The Fall in Violent Crime and Murder

The release of the ‘UK Peace Index‘ (pdf link) has again highlighted the decline in violent crime (including murder) since 2003. “This is the fastest decline in violence of any country in Europe,” the report concludes.

It notes that the homicide rate (murder, manslaughter and infanticide) has halved over the last ten years to 1 per 100,000.

The bad news is that London scores badly with the capital’s boroughs occupying the top 17 ‘least peaceful areas’ of the UK – with Lewisham at the top. See Murder Britain – How does your area compare (Indy Voices).

But the cause of this decrease in crime and murder over the past decade is still unclear (fall in UK crime baffles experts) – particularly as the fall has continued in the face of a major recession. The explanations have varied from the reduction in the use of lead in paint and petrol) to cultural changes.

Here are some of the suggested reasons (feel free to add more in the comments):

  1. A ‘symptom of a new morality‘ as people become less tolerant of criminal behaviour.
  2. Lead poisoning. ‘Studies between cities, states and nations show that the rise and fall in crime follows, with a roughly 20-year lag, the rise and fall in the exposure of infants to trace quantities of lead.’ 
  3. The decline in illegal drug use, particularly among the young. Drugs play a part both in petty crime (shoplifting etc to get money to feed the habit) and in violent crime (disputes between drug dealers / turf wars etc).
  4. Legalised Abortion (The Donohue-Levitt hypothesis) – It is argued that unwanted children are more likely to become criminals.
  5. Feminism – ‘Strong, autonomous feminist movements were the first to articulate the issue of violence against women and the key catalysts for government action, with other organizations sidelining issues perceived as being only important to women.
  6. Policing – the targeting of specific types of homicide and violent crime, such as teenage knife crime (which reached a height in around 2007), gang violence (Operation Trident). In a recent statement, the Met highlighted its ‘series of high visibility ‘Big Wing’ operations engaging staff right across the MPS in joint action to target specific areas of crime, ranging from car crime to burglary.’ The ‘detection rate’ for homicide (number of cases where a suspect is charged) has remained high, meaning killers are less likely to get away with it. Improvements in technology (e.g. DNA, CCTV, mobile phones) also make it easier for police to identify suspects, resulting in more convictions and fewer unsolved cases.
  7. Harsher sentencing – The 2003 Criminal Justice Act brought in set ‘tariffs’ or ‘minimum terms’ for life sentences, ranging from 15 years to whole life. For example, gun murders have a starting point of 30 years. In 2010, the minimum term for some knife murders rose from 15 years to 25 years.
  8. The internet – are we more content with our lives due to social media? Perhaps young people are now too busy on their iPhones and game consoles to become involved in criminal behaviour. (On the other hand, mobile phone thefts/robberies have increased massively)
  9. Improvements in medical care – see our blog on Emergency Medicine and the murder rate
  10. Dodgy statistics – Are the police ‘cooking the books’ under pressure to beat targets? (This seems much more unlikely in the case of homicide – a crime that is harder to conceal).

So will it last? Some fear that the effects of the recession will result in rise in homicide (even if it hasn’t happened yet).

The latest homicide figures for London do show a slight increase for the financial year 2012/13 (106) compared to 2011/12 (103), with the lowest 12 month rolling figure being achieved in the summer of 2012 (96).

What happens next may give us a better indication of the factors behind the recent decrease in homicide and violent crime.

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