Crime levels fell across the board last year, extending a multiyear downward trend with a 5.5 percent drop in the number of violent crimes in 2010 and a 2.8 percent decline in the number of property crimes.
Year-to-year changes released Monday by the FBI in its preliminary figures on crimes reported to police in 2010 also showed declines in all four categories of violent crime in 2010. All categories for property crime went down as well. . . .
Violent crime last increased in 2005. Property crime last rose in 2002.
The FBI reported that violent crime fell in all four regions of the country last year — 7.5 percent in the South, 5.9 in the Midwest, 5.8 percent in the West and 0.4 percent in the Northeast.
Yesterday's new showed divorce rates down in Colorado. Teen pregnancy continues to hover near all time lows.
Also in the news, and possibly one explanation for the shift was the results of a new survey showing that the percentage of children ages 3-17 diagnosed with ADHD had increased from 5.7% for 1997-1999 to 7.6% for 2006-2008.
The economy can't explain the decline. The regional trends don't match immigration trends. Incarceration rates have been relatively stable in this time period. But, one thing that has changed and drives a disproportionate share of the year to year variation in crime, is the changing drug scene.
Domestic meth production is dramatically down. Illegal use of prescription drugs is up. A significant share of the illegal marijuana market has shifted to the legal medical marijuana market. Cocaine use isn't particularly high. There has been a pretty dramatic increase in legal use of drugs for mental health conditions.
One way to read the recent trend is that a lot of people who used to be self-medicating with illegal drugs supplied by a rough and tumble world of gangs and organized crime are finding chemicals to address their problems through distribution channels that don't drive street crime to nearly the same degree and provide a much more predictable product.
An alternative and not necessarily inconsistent possibility is that we are reaping the benefits of a long economic boom from the early 1980s until 2007, interrupted by only relatively brief and mild recessions. People may commit crimes on impulse, but a lifestyle that leads to commiting serious crime with little hesitation and routinely committing less serious crimes is decades in the making. A long period of relative plenty may have narrowed the pool of people who were in dire poverty as young children and became more predisposed towards crime as a result.
A third possibility is that technology is making it harder and less profitable to commit many crimes. People carry less cash. Cars have more anti-theft devices. Bank robbers and rapists are more likely to get caught. The decline in meth was driven by more strict control of the ingredients that go into it.
Whatever the reason, it is hard to deny that it is good news.