Tuesday, January 10, 2012

There goes the neighborhood

A couple of days before Thanksgiving a woman was mugged a block north of us. She was knocked unconscious. The day after Christmas a couple was robbed about half a block down from us and in the past 2 weeks there have been 3 robberies within a couple of blocks from us. Some of these have been armed robberies. These have usually happened after dark and in EST that means after 6 pm. Meanwhile, the listserv is burning up (well, not quite but there has been some discussion) over the benefits of motion detector lights versus having lights that are always on as a neighborly service to those might have to walk in dark areas of the road.

To DST detractors, I say it’s time to scrap EST and go to DST permanently. It is tempting to also make a link between the recession and crime but this article in the fedgazette suggests that it is not so clear cut. And I am not surprised. Highly aggregated numbers tend to hide (if any) underlying patterns there might be. Meanwhile, highly disaggregated reports such as those that might be provided by Crime Reports may also obscure spatial patterns that may exist.

The neighbors are accusing ‘boys from SE’ (presumably DC) and I am sympathetic to the idea that while there may not have been an increase in the overall crime rate (property or otherwise) there has been a definite shift in the geography. Whether these are coming from SE DC or not remains to be seen. Whereas crime may have occurred in and where the criminals lived in the past, the recession has caused them to migrate beyond their usual territory since the pickings have become slimmer in their neighborhoods. But because only a small portion of them would move to commit crimes elsewhere there may not be any noticeable drop in say one section of the metro area and a noticeable increase in another. (I use noticeable as in ‘eyeball comparison’ rather than in a statistical sense.)

Moreover, with the increased use of credit cards and the falling prices of electronics, more robberies have to be committed just for the criminals to maintain their previous standard of living. So in the past whereas one criminal might survive on a robbery or burglary a day, he now has to commit multiple crimes.

I am also skeptical that a short term recession would increase the proportion of people who become criminals but a longer recession (of which this might be considered one) could have an impact on the crime rate. So aggregate measures of crime rate over NBER recession dates would not yield much correlation if the recessions are short. This is suggested in the following paper which finds that the ‘lost decade’ of Japan has increased crime as a result of the effects of the recession on the low skilled. The data used in my mind is less than perfect and is suggestive rather than conclusive.

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