Data recently released by the Justice Department shows that there has been a significant drop in homicides and other violent crime nationwide. Good news, right? Yes and no. Although the Justice Department tells us the country is, in effect, safer than it was just a generation ago, many of us, especially those living in urban areas, don’t always feel safe.
According to the report, murders in New York dropped 79 percent over the past twenty years. Chicago saw a 46 percent reduction in murders during that same time period while Los Angeles saw a 68 percent decline. Law enforcement officials attribute some of the decline in violent crime and murder to the dwindling crack wars. In the 1980s and 1990s drug turf wars claimed far too many lives; this generation seems to have been spared the worst of that. Technology, these same officials say, also played a part in helping to reduce violent crime. There are new tools that help law enforcement officers predict where and when crimes could be committed; officers are then assigned as needed.
While there clearly seems to have been some progress in reducing violent crime, it’s not easy to convince the public of that fact. Try telling an elderly man living in South Central Los Angeles who is used to hearing gun shots outside his living room window every evening that his community is safer. Better yet, try to convince a mother in Chicago who, for that last two years, has been inundated with media reports of yet another child murder, that her city is less violent than it has been in years. It’s hard for people to believe that there has been a reduction in crime when their local newspaper makes it a point to tally up the weekend death toll on its front page.
Hard numbers—proof—that violent crime has dropped is a good thing. However, perception is everything. Law enforcement has to also work to make sure people feel safe. Police foot patrols are just one thing that could go a long way to helping Americans feel safer in their communities. Unfortunately, local economies are so economically depressed that police forces are being reduced; foot patrols are a luxury many cannot afford. A constant flow of information from local police stations could also help adjust public perception. Regular updates on all crimes, block by block, help keep residents informed. Over time, they’ll begin to feel safer in their homes.
(Judge Greg Mathis is vice president of RainbowPUSH and a national board member of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.)