Q8 What is the single greatest threat to the downward trend of crime in America?
New Year’s Eve 2018 Forecast (What is this?)
I’m going to stick with violence because it’s what I know and reframe it as “What is the single greatest threat to the downward trend in violence?” This differentiates it from questions like “how do we reduce the prison population?” because although both involve crime, not all crime involves harm to another person.
It’s still a very tricky question because the downward forces on the violence rate are so strong and benefit from positive feedback. There are two positive feedback loops intersecting with violence: the size of the age cohort of those most likely to commit violence (14-34) and the exposure that cohort has had to lead. (I’m a supporter of the lead-exposure hypothesis of both what spiked, and then caused massive declines in crime rates.)
Put another way if we had a big bulge of people entering that age cohort, we could expect violent crime to nominally go up from a smaller cohort. Likewise, if we increased exposure to lead, or more precisely had increased exposure of children to lead 20 years ago, we’d expect higher violence rates to manifest right about now.
But neither of those statements are true, at least that I know of. The Millennial population bulge is moving through the cohort already, which might account for the flattening of the decline, but it hasn’t caused a sustained multi-year increase.
So, I’m going to go out on a limb and say – no – there is extraordinarily little I see that could dramatically reverse the criminal violence rate in 2019 and cause it to go upward. There are lots of things that may cause a barrier to further reductions, leaving us in a status-quo with some changes around the mean. If your question includes “barriers to further reductions” let me know.
HOWEVER – big caveat – we are in the priming stages of mass-radicalization to violence across a lot of fronts and political ideologies. The general behavior of society, unintentionally, is the ideal set of circumstances to radicalize someone to commit violence only missing mass-violence itself as an accelerating agent. We’re still a long way from insurgencies (10-20 years) but I will go out on a limb and say that a new, heretofore unknown or obscure localized domestic terror group, groups or movement of self-radicalized but inspired actors will emerge in 2019 to national recognition. These won’t be salafi-takfiris, lone-wolf mass-shooters, but ones with a clearer political ideology or ideological narrative. However, I seriously doubt such groups would move the needle on overall violence – even if they begin capturing headlines.
Nailed this one, but it wasn’t hard. Although final data from the FBI’s UCR is still months away early indicators by groups that track this kind of thing is that 2019 will again be a year where there is less violence. This isn’t just less violence in homicides (which I tend to focus on) but less violence in all criminal categories, excepting one. That one category is rape, which looks set for another rise this year of 1%. However, unlike many other crimes, rape still suffers from sever under-reporting from victims to police, and in many jurisdictions under-policing on the investigation of those reports. The FBI took a major revision to UCR rape definitions in the last ten years, and institutions are still rolling that out and overcoming the cultural barriers. It’s hard to say in situations like this whether the 1% increase represents an increase in overall rape, or an increase in reporting of rape. Sadly this is probably going to be a reality for many years to come when it comes to women-victims of sexual assault and decades or longer with reporting on male victims, which itself is only generally beginning to be reported since 2000 at all. (The DoD did not recognize male-victim rape until ~2006 IIRC.)
This doesn’t mean there aren’t hotspots of extreme violence within the United States. My Coastline of Violence video (link below) demonstrates how much of the US is as non-violent, especially for whites, as European countries. As the video describes violence exists in highly differentiated systems, so where causes converge, it can produce outsized damage relative to the population that inhabit those causal convergence areas. This inflicts disproportionate suffering on them…but also tends to tilt “nationwide” statistics a bit more negative than they actually are as most don’t segment out these vulnerable populations.
As for the prediction on radicalization and predatory mass violence – time will take longer for that data to come in. UMD GTD START tends to run 18 months behind for example and is the most accurate publicly available source I know. We had accurate data of March of 2019 for end of 2017 so that indicates the lag in this kind of reporting. Also mass-shooting data is coming in from so many sources, with so many different definitions, and many of those are new as to the last ten years and suffer the same kind of reporting effects as in rape above. Even hq sources like START and the FBI have different definitions. For inclusion in START, it has to be an act of terrorism as they define it. For inclusion in the FBI data it has to be an “Active Shooting Event” which includes definition that might exclude incidents arising from criminal and domestic violence. Still given the dominance of media-coverage over these events, and how they can consume public attention for weeks at a time after each event I’m hard pressed to see the incidents declining in that kind of environment. (This alludes to one of the key theories of my dissertation.
Running Score: 6.5 out of 12