The Inside Out class…I think my expectations might have been too high, not that I don’t enjoy it, not that I don’t see benefit in it. I asked several of the students whether they were aware of the fact that crime is at an all-time low. Most of them doubted this, it seemed, quite severely and told me that they were going to look it up on the internet. I encouraged them to do this.
Something is very wrong with our world that these exceptionally bright young people are apparently ignorant of such a basic fact as this. And this criticism is not a knock against the students, but a knock against whoever it is that seems to want to keep it a secret that crime has fallen over the last twenty years quite dramatically not only in New York City and Chicago and Los Angeles, but everywhere, including little ole Portland, Oregon. Considering the consequences of unlawfulness, I also don’t understand why more creativity wasn’t applied to reducing crime when it did exist more prevalently.
Take those electric signs that use radar to tell you what your speed is. They’re often stationed near schools, and your speed will flash if you’re going over the established limit. Did you know that this has proven to be by far and away the most effective way to reduce speeds in such zones – far more effective than posting a policeman to hand out punitive tickets all day long? It’s not even close.
What if giant bill boards were put up around the city with 1) informed the public of what the actual crime rate is for several crimes on a comparative weekly and monthly, and perhaps yearly basis, and 2) encourage people to try harder to reach for a goal?
Obedience to law is governed by many factors, but consciousness is certainly one of them. Information is not inert. People respond to it in some way. As unlikely as it might seem, such bill boards could very easily exert a downward pressure on crime. In fact, I predict they would fall just as having your speed flashed before you in a school zone will cause you to slow down.
Information can be a power weapon against ignorance sometimes, but it is often guarded for some strange reason. Our perception of crime is almost exclusively constructed by our exposure to news, but the news only presents sports and weather in an informational manner. We are regularly informed of what the temperature highs and lows are on a particular day, and how this data stacks up historically. Sports is extremely data driven, and if the average man has a complex grasp of anything, it’s not geopolitics or pressing sociological issues, but of his teams prospects in the upcoming or current system. His perception of crime, on the other hand, is severely distorted because he never receives any actual information about the topic.
This may seem very counter intuitive, but when the news reports a murder it is not reporting any news about murder generally. Thus we are never left with a better statistical insight into murder, say, as a phenomenon within our community. If, for rating purposes, the news needs at lease one new murder to report on every two or three days to stay in business, it is a simple matter for them to expand their catchment. Unless one happens to notice this, the connection that fewer crimes within one’s immediate vicinity are occurring is never made. At the very least, it always seems like murder is occurring at a constant rate. But it isn’t. The murder rate is falling.
So why hasn’t the good news been more widely reported? One might argue that much depends upon the hard work of criminals. One has to wonder too whether certain stakeholders could withstand an even minor shift toward an improved and more nuanced public understanding of the issue.
Ponder this: If there are three times more police personnel now, per capita, than at a time in history many decades ago when the crime rate was roughly equivalent to what it is now, could the broad dissemination of such information have had any political impact? Mark Twain was reported once to have said that truth is a precious resource which must be conserved. Maybe so, but not when it comes to crime.
Hopefully it is understood that police departments, prison systems, legal systems, and so on are political fiefdoms carved out within government and there is no human endeavor connected to such megafauna which does not seek to expand its franchise. A falling crime rate has not impeded the growth of these institutions, nor will it. They will all seek to compete for the tax money you’ve provided just as vigorously as they ever have. The only defense against further encroachment is awareness.
I hereby encourage my readership, as always, to do something. Ask questions, write letters, make phone calls, send inconvenient emails. There has never been a better time for the average citizen to take control. Nothing will ever change unless YOU do something.