enough for a murder charge.
“Uly â€“ you actually do have a point. There is a difference between murder and homicide in the justice system. So I too would ask if homocide is included in the contemporary stats as reflective of actual crime related deaths.”
that’s why there are 2 lines on the graph, both follow the same path and are down. I don’t know why the murder (vs homicide) line only starts in about 1960, could be until then the two were counted as one in the statistics (in which case I hope the rates are adjusted, else at that point there’s a sudden doubling of crime), or there simply was no data kept for murders (rather harder to believe).
“Uly, I am sure that people in the US do live through injuries today that they would have died from in 1906”
true. That’s one reason why we now see many more people arrested and tried for “attempted manslaughter”. I wonder whether those are included in the graphs.
If not, you see there is no real difference in the total incidence of attempts over time (peaks and lows of course, but the average over long periods is pretty flat) unless we conclude that the rate of conviction to attempts has changed radically (and thus the efficiency of the police and courts. Efficient government agencies?).
“Also many states passed Castle Doctrine laws where a person who had a firearm was not obligated to retreat before using a firearm to defend themselves.”
and were no longer put in prison for murdering their would be murderers, yes.
Doesn’t explain the rapid drop in the 1930s though, which might be caused by the depression and later mobilisation for WW2, but why does the number stay low into the 1960s? If it’d been simply those it’d have gone up again after WW2 or at the latest after Korea (1952).
Maybe Vietnam has something to do with it, but I’m loath to paint Vietnam vets as a main source of murder convictions, which that’d imply.
I wish there were statistics about how often that we SEE things. (not how often they actually occur)
Sandy Hook was horrific. No doubt about that. 20 children and six adults were killed. I wonder how this gets stored in the brain if the story gets viewed 500 times. If we view the report (and relive the outrage that we feel) 500 times, does this get registered that 10,000 children and 3,000 adults were killed? I don’t think that it has that extreme effect. However, I don’t think it gets registered that only 26 people were murdered.
hineata: You’re right about the population depletion in “Midsomer Murders.” I guess that’s why they have some story lines about developers moving in — gotta restock the pond! (I really enjoyed John Nettles, but I’m undecided about the new Barnaby.)
I don’t know if you can slap a number on it, perception vs reality. If your child has a chance of being shot, at what point does it become a worry to you? 1 in 1000000? 1 in 10000? I wouldn’t even buy a lottery ticket with better odds than that.
What irks me is that incidents like Sandy Hook are so galvanizing in regards to policies, rules, and legislation. But there are neighborhoods where gun violence is a very scary fact of life. Not some weird random horrible occurrence. And it doesn’t get that much attention in the media (because it is so common in certain areas) and doesn’t rally the entirety of the country to push Congress for legislation. Even though these neighborhoods would benefit from policies aimed at minimizing that kind of gun violence. No, it’s Sandy Hook we focus on.
Same goes for kidnappings. Although still rare, the only ones we hear about are the little white girls. Black kids get no press. Therefore, we all have the impression that kidnappers focus on little white girls.
But it would be interesting if we could slap a number on it. Imagine telling someone that the amount of worry that they have regarding kidnappings correlates to a population in which 1 in 10 children are kidnapped when in actuality it’s… I don’t know what the odds are but we engineers have a word for it.
Crime, and the causes of crime, are complex. I am sure that all sorts of advocacy groups will tout their theory as to why crime has decreased and follow it up with calls for more similar legislation and/or funding.
As much as I would like to believe certain things can be attributed to this decrease, I know that it isn’t as simple as saying _______ made crime go down.
That being said, you can still draw some conclusions. Someone mentioned concealed carry laws and castle doctrine. I disagree that castle doctrine changes have done anything. The duty to retreat only existed in a small number of states and only applied in very narrow circumstances. Those laws made some procedural changes, but didn’t significantly change what yous could do in terms of self-defense.
On the other hand, concealed carry laws did change a great deal. Even if you aren’t willing to accept that this was a causal factor in the decrease of crime, it does seem to support the notion that making it easier to carry has not made the country more dangerous.
