A few months ago, the city reported that Dallas crime fell 6.4 percent in 2009 from the year earlier; it was the sixth consecutive year the Dallas crime rate has fallen. But do you feel any safer? The DMN had an interesting essay by New York writer Joe Keohane recently; he wondered out loud why — if crime is falling nationwide — most of us simply won’t believe it.
He offered a couple of interesting theories, including one tying our fears about crime with our take on national politics. Find out about these theories after the jump…
Theory number 1: Our perception of crime is inversely proportional to our feelings about the nation. When we believe the country is on the right track, we’re willing to accept statistics saying crime is falling. The writer cites the period from 1992-2001, when Americans supposedly were more satisifed with the country’s direction; during that period, citizens’ perception of crime fell (people thought crime was falling). But since 2001, Keohane says, satisfaction with the country has fall from 67 percent to nine percent in 2008, "while perception of crime has risen."
Theory number 2: This one is related to Theory number 1 in that divisive partisan politics is a driving factor. And before you go all partisan on me here, this theory is directed at both Republicans and Democrats. When a Republican was in the White House, more Democrats believed crime was rising, Keohane says. When a Democrat was in the White House, more Republicans believed crime was rising. And apparently the die was cast in that one party’s partisans don’t cancel out the other party’s partisans, at least at it relates to crime perceptions, when the parties switch power spots in government — apparently, instead of canceling each other out, the feelings of concern about crime instead continue to grow.
Theory number 3: The "rapidly changing composition of the population" — read that as creeping diversity in our neighborhoods — causes otherwise rational neighbors to feel less safe, making it more difficult for them to believe statistics that report crime is falling. The theory here is that as "the United States becomes a majority-minority nation and the established groups begin to look upon newcomers as yet more evidence that the nation is moving further away from their own beloved good old days."
So what to make of it all? I’m not smart enough to answer that question, although there’s certainly food for thought in the DMN story.
The only real positive I noted in the story: Apparently, Gallup poll findings indicate that even as we are convinced that crime is rising overall, we have a much more accurate reading about crime in our immediate neighorhood (this sounds a little like the theory that everyone else’s congressman is an idiot, but the guy/gal representing us is OK, doesn’t it?).
As the story says, "the turning point may come, then, when we begin to realize that our country is nothing more than a collection of neighborhoods. And that all of those other neighborhoods out there — the ones we seem to believe are sliding toward anarchy — are a lot more like ours than we’ve been willing to admit."