Crime Down, Fear Up

Americans remain confused about reality. As Vox ayafsdehee
reports:

Nearly two-thirds of Americans think violent crime increased over the past year, even though violent crime has been on a general decline for two decades, according to a new Gallup survey.

The survey teases out different mini-trends, but in the end Gallup concludes on its own site:

For more than a decade, Gallup has found the majority of Americans believing crime is up, although actual crime statistics have largely shown the crime rate continuing to come down from the highs in the 1990s and earlier.

…. Some argue that consumption of news media plays a role….But even in their own localities, sizable portions of the population view crime in their area as having increased over the past year, and at several points over the past few decades, majorities have held these views.

If you check out my new, improved “Reassuring Crime Statistics” page (on the right side of this blog, under “Links”), you’ll have plenty of proof that crime is lower than most people think. But if you read the post below this one, you’ll see why people refuse to believe it: They can’t. It runs contrary to their  nearly RELIGIOUS conviction that kids are not safe. This kind of soul-deep terror leads to cruelty. From Vox:

Back in 1980, there were 319,598 people in state or federal prison in the United States. By 2013, that number was 1.57 million. That means the prison population of the US grew 380 percent over the last 30 years.

380 PERCENT??? No wonder we’re # 1 in incarceration rates the world wide! (And here’s a great COMIC BOOK about that.)

Free-Range Kids exists to fight the belief that our kids are in constant danger. It also exists to fight the unintended consequences of that belief — including cops, prosecutors and “Good Samaritans” convinced they have to lock up ever more people to keep kids safe.

So it is not just a reality check that Americans need. It is a decency check. We cannot be compassionate or even think straight when we’re afraid. And we are way more afraid today than necessary. Or sane. – L.

Open your eyes, America!

Open your eyes, America!

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28 Responses to Crime Down, Fear Up

  1. Donald November 25, 2014 at 3:59 pm #

    The population increased 380 percent. If you put it on a headline that crime increase 380 percent (during this time) then that actually means that the crime level stayed the same. However it make a juicier headline. The gullible people get scared out of their wits. They buy the newspaper. Reporters salivate over this and editors get aroused.

  2. John November 25, 2014 at 5:26 pm #

    Just playing devil’s advocate here, if the prison population increased 380%, couldn’t it be argued that THIS is the reason why crime is down? Because they’re locking up more bad guys (and gals)?

    Now, I HATE that argument and I really believe it’s bogus but this is the argument you will get from the helicopter crowd who believes that anybody who even talks to a child they don’t know needs to be locked up. Pure BS and blatant over reaction as well as unconstitutional in my opinion so how can this argument be countered?

  3. Donna November 25, 2014 at 5:34 pm #

    “380 PERCENT??? No wonder we’re # 1 in incarceration rates the world wide!”

    Welcome to the result of the war on drugs. People incarcerated for drug-related crimes make up the bulk of the prison population, not violent offenders and people who harm children.

  4. BL November 25, 2014 at 6:25 pm #

    @Donna
    “People incarcerated for drug-related crimes make up the bulk of the prison population”

    Aren’t a large number imprisoned for “parole violations”? Mostly doing things that are no problem for the rest of us like drinking beer or violating a (personal) curfew?

  5. Karen Hyams November 25, 2014 at 6:46 pm #

    It would be progress if people would use crime figures that are directly relevant to child safety. My guess is that locking up huge numbers of fathers is actually bad for kids. Everyone worries about the wrong things.

  6. JenCo November 25, 2014 at 6:47 pm #

    The rise in the number of people in prison has, in large part, been fueled by the privatization of prisons. Corporations that run prisons, lobby for laws that mean that more people go to jail such as 3 strikes laws and mandatory sentencing guidelines. Media fear-mongering ensures public support for these types of legislation.

  7. Michelle November 25, 2014 at 7:02 pm #

    I sat around with a group of other moms at the park, listening to them talk about how dangerous and unsafe their neighborhoods are. They were envious when I said that there’s virtually no crime in my neighborhood. A couple of stolen bikes, things lifted from garages left open – no violent crime since I’ve lived here for nearly a decade. Thing is, those other moms live in the same area as me, in neighborhoods as nice as, or nicer than, mine. One lives in an expensive gated community with security guards on patrol, but lives in fear of a home invasion. None of them have actually been victims of crime, but they’re convinced it’s everywhere. Sad.

  8. Papilio November 25, 2014 at 7:19 pm #

    “the prison population of the US grew 380 percent over the last 30 years”

    And the whole population?

  9. Michelle November 25, 2014 at 10:07 pm #

    For those questioning the numbers, in 1980, .14% of the US population was in prison. In 2013, .50% of the US population was in prison. That’s up from a little over a tenth of percent, to half a percent.

    This is based on the numbers quoted above, and looking up the population of the US on Wikipedia.

  10. Donna November 25, 2014 at 10:08 pm #

    BL – No, at least not in my state. In my state, you’re really only going to prison for parole and probation violations if you pick up new felony charges while on probation or parole. Technical violations and new misdemeanor charges are usually dealt with in other ways (leg monitors, jail sentences, etc).

