Crime plays no favorites
By James Alan Fox
Tuesday,  June 13, 2006

 Misery loves company, they say. And my fellow Bostonians, based on the just-released FBI report on crime trends for 2005, we've got lots of miserable company.

So if you're concerned because the Hub's murder rate rose nearly 20 percent in 2005 over 2004, just imagine how residents in St. Louis are feeling. The murder toll in the Gateway to the West increased 16% over 2004 but a whopping 80% since 2003. Sure, our local sports teams may have whipped them in the Super Bowl and the World Series, but apparently their gangs are outscoring ours in street killings. Even worse, cities like Nashville, Charlotte, Milwaukee and Kansas City all saw their murder counts jump more than 40% in one year.

Even though some municipalities, such as New York and San Diego, continue to enjoy improvements in their murder rates, most American cities are struggling against the frightening tide of bloodshed. Nationally, murder is up nearly five percent; in human terms that translates to almost 800 more people killed in 2005 than the year before.

Sure, I know its not all that much consolation to hear that other cities are feeling our pain. But it does suggest that the underlying causes extend well beyond the borders of Boston and the ranks of the BPD.

Remember the good old days, not so long ago, when not only was Boston touted as a model city for crime fighting, but the nation as a whole witnessed a seven-year slide in violence? The great 1990s crime decline was in part a result of fewer at-risk youth in the population plus more federal dollars to supporting children in after-school programs and other important initiatives. The crime drop was also aided by increased funding from Washington for local cops here and elsewhere, as well as federal muscle in combating the flow of guns with the gun lobby losing its strangle-hold over the political agenda.

Well, times have certainly changed. Not only are there now more at-risk youngsters (we knew that would happen), but the resources for supporting them have been slashed by the new administration on Pennsylvania Avenue. President Bush also decimated the federal community policing program, and saddled up to the NRA as a political base. Bush and key conservative members of Congress passed an amendment to block the release of ATF crime gun trace information, enacted a shield of immunity for the gun industry against civil litigation, and permitted the assault weapons ban to expire.

At the same time, of course, post-9/11 concern for terrorism has put added demands on federal resources and police deployment. How can the cops keep an eye on the hotspots of street crime and gang activity when there are government buildings, financial centers, and transportation hubs to patrol and protect? Still, many more Americans--mostly poor or working class folks--are murdered each year by local gunfire than were killed on 9/11 by al-Quaeda operatives. Of course, the distinction between homeland security and hometown security is that terrorism unevenly jeopardizes the wealthy and powerful, while street violence threatens the poor and powerless.

The good news--or at least the encouraging word--is that the crime problem is not out of control, at least by contrast to the early 1990s when the nation's murder rate was almost twice what it is today. It is not surprising that a small bounce back would occur after the glory years of the late 1990s. But let this small upturn serve as a thunderous wake-up call down in the nation's capital that crime prevention, police funding, and gun control need to be a priority once again.

James Alan Fox is the Lipman Family Professor of Criminal Justice at Northeastern University. Talk back at