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Will Crime Rates Continue to Go Down?

KUT News

Crime rates in Texas, and particularly in Austin, have been in decline over the past few years.

Most Texas jurisdictions saw declines in reported violent and property crime in the first six months of 2011 compared to 2010.

The decline comes despite a faltering economy and rising wealth disparity; despite increased gun ownership; despite lofty drop-out rates in high schools; despite depopulating Texas youth prisons, reducing their inmate numbers from 5,000 to 1,100 since 2007; despite Texas releasing more than 70,000 adult inmates per year from prison back into their home communities.

To the surprise of some criminologists, none of these factors have prevented crime rates from going down nearly across the board. “If we look at the last decade, we’ve seen dropping crime rates and I think part of the drop is a consequence of a lot of money being spent,” said Dr. Michael Lauderdale, a UT Professor in Criminal Justice. “And effectively money being spent, in public safety, police and the correctional system.”

Though recent years have been good, Lauderdale explains that Texas might be in a transitional phase where crime rates could escalate soon.

“In the last couple of years, we may be starting to see some indicators that suggest that we may see increasing crime rates,” he says. “If you look at crime rates over a 50 or 60 year period, you’ll see a decade when they will rise and a decade when they will fall. And I think we are probably at the end of a decade, maybe 15 years of declining crime rates, but we may have reached the end of that.” 

It’s not merely the prediction of pattern rates, according to Lauderdale. The rising rates of unemployment play a substantial role in the degree of pattern fluctuation in crime.

“If you take a look at unemployment all over the world and you look at unemployment in the United States, we have rising rates of unemployment,” Lauderdale says. “And it is particularly high levels of unemployment for young people. Young people are more likely to protest than older people, and that would include being involved in crime.”

Many factors play a role in the transition from decreasing to increasing crime rates; some of the most impactful, as Lauderdale describes, can be the migration of people into a city. Or in other words: as Austin’s resident population grows,  crime rates can follow.

“Austin has a lot of growth in outside migration coming into Austin,” Lauderdale says. “When there is population migration, things take a while to settle down. And in that process of settling down, we may see more crime.”

Robb Jacobson is a news intern at KUT and a recent graduate of Indiana University.