Tuesday, 21 June 2011

The US crime figures

I know that as a Limey I am probably not best placed to talk about our American cousins and their various day-to-day activities. I would in this short post however like to post a few comments about a story appearing on the BBC website titled: US crime figures: Why the drop?

It's an interesting fact that crime, as measured by things like murder and robbery, in the US has witnessed quite a bit of a drop since about the early to mid-1990s. Indeed, looking at the presented graph based on figures from the FBI, murder has dropped in incidence from about 9 per 100,000 population to 5 per 100,000 population and robbery from 250 per 100,000 to about 120 per 100,000 population over a 40-year period. The drop was not a consistent downward gradient, but as the BBC suggest, all the more impressive given the current financial climate and the various social knock-on effects to things like unemployment which have shown more than a casual relationship to certain types of crime.

I was interested in the various arguments put forward to account for the decrease; ranging from the 'Obama' effect, a drop in the demand for various drugs of abuse and the implementation of various social policies. Amongst the top 10 reasons listed on the BBC website for the drop is the removal of lead from petrol suggested by an economist of all people. The person in question, Jessica Wolpaw Reyes has published some work in this area (here). I was intrigued by this suggestion in particular, acknowledging that there are probably going to be lots of reasons for the drop in crime also varying according to where you are in the States. Lead is well known to have quite a few harmful effects particularly on the young and developing child, and at relatively small quantities. I might do a separate post on this in the near future.

I was thinking about the other possible contributors to such a drop in crime, and for some reason, was brought back to a post made over at Evolutionary Psychiatry looking at the link between nutrition and behaviour amongst prison inmates and the work of Bernard Gesch and colleagues. Without reciting the whole post, the take-home message was that improved nutrition correlated with some improvements in behaviour and particularly a reduction in antisocial behaviour. Without wishing to stretch such findings too far, I do wonder what effect nutrition might have had on the crime rate given the increasingly loud voice being used by Government and other agencies to push (rightly or wrongly) things like the 5-a-day agenda.

Whatever the reasons behind the fall in figures, the news is welcomed and as stated by the BBC, the numbers of lives spared is perhaps the most important part of the news.