City ahead of nation in crime rate drop |

City ahead of nation in crime rate drop

Images of school shootings and serial killings make it hard to believe, but in reality, crime in the United States has been on a downward spiral for several years, and South Lake Tahoe is enjoying the wave.

The numbers have been steadily decreasing since 1994, and in 1998 serious and violent crime in the city dropped 12 percent.

The FBI’s uniform crime report revealed nationwide, crime was down 7 percent last year, and California enjoyed at 9.6 percent decrease in homicides, assaults, sex offenses, robbery, arson, burglary and theft. While experts agree that the FBI’s report is the most reliable source on the national homicide rate, criminologists caution that police departments’ methods of counting crime can vary widely making it hard to make comparisons between cities and states.

The reasons for this boon in lawful activity are unclear. Politicians and prosecutors like to point to tougher laws and longer sentences, but according to Alfred Blumstein of the National Consortium on Violence Research, the national story is more complex.

“It is obviously a mixture. There is a continued reduction, over the last 10 to 15 years, of crimes committed by people over the age of 30. Part of the explanation has to be incarceration effects, but serious crimes committed by younger people have increased. From 1985 to the early 1990s the homicide rate more than doubled. It peaked in 1993, and came down steadily in subsequent years, but by 1995 it was still 50 percent above what it was in 1985,” Blumstein explained. “The reason for the decrease in crimes committed by youth was due to the undoing of factors that gave rise to the increase: guns in the hands of kids. There were a variety of efforts by police to confiscate guns and generate truces in gangs.”

A strong economy and its affects on American crime cannot be ignored, Blumstein added.

“The strength of the economy provided economic opportunities to people who might have otherwise been involved in illegal activity. Holding down legitimate jobs provides an incentive to conform, even it they are employed only marginally.”

South Lake Tahoe Chief of Police and Fire Brad Bennett said the statistics help his department identify trends.

“It allows us to see if we have a particular area we need to pay close attention to. I think there are a lot of different factors that impact crime, so I’m always careful to not lay the reason on just one thing, but a good economy, declining unemployment, three strikes, and community policing have been beneficial.”

Blumstein said California lawmaker’s emphasis on three strikes as a factor in reducing crime is premature.

“It is a relatively new law, and the people who are being sentenced under it, would probably have been sentenced anyway. The law merely extends the time. To get a true picture of its effects we will have to wait at least 10 to 15 years,” Blumstein said.

The law passed in 1994, and in the interim more than 40,000 people have been sentenced for second and third strikes. Of that number, 4,400 were sentenced to 25 years to life.

In 1998 South Lake Tahoe reported two homicides, 138 assaults, seven sex offenses, 19 robberies, five arson cases, 366 burglaries, 183 thefts, and 65 vehicle thefts.

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