Americans will never stop fearing crime on a profound, primal level. Their news media will make sure of that. Even if crime in their region drops to zero, they will fear that the nation at large is on a slippery slope. A 2019 gallup poll showed that while 38% of people believed that crime was on the rise in their local area, 78% believed it was on the rise nationwide, even though it’s been trending downwards since the ’90s. Yes, even during the pandemic.
So with so many people living in fear of being victimized by crime, you’d think there would be plenty of open mindedness regarding potential solutions. So please, approach these potential solutions with an open mind. They’ve been subjected to considerable testing and study. So even if they seem fanciful, too good to be true, or agenda-driven, they have the backing of cold, hard analysis.
10. Nutrition Programs
Whether school lunches should be free is a surprisingly partisan topic in political terms (or at least it would be anywhere except in the USA). What’s much clearer is that providing free food to the impoverished has been an effective crime deterrent with quantifiable results. A study published in 2016 of 35,000 people found that white and Hispanic males who self-identified as having often experienced hunger growing up were around three times more likely to be prone to violence than those who had not, while among black respondents it was about fifty percent more.
That’s not to say that just giving more food to poor people is any kind of surefire, and in fact without some balancing efforts it could backfire. A five-year study conducted by Chelsea Singleton of University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign found that when there were high levels of obesity and physical inactivity, communities of all races experienced increases in violent crime. It seems like any nutritional program will need a companion program to burn many of those calories off.
9. More Night Light
TopTenz lists have expressed some pretty harsh opinions on light pollution in the past. However our writers are willing to take the good with the bad. A large reduction in crime sounds like a very good thing indeed, and that’s what’s promised by a certain study that sheds some very handy light on the situation.
In 2018, the New York City Police Department, New York City Housing Authority, and the research group Crime Lab published their findings on a six month study of 80 neighborhoods which contained more than eighty thousand people. They found a 39% reduction in violent crime in those neighborhoods when the amount of lighting was significantly increased. These included high-priority neighborhoods where as few as 21% of the residents reported that they felt safe walking around at night. Notably, the study was supported by thirteen others conducted in the US and the UK, but both the scale of those other studies and the degree of crime decrease they found was much smaller, averaging only 27%. Although it feels odd to use the word “only” when describing a 27% crime decrease in any context.
8. Robust Nonprofits
This might feel like too broad of a statement, so much so that there would be a risk of overlap with entry 10, but the data that endorses a policy of strong support for nonprofit organizations is completely separate and quite precise. It comes from a 2017 New York University report called “Community and the Crime Decline” which included data from 264 from 1990 through 2013. If found that for cities of roughly 100,000 people, for every large non-profit group related to crime and community life, murder dropped roughly 0.9%, violent crime in general dropped 0.6%, and property crime dropped 0.4%.
The effectiveness of nonprofits in helping high crime areas is supported around the world, including in the most harrowing of locations. Take Medellin, Colombia, home town of Pablo Escobar, and such a notoriously violent place that it was nicknamed “Machine Gun City.” In 2017, CNN reported that a vigorous library expansion and all the accompanying community programs were changing the very nature of the seemingly hopeless place.
7. Green Spaces
Now this may be the first one a lot of readers will be skeptical of, since parks in urban areas are commonly considered hotbeds for criminal activity. That’s to no small extent because it’s actually true: A 2015 study found that crime in parks and surrounding neighborhoods was up to four times higher than in those without parks, and that violent crime was up to 11 times higher.
That’s why the distinction between “parks” and “green spaces” needs to be understood. Green spaces are essentially accenting buildings, plazas, and other urban sectors with small areas of plant life rather than areas of relative forestry, like a row of trees versus a naturalistic grove of them. Studies have found that compact green spaces can lower crimes in nearby buildings as much as 52%. Even parks can be converted from crime hotspots to crime deterrents if there is regular maintenance and organized community activities. So it’s not the most encouraging news for park fans, but fans of greenery can still take heart that their passion can help a city if used in moderation.
6. Violence in Video Games
Now we’ve all heard violent video games being used as a scapegoat anytime there’s a young mass shooter in America. And yet there’s significant evidence that popular, violent video games have short term yet positive effects. So the many times that censorship of game content has been proposed have seemingly been counterproductive.
In 2014, the American Psychological Association published a study that found that during the times around the release of major violent games such as those in the Grand Theft Auto series, crime rates consistently dipped. In 2011 a study conducted by University of Baylor and the Centre for European Economic research found a 1% decrease in crime for every 10% increase in sales of violent video games. The unflattering conclusion was that society benefited from how the games kept people whose brains hadn’t fully finished developing too busy with a harmless activity to go out and commit crimes, which still sounds better than the alternative.
5. Classical Music
It turns out that the claim we heard for years that classical music raises the intelligence of children is not true. There’s still a very valid reason for businesses and other establishments to play classic music to young people. It’s admittedly a pretty cynical one.