The best (worst?) counter-argument I got when quoting statistics that show crime is down is “You’re dangerously misinformed”.
Never underestimate the ability of people to ignore data that clashes with their pre-conceptions.
I’ve been a free range parent for a long time now, even before I knew that my parenting style had a name. I’ve never particulary worried about stranger danger, kidnappings, and such. Maybe because I have a mathematically inclined mind and understand what statistics mean I was never overwhelmed by the news of various disasters. Now that my 2 older boys became preteens I’m much more concerned about self inflicted danger then danger coming from an outside source. How do you tame a thrill seeking behavior with out taking away most of their freedom? Just yesterday my 10 yo did something so incredibly stupid and dangerous that he’s lucky to have all his limbs and eyes intact. in fact I’m almost surprised that our neighbors still trust their kids to come over. I’ve been following this blog for a while and there’s a lot of talk about not fearing kidnappings, murders and strangers, but there is very little discussion about dangers that boys and girls can come up all on their own. And I’m not even talking yet about drugs and alcohol. Right now I’m more concerned about reckless use of everyday household items that we were trusting kids to use safely for years. I understand that curiosity is an essential part of growing up, but so is keeping all of the body parts.
National homicide rates or any other crime rate at the national or even city level don’t matter. What matters is the rate of crime in your specific neighbhorhood or in the neighborhoods you travel within. For many people violent crime isn’t worth worrying about. For families we seem to exclusively focus on in this site (people in nice suburbs who drive their kids to the bus stop for instance) they are inventing things to worry about regardless of national rates of anything going up or down. For many other Americans, violent crime against children or adults is a real concern, regardless of the fact that homicide is at its lowest rate in 100 years. As Natalie already pointed out we are focused on the wrong things. (Natalie, I find I always agree with you!) Sandy Hook was an anomaly. in contrast, 29 Harper High School students in Chicago were shot throughout one 12-month period. That’s no anomaly. That’s a problem worth worrying about.
When crime is low, we DO keep thinking of new risks…but water gun fights? Seriously?
Lollipoplover – are you serious? of course water gun fights should be banned. Dihydrogen monoxide is a serious concern. I’m surprised more people don’t know about it.
Psst… JJ, you might not agree with me on this one.
“The mid 90â€²s (when the murder rate began to drop dramatically) was when many states began to pass conceal and carry laws where citizens for whom it was legal for them to own firearms could legally carry a firearm concealed to defend themselves and their families. Also many states passed Castle Doctrine laws where a person who had a firearm was not obligated to retreat before using a firearm to defend themselves.”
This is not remotely true. The LAWS may have first appeared then but that was a simple codification of something that was already occurring. If you really believe that in 1906 people were allowing people to run rampant through their homes, I have a bridge to nowhere to sell you in Alaska. People are definitely not more afraid of being shot for breaking into a home than they were in 1906.
And this statement also indicates that there is a real lack of understanding of the difference between murder and homicide.
Homicide is the legal word for the killing of one human being by another human being. It includes murder, manslaughter, AND justified killings (including self-defense).
Murder is simply a legal definition of a particular type of homicide – intentional killings or killings (intentional and unintentional) in the course of committing another felony predominantly. All murders are homicides but all homicides are not murders.
If these are true homicide numbers (which they appear to be or why have the separate murder line), acts resulting in death ruled to be self-defense ARE INCLUDED in both the 1906 and the 2013 numbers. Changes in laws concerning self-defense change whether the act is considered MURDER, but not whether the act is considered HOMICIDE.
And you should also note that throughout history (or what we have of it here), the homicide rate and the murder rate are very close. There is not a huge amount of self-defense related death occurring in the US.
J.T. The rise starting in 1960 coincides with the time that the first wave of Baby Boomers started hitting their mid-teens (15-24 are the most crime-prone ages). In between 1946-1959, there was a relative paucity of people in that age group because a lot of people put off having kids or had fewer than they otherwise would during the depression and the war.
