The local media in Jacksonville is going through another spate of hand-wringing over the crime rate and looking for someone to blame.
The usual remedy is to hire more police. That decreases response times, which means police get to a crime scene quicker. But it does not prevent many crimes, especially violent crimes.
Mayors and sheriffs usually run for office promising to cut crime, and rarely succeed. Mayor Lenny Curry promised to fight crime and now is saying, along with Sheriff Mike Williams, that he is doing all he can. Saturday, Williams went on a neighborhood “walk.” How that could impact the crime rate is not clear.
In addition to high-tech tools, such as devices that listen for gunshots and report them to the police, Jacksonville is one of several cities utilizing a new program that seeks to find and defuse troublemakers. There is reason for both skepticism and hope that it will help.
But it all brings to mind a scene in a local criminal court back in the 1960s when Judge “Happy” Harvey asked a man accused of theft why he did what he allegedly did.
“Hell, judge, I’m a thief!” the defendant said a bit impatiently, as if the judge couldn’t deduce the obvious.
Crime is not driven by poverty or the number of guns owned by citizens or other usual suspects. It occurs when bad people do bad things. So real solutions lie in social institutions that will help fashion more good people and fewer bad people.
Tougher enforcement of crimes by the police and the courts is one way to address the problem. But demographics, which is largely beyond control, is a major driver of the crime rate. The larger the cohort of the male population in the 15 to 25 age category, the more crime there is likely to be.
Anyone trying to show Jacksonville is the equivalent of Chicago in the 1920s can play around with numbers and make a case. But it isn’t even as bad as Chicago, Kansas City or Baltimore in the 2020s.
The violent crime rate in Jacksonville in 2018, according to what the local police reported to the FBI, was 596 crimes per 100,000 residents. That was higher than Tampa, but lower than Miami, St. Petersburg and Orlando. It ranked about the same in the property crime rate.
That’s how it compares to other Florida cities. How does it compare to itself?
Over a 10-year-span the violent crime rate is down. So is property crime.
When I was a police reporter in the 1960s I covered a murder about every two or three days. As a percentage of the population there are a lot fewer murders today (110 in 2018). A few more last year than in 2018.
Certainly you can cherry-pick dates and possibly find some span of years that the local crime rate shows a rise. But expecting the police to throw a switch and lower the crime rate just hasn’t proven feasible.
By the way, the FBI cautions people not to use its statistics to compare different jurisdictions, or changes over time. Yet, everyone does and they aren’t much use for anything else.
See attached for more data.