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Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Crime Geography: Being Where Criminals Aren't

     In a perfect world, there would be no crime. That will never happen. (This is good news for cops, security practitioners, lawyers, parole agents, and prison guards.) In a better world, 90 percent of the criminal population would be in prison, victimizing each other instead of us. In the real world, however, only a tiny fraction of them are behind bars. Given that reality, it's helpful to know where at least most of the dangerous criminals are. (Crime can't be prevented, it can just be moved from one place to another.) If you can figure out where most of the dangerous people are likely to be, you can reduce the risk of becoming a victim by avoiding these places. This, of course, doesn't apply to people forced to live or work in high crime areas, and certain types of criminals such as pedophiles, who are everywhere. Elementary kids can't force their parents to home school them. But many of us can avoid places where we are more likely to be mugged, raped, assaulted, and murdered.

Dangerous Cities

     Every year, the FBI announces the five most dangerous cities in the United States. By dangerous, they mean municipalities with the highest per capita crime rates. (Even in these places, over the past ten years, rates of violent crime have declined.) If I were to list, off the top of my head, the five most dangerous cities, they'd be: Miami, Philadelphia, Cleveland, New Orleans, and Newark, New Jersey. In the small town category, I'd lead off with Youngstown, Ohio. As it turns out, none of these places are on the FBI's list. According to the bureau, the most dangerous cities are: Flint, Detroit, St. Louis, New Haven, and Memphis. I had no idea things were so bad in New Haven and Memphis.

     So, in terms of avoiding criminals, what does the most dangerous city list mean? Not much. Almost all cities and towns have relatively safe neighborhoods as well as high-crime districts. A person who lives in a good neighborhood in Flint is probably safer than someone who lives in a bad section in say, Erie, Pennsylvania. Moreover, people who live and work in the safer parts of town increase their chances of victimization if they enter crime-hot sections of the city for drugs or prostitutes. Lifestyle, as much as place of residence, determines one's vulnerability to crime. And, there is always bad luck, being at the wrong place at the wrong time. People are mugged in broad daylight in Walmart parking lots.

     Perhaps the FBI should publish a list of 5 things (other than shopping) people do that turns them into victims of crime. This is my list of dangerous behaviors: aggressive driving, public intoxication, buying dope, picking up street walkers, and looking wealthy in the wrong places. And, for good measure, I'll add: cutting in line at McDonalds.

Indian Reservations

     According to figures recently released by the U.S. Department of Justice, the rates of crime on the nation's 310 Indian reservations are more than two and a half times higher than the national average. The rates of violent criminal offenses--murder, assault, rape, and robbery--are as high or higher than the corresponding crime rates in America's most dangerous cities. Women who live on reservations are ten times more likely to be murdered than their counterparts who live elsewhere. They are sexually assaulted at a rate four times the national average.

     Indian reservations are plagued by poverty, drug and alcohol abuse, broken families, and higher than average school drop-out rates, problems also found in America's inner cities. Under federal law, tribal courts have the authority to prosecute tribal members for crimes committed on Indian land, but cannot sentence defendants to more than three years in prison. As a result, tribes rely on federal authorities to investigate and prosecute serious offenses.

      Because Indian reservations are located in remote areas of the country, there are not enough FBI agents to handle the investigative caseloads. For this reason, only half, and in some cases less than half, of serious reservation crimes result in criminal prosecution. In 2010, only 35 percent of reported rapes led to federal prosecution. Regarding child sexual abuse, 39 percent of these cases find their way into federal court. By comparison, nationwide, 80 percent of federal drug related crimes are prosecuted. (Cops love drug cases, that's where all the law enforcement money is spent--gadgets, cool weapons, overtime, etc.--and drug users and sellers are easy to catch and prosecute. The other crimes require time and investigative know-how.)

     For women and children, an Indian reservation is a dangerous place.

           

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