Pubdate: Sun, 05 Dec 1999
Source: San Jose Mercury News (CA)
Copyright: 1999 San Jose Mercury News
Contact:  750 Ridder Park Drive, San Jose, CA 95190
Fax: (408) 271-3792
Author: David A. Vise, And Lorraine Adams, Washington Post


WASHINGTON - Rosy assessments of the nation's declining crime rate wrongly
focus on short-term drops from crime peaks early in the decade and ignore
the overall rise of violence since the 1960s, according to a new report.

The 30-year update of a landmark study by the National Commission on the
Causes and Prevention of Violence found that violent crime in major cities
reported to the FBI has risen by 40 percent since 1969.

The new study is intended as a counterpoint to the drumbeat of optimistic
reports describing the current drop in crime, and it offers a sober
reminder that the United States still suffers from a historically high
level of violence.

"There is no attempt here to be doomsayers or naysayers and say nothing
good has happened in the last few years. But the intent is to gain
perspective by looking back," said Elliott Currie, one of several authors
of the original report who also participated in the update.

"This is the kind of crime rate that we would have said is a disaster when
we went to work on that crime report 30 years ago. There still is a great
deal of trouble out there in our cities, and increasingly in our rural
areas, and most people viscerally feel that," said Currie, who said that
the study helps explain why many people greet recent reports of dropping
crime rates with disbelief.

The National Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence was
established by President Lyndon B. Johnson in the wake of riots and
profound social upheaval, including the assassinations of the Rev. Martin
Luther King Jr. and Robert 46. Kennedy. Its initial 1969 report argued
that violence and unrest stemmed from unmet socioeconomic needs and
recommended investments in housing, education and jobs for the

Carrying on the work

The new study, which will be formally released later this week, was
conducted by the progressive Milton S. Eisenhower Foundation, a private
group named for the brother of the former president and charged with
carrying on the work of the violence commission and the 1968 Kerner race

While crime has declined since 1993 amid the waning of the crack cocaine
epidemic and the growth of the economy, the report says this drop
exaggerates gains in public safety because it is based on comparisons to
unusually high levels of violence that prevailed in the late 1980s and
early 1990s.

The report suggests that this is why Americans do not feel as safe as they
did three decades ago, citing a national survey conducted by the foundation
in which people were asked, "Is there any area right around here - that is,
within a mile - where you would be afraid to walk alone at night?" In 1967,
31 percent of respondents answered "yes"; by 1998, that number had grown to
41 percent.

"If you compare fear in the late 1960s to fear in 1998, there has been an
increase of over 30 percent," said foundation President Lynn A. Curtis, who
also worked on the 1969 report.

Deputy Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. acknowledged that a "fear
factor" exists across the nation but argued that some measures of crime are
at a 30-year low. "I think the fear factor is separate and apart from the
statistical evidence," Holder said. "People feel a little safer, but not as
safe as they should."

Compared with others

The foundation report also notes the continuing prevalence of crime in the
United States relative to other industrialized nations. In one of its more
startling comparisons, it states: "In 1995, handguns were used to kill 2
people in New Zealand, 15 in Japan, 30 in Great Britain, 106 in Canada, 213
in Germany, and 9,390 in the United States."

Like the original report, the new study attempts to draw connections
between American socioeconomic inequalities and crime. "America's failure
to reduce endemic fear and violence over the long run is paralleled by its
failure to establish justice. Nearly (one-quarter) of all young children
live in poverty. America is the most unequal country in the industrialized
world in terms of income, wages and wealth."

The 1969 report warned of a declining "City of the Future," with rampant
suburbanization as people fled to what they viewed as safer neighborhoods.
Today, the update found, Americans no longer feel they can escape the
threat of violence by moving to the suburbs or to rural areas.

The study decries what some criminologists and big-city mayors have hailed
as the twin towers of crime fighting in the 1990s: a zero-tolerance police
policy aimed at arresting people for nuisance crimes and serious offenses
alike, and a dramatic increase in the incarceration rate. Instead, the
study says building more prisons may dampen the crime rate somewhat but is
a poor substitute for effective public policies.

The study cites a number of programs as good public-policy approaches to
crime prevention, including full-service community schools such as the San
Fancisco Delancey Street reintegration program for ex-offenders.
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