Donald: From what I know, the emotional impact of each repeat of a horror story is the same as the original story, so it feels each repeat was a separate tragedy. I’m not sure about how it affects people’s understanding of the actual numbers.
One thing that really helps is a sense of proportion. For example, if at least half the 800,000 children reported missing each year were kidnapped and murdered, that would be roughly the same number of deaths as from cancer or heart disease. Pretty much everybody once knew someone who died of one of those things, or has close friends or relatives who knew such a person. But hardly any of us know a parent who lost a kid to a kidnap/murder.
On concealed carry: I doubt it can account for much of the difference, since the scenarios where it could prevent a murder (criminal menaces law-abiding citizen on the street, burglar breaks into home while residents are present, etc.) represent a very small minority of murders, even though they tend to be the first ones that people think of. The overwhelming majority of murder victims are killed by someone they know, usually as a result of a dispute.
As for gun ownership rates, the percentage of gun-owning households has gone down but the average number of guns owned by such a household has gone up. While it’s plausible that the former could affect the murder rate, it’s much harder to see how the latter could make much difference. In any case, those figures probably miss most people with illegal guns.
Couldn’t the crime rate be lower due to better forensics? Here is LA their was a case of a serial murder who was caught some 20 years later do to DNA data base that they keep of the prison polulation. A match came up on a family member that was incarcerated and that lead to the murder. We also have longer sentencing than their was some 30 years ago.
Natalie–LOL. Actually I am not sure if I agree because I am not sure what you are saying?
I don’t agree. I think the continual repetition of our feelings of anguish, outrage, and fear changes on where the brain stores the Sandy Hook tragedy.
Think about when you learned how to drive. There were so many things to remember all at once. It was awkward, a little scary and a bit clumsy. However now it’s automatic. You go through the motions almost without thinking! Your brain changed where it placed the information about how to drive. It did this because of repetition.
There are no steadfast rules. It can’t be calculated. I.E. 26 people died at Sandy Hook. The story was watched 500 times. Therefore the brain thinks 13,000 people died.
This is an extreme example and I’m sure it isn’t true. However I’m sure that the fear (from Sandy Hook) becomes automatic the same as driving does. We react in fear automatically.
The converse is also true. Lots of children die in car accidents. This is so common that it doesn’t make the news. We become so complacent about it that we sometimes forget that it’s even an issue!
The brain files safety against gunmen in schools as a top priority and car accidents as almost a non event.
JJ- it’s a spoof website put together by some chemist with a lot of time on his hands. Sometimes it takes a while to get the joke. Let me know if you need a hint.
The studies on gun ownership are flawed, so I question the conclusion that the number of owners has decreased. I would also be interested in seeing the results of the last few months. NICS background checks have been at record numbers. I wonder how many are new owners.
Sarah, the crime rate is crimes committed, not crimes solved. Forensics has little or nothing to do with it.
Natalie boy I feel dumb!!
Donald: I think we’re on the same page. Certainly repetition of coverage increases the emotional salience of events like kidnapping and murders. What I’m not sure of is how it affects people’s actual estimates of how frequent they are, though it almost certainly does to some extent; most people do in fact way overestimate the frequency of, say, murder (I’ve certainly seen discussions where people were really surprised to learn that there were less than a million murders per year in the US; these were people who were much better informed about US history and politics than most citizens).
What’s much more certain is that most people tend to equate trends in media crime coverage with trends in the actual crime rate, despite very solid evidence that the two phenomena are completely uncorrelated.
Don’t feel dumb! if someone doesnt have a background in chemistry they may not get it. Dihydrogen monoxide is just water (H2O), Everything written on the website is true, but it’s written in such a way to make it sound like a dangerous chemical. So it’s a prank website.
The post about dangerous water guns just reminded me of it.
Many criminals are repeat offenders, so by identilfiying and incarcerating them logic says that the overal crime rate would go down.
But we’re not talking about the overall crime rate, we’re talking about the murder rate. I’d be highly surprised if the rate of people who murder more than once is a significant percentage of murderers, even if not caught.