February 17, 2007

Dept. of How Stupid of Me Not to Have Thought of That Before

John Tierney of the NYT blogs about an academic conference on the drop in crime, but I just came up with a theory I've never heard before (although somebody must have articulated it before me):

What device that spread throughout society in the 1990s made it radically easier for witnesses to report street crimes to the cops while they were happening, thus discouraging young people from making a career of being a street criminal?

Right: the cell phone.


My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

20 comments:

Anonymous said...

well when did crime start to drop? and when did cellphones really start to get popular? i remember still using a beeper and payphones in nyc as late as 1999.

Steve Sailer said...

Nationally, the murder rate started to drop sharply between 1994 and 1995 and continued to until the end of the decade when it stabilized. It dropped earlier in NYC, after 1991.

In 1990, 2% of Americans were cell phone users.

In 1995, 13%

In 2000, 39%

That seems to fit the idea of a critical mass of witnesses with cell phones arriving some time in the mid 1990s. I wouldn't be surprised if NYC, with its wealthy businessmen and density, wasn't ahead of the national cell phone curve.

http://www.c-i-a.com/pr0206.htm

Anonymous said...

i don't know... even if, say, 10% of nyc was using cellphones in 1991 (and according to my memory that doesn't seem right; anyway they were about the size of a phone book back then), still the "wealthy businessmen" you speak of wouldn't be frequenting the kind of areas where most murders occurred, wouldnt you say?

the national statistics, of course, fit your idea of a critical mass a lot better.

Arthur L. Miller said...

A cell phone is a good tool in the fight against crime. It's even more effective when accompanied by a M1911.

Dog of Justice said...

I believe David Brin has discussed the underlying concept in detail in The Transparent Society, though I don't know if he ever articulated that specific theory.

Gary said...

And the mobile has certainly made it easier for criminals to communicate and plan their illegal doings. Not to mention the theft of these phones has contributed greatly to the rise in street robberies, in the UK, at least.

Lex said...

One was the influx of immigrants to America: studies have shown that crime in a neighborhood drops as the concentration of immigrants increases.

Steve, how to square this with the immigration leads to greater distrust hypothesis?

Could a greater level of distrust actually be an effective crime reduction method rather than a simple