In 2003, a station with Transport for London with a high petty crime rate began an experiment of playing classical music. A 33% drop in robberies and 37% drop in vandalism followed. It was replicated in businesses all across the UK and America, such as a McDonald’s on Isle of Wight in 2019. The reason given for its success was that playing Bach and Vivaldi through the loudspeakers made the locations seem stodgy and uncool. This compels the youth to leave the general area as it tends to give off a vibe of being “uncool.” Obviously this is proposed more as a business than a governmental policy, as it tends to be pretty bad for cities and towns to drive all the youth away, as much as the senior citizens might want that.
4. Organized Religion
Now here’s one that should appeal to those who judged the earlier entries to be largely hippy dippy. Yet it’s supported by a study published in 2013 of 182 counties in New York, California, and Texas conducted by Pennsylvania State University. The study found that among impoverished white, Black, and Latino populations, a larger percentage of the population that identified with organized religion meant a lower crime rate. This has been demonstrated time and again over the years. In 2011, the Houston Chronicle reported that 247 studies conducted between 1944 and 2010 of 273 randomly chosen found a similar result. Only two from the same sample found that more organized religiosity meant more crime.
Now it must be noted that research has only indicated a benefit for communities with organized religion that reinforces a sense of community. The PSU study found that among people that identified as spiritual but not religious, the crime rate was actually significantly higher than among the non-religious. If some government body were to introduce a policy of encouraging religion, it would have to be very traditionalist and collectivist in approach.
3. Prison Education
For many people, prison is at least as much about the satisfaction of punishing people convicted of crimes as it is about preventing crimes. But for those more interested in preventing crimes and recidivism, it’s no contest from a logistical perspective. The 2004 UCLA School of Public Policy and Social Research report “Correctional Education as a Crime Control Program” by Audrey Bazos and Jessica Hausman found that while $1,000,000 spent expanding the prison system prevented an average of 350 crimes, spending the same money on correctional education prevented 600 crimes of comparable severity.
As it is, there are concerns about how prisons control the education that convicts receive. For example, Mother Jones reported that in 2017 the book Freakonomics was banned from Texas prison libraries because it quoted a slur from a member of the Ku Klux Klan, and yet two books from David Duke, the former leader of the Klan, were allowed into the same system. There have also been massive cuts to prison library funding nationwide since the 2008 recession, such as the state of Illinois cutting its annual prison library budget from $750,000 in the early 2000s to $276 for 28 facilities by 2017. Unfortunately it would seem the US prison system is letting this opportunity slip through its fingers, or at least being extremely clumsy with it.
There are a number of people that will suggest that ethnic diversity leads to tensions that increase crime rates, such as Charlton Heston in the 2002 documentary Bowling for Columbine. As with violent video games, the evidence indicates that the truth is a bit closer to the opposite. That’s according to Sefa Churchill and Emmanuel Laryea, authors of the 2019 study “Crime and Ethnic Diversity: Cross-Country Evidence” which analyzed data patterns from 78 countries. They found that whether it was a matter of ethnic or linguistic diversity, crime rates were lower across the board among more diverse communities to a degree outside the standard margin for error. This by the way went against the results that Churchill and Laryea predicted, with they themselves saying in the abstract that they arrived at results “counterintuitively.”
Linguistic diversity was actually more beneficial in a number of areas, as for example regarding crimes of theft, the ethnically diverse communities had 8.4% lower crime while linguistically diverse communities saw a 9.8% lower rate. On balance ethnic diversity was more beneficial, considering such matters as a homicide rate that was 1.62% lower in linguistically diverse communities while a much more robust 6.38% lower in ethnically diverse communities. But surely when it comes to homicide any policy that lowers a rate by even one victim is worth considering.
1. Guaranteed Income
Many people first heard the idea of Universal Basic Income from Andrew Yang’s 2020 campaign for the Democratic Party presidential nomination in 2020, but it actually has been floated since studies were performed for it in Denver and Seattle under President Nixon. It’s also been a reality for Americans living in Alaska since 1982, not to mention the Eastern Band of Cherokee in North Carolina.
Everywhere guaranteed income has been attempted, the result has been a significant lowering in the crime rate, particularly property crime. Encouragingly, it’s also been found to increase social cohesion, lower stress, and improve public health by making visits to the doctor more affordable. All without any of these experiments causing a decrease in workforce participation. There are still rational concerns such as inflation (though there has been data from a 2003 Mexican poverty program that strongly indicates that inflation fears are exaggerated) but the possibilities as a crime deterrent justify further tests at the very least.
Dustin Koski’s post-apocalyptic supernatural comedy Return of the Living hasn’t been tried as a crime deterrent, so get a copy today and conduct a test yourself!