    But “picking up new charges” doesn’t mean a conviction for those charges. It just means an arrest. The parole and probation violation hearings usually happen long before a trial occurs and there is a lesser burden of proof. As a result, there are MANY people currently sitting in prison for parole and probation revocations who were never convicted of the charges used to violate their parole or probation. It isn’t uncommon for DAs to send someone to prison on a probation revocation and then, if the defendant chooses not to plea guilty, just dismiss the charges rather than have a trial. And, because of the lesser burden of proof, it is actually possible to be acquitted at trial and still get your probation and parole revoked (that happens less frequently but only because it is very rare to have a trial before a revocation hearing).

  11. Michelle November 25, 2014 at 10:12 pm #

    (That means it’s gone from 1 out of every 700 people being in prison, to 1 out of every 200.)

  12. J.T. Wenting November 26, 2014 at 12:26 am #

    “Just playing devil’s advocate here, if the prison population increased 380%, couldn’t it be argued that THIS is the reason why crime is down?”

    No, they’re just criminilising things at an ever increasing rate.

    “Nearly two-thirds of Americans think violent crime increased over the past year, even though violent crime has been on a general decline for two decades, according to a new Gallup survey.”

    Reported crime, or actual crime?
    It’s the same over in Europe, where politicians pat themselves on the back over the falling crime rates while citizens know the truth: crime is out of control, it’s just not being reported because even if you do the police don’t investigate, courts don’t convict.
    Even if you call 112/911 to report an armed intrusion in progress, the police refuse to come, instead you’re told to call back in a few days time at the proper moment on their agenda to make an appointment to come in (a few days later again) to make a report, which then gets summarily filed and closed as “not enough evidence to investigate further”). They won’t come, not even after the fact to collect evidence…
    So on paper crime rates are dropping fast, in reality people turn their homes into fortified bunkers and only leave when they have to.

  13. Ben November 26, 2014 at 6:26 am #

    How can the prison population grow so explosively while crime is going down? That makes no sense whatsoever.

  14. Dhewco November 26, 2014 at 7:02 am #

    J.T., where do you live? lol, I can’t think it’s that bad. Here, in my town of 11k (give or take), I’ve called the non-emergency number and gotten police to do a ‘welfare’ check to wake my parents up when I’ve been locked out of my car and my parents won’t answer the phone. Police do come when you call.

    They might not be fast enough, but they’ll show up eventually.

    Of course, I’ve never lived in a city bigger than 100k for more than a few months. (I lived in Atlanta for a month-insurance school and Columbia/Fort Jackson for Basic/AIT) Maybe the larger cities have non-responsive police, I don’t know.

  15. Michelle November 26, 2014 at 7:17 am #

    JT, I can only speak for where I live (Houston, TX), but here, if you call the police they come. I’ve never really been a victim of any serious crime, but I’ve had reason to call the police for small things (like a report for a traffic accident), and at least one false alarm (my husband was out of town and I thought I saw someone sneaking around my yard – this was before I had a big dog), and they’ve always come quickly. There’s a cop whose entire job seems to be sitting in our neighborhood, watching for people to speed in the school zone or run a stop sign. Apparently, the cops also come running if someone complains about children playing outside alone (personal experience there, grumble, grumble).

    Not to say they cops are always useful. My friend’s car was shot up (probably with a pellet gun) while she was at work. She teaches high school, and the cops claim the school district has to investigate that, rather than them. But I still don’t see that the people where I am have any real reason to live in fear, or bunker down in their homes.

    As for how crime can be going down while the prison population goes up, don’t quote me on this because I’m just going on memory of things I’ve read, but I think *violent* crime has gone down, but not property crime and drug crime (like possession). People may also be staying in prison for longer than before. So they’re putting more people away for minor offenses, and keeping them longer.

  16. SOA November 26, 2014 at 7:22 am #

    I am glad to put that stat out there. I explain to people a lot that crime is actually down and people are always surprised to hear that but I tell them to look it up themselves to see.

    It really is about perception

  17. Donna November 26, 2014 at 8:23 am #

    The disadvantaged areas of large cities generally have a reputation for poor police response. Otherwise, police come when you call in the US. Heck, police come when you don’t call. I once misdialed while calling the 912 area code in south Georgia, accidentally dialing 911. I explained that to dispatch but she insisted that someone still had to come out for a welfare check.

    And when the police come out they want to arrest someone to make their trip worthwhile. Hence all the really stupid cases we see here.

  18. lollipoplover November 26, 2014 at 8:31 am #

    “Some argue that consumption of news media plays a role…”

    I’d argue it’s the number one reason. Giving into the hype (“Times are different” or “There’s a lot of sickos out there these days”) and putting aside all logical and rational arguments for why it’s perfectly safe for kids to play is a direct effect of too much media consumption. Add to that social media, where the “You can never let them out of your sight” followers have an equal and loud voice and post every candle for every dead white child on Facebook. Just read any news story on a child death, go to comments, and scroll down past the “RIP little one” messages to the one that asks where the hell the parents were. It’s always there.

    I am a victim of media over consumption.
    I believed the reports about the dangerous snow storm predicted for today, crammed too much shopping in yesterday in preparation for snow and its 45 degrees and raining. And schools are cancelled (can never be too safe!) and I have 3 kids wanting to go sledding who got their sleds out last night and all the ingredients for french toast. It’s going to be a looong day…

  19. E November 26, 2014 at 9:07 am #

    @lollipoplover

    Yuu can’t fault yourself (or the weather community) for being imprecise in regard to the weather. They get criticized no matter what happens (unless they hit it on the nose).

    Gov Cuomo was critical of the weather community for (supposedly) not getting the predictions correct in regard to last week’s upstate NY weather.

    In our state (probably in most) this is a horrific day to travel on….and even though we weren’t predicted for snow, we are having a TON of rain and we awoke to reports of TONS of accidents. We’re very glad we have no reason to travel today, even w/o snow.

  20. lollipoplover November 26, 2014 at 9:29 am #

    ^^Says the person not stuck at home with 3 young kids, 3 bird dogs, and a dwindling supply of wine.

    The “dangerous travel” is what I’m talking about- it IS a bad day to be on the roads due to the sheer volume of travelers and we also avoid traveling today. I host Thanksgiving and was hoping to clean and bake today without *helpers* but now I have dogs doing zoomers around my house and a repeat chorus of “We’re bored” while I’m trying to get [email protected] done. But why are we closing schools, cancelling events even before the first flake falls (still waiting for that)?

    And I WANT it to snow! Then they can play outside and I can brine this monster turkey without feeling like I’m Goldie Hawn in the movie “Overboard”. It looks like someone vomited crafts in my kitchen and there’s One Direction playing nonstop.

  21. marie November 26, 2014 at 9:59 am #

    Overcriminalization helps to explain the increase in prison population. Mandatory minimum sentences also play a big part because first-time offenders are sent to prison when probation might be more appropriate.

    Harvey Silverglate’s Three Felonies a Day: How the Feds Target the Innocent discusses the increase in the number of laws which, if broken, result in a felony charge.

  22. J.T. Wenting November 26, 2014 at 10:05 am #

    Europe here. And yes, it is that bad here.
    They come for things like traffic accidents, but crime? no.

    And even then they don’t always come quickly. Friend of my sister has a car accident in front of a police station. Fire brigade and ambulance were there in 5 minutes, dozens of cops were hanging out the window looking at what was going on, nobody came out to assist for over half an hour…

    Friend once went to the station to report his bike stolen. Instead of taking a report he got told to go to the railway station and steal himself another…
    He went outside and stole a police car instead, drove it a hundred km or so and mailed them the keys.

  23. Donna November 26, 2014 at 10:31 am #

    Lollipoplover – I sympathize. We have off school the entire week of Thanksgiving. “I’m bored” has been constant in my house for days. I wish snow was a possibility.

  24. Buffy November 26, 2014 at 11:31 am #

    (Continuing to completely derail this thread lol) I also lack understand of the modern propensity to close schools if it might snow, or there’s a prediction of snow. I live in Wisconsin, and this past Monday we had 2-6 inches predicted. Schools opened that morning, but immediately began closing before a flake fell, throwing all manner of carefully laid child care plans into complete disarray. In Wisconsin.

    And can I be a contrarian for a minute, and ask why it’s so important that kids be “safe” when it snows, but who cares about adults? We did get snow, and it totaled to get people home and off the roads? Why is it considered acceptable to have thousands of adults in cars trying to navigate slippery conditions (which, again, we should be able to do because Wisconsin but…..)but not a single school bus?

    That’s a little tongue in cheek because I do get that businesses can’t close in that manner. But I don’t understand why schools can and do, in the name of safety and overprotection, before anything has actually occurred.

  25. Buffy November 26, 2014 at 11:44 am #

    Well, somehow that post became nonsensical. I meant:

    it totaled 3 inches. Why didn’t businesses close at noon to get people home and off the roads?

  26. Warren November 26, 2014 at 1:15 pm #

    Buffy,
    I have made the arguement with the school board and bus lines that waiting until school is actually over gives the ploughs and salters time to do their work, making the roads even safer.
    They do not see the logic in that. There has to be some financial benefit to the buslines that I just don’t see.

  27. Warren Pacholzuk November 27, 2014 at 6:51 am #

    It is all about media coverage and the lack of geographical understanding. Far too many people read or view news from all over the world and connect with it, despite being hundreds to thousands of miles away.
    A child abduction in California has SFA to do with us in Ontario. But people don’t see it that way. It is less scary to live in fear than it is to not live in fear.

  28. Papilio November 27, 2014 at 6:42 pm #

    @Ben: Probably the war on drugs and all the sex offender nonsense.

    “J.T., where do you live? lol, I can’t think it’s that bad.”
    I second that…
    Personally I don’t complain: http://tinyurl.com/phlnjaj