It's Not the Economy Stupid: Crime Still Dropping in L.A.

Unemployment may be at 11.4% in LA County, pundits may mock the dysfunctional state budget system, but crime is still dropping from already historic lows in the City of Los Angeles.

According to statistics released by the LAPD yesterday, homicides are down a third compared to the first half of last year with violent crime down 6% and assaults down 8%.

It seems to be received wisdom - I'll call it pop criminology - that a spike in criminal activity always accompanies an economic crisis and a drop in employment. The recent movie "Public Enemies" milks this association most explicitly, and it may have been more true in the Depression. Overall, however, this is not the case in the U.S. these days and the numbers for property crime in LA also show a decrease: auto thefts fell 17% and property crime 7% overall compared to Jan. 1-June 30, 2008.

Obviously, the relationship between crime and economic hardship is more complex and requires critical thinking about a host of sociological factors to attempt to explain the causality of crime. But these numbers, and similar findings in other cities, should debunk the common assertion that economic downturns correlate with criminal resurgence.

The forthcoming book, "When Brute Force Fails" by UCLA Professor Mark Kleiman is an important contribution to the subject which I look forward to reading. It should be read by pop criminologists and criminologists alike.

For those of you who have incredible interest in the subject, the LA Times Homicide Blog is an interesting resource. Increasingly, strapped papers like the L.A. Times (which recently discontinued its California section, merging it into the main section) are putting content like this on-line.