Criminal Commonplaces

Back in 1969 the Violence Commission issued a report which foresaw the urban America of the future as a sort of terrorist Alphaville: high-tech business centers and shopping malls protected by armed guards, fortified apartment complexes defended by sophisticated electronic surveillance, and patrols of armed citizens keeping a vigilant watch over their neighborhoods. As Elliot Currie points out in his contribution to this volume of updates, "Crimes of Violence and Public Policy," the Commission's sci-fi predictions have been in large measure fulfilled. Every American knows what the problem is; we do not even need the chilling statistics provided by Weiner and Wolfgang in their thoroughgoing introductory essay. The FBI's Unified Crime Reports reveal that between 1969 and 1982 the rate of murder in the U.S. increased by 25 percent, forcible rape by 82 percent, robbery by 56 percent, and aggravated assault by 82 percent. There is some quarrel over the figures and a discrepancy between FBI data and the National Crime Survey compiled annually by the Bureau of the Census, but neither set ofstatistics is encouraging. Few Americans can actually quote the figures, but by 1981, 68 percent of us believed that crime had increased in the course of the year.

The trouble with most thinking about crime—to borrow a phrase from James Q. Wilson—is the "expert" mentality of police authorities,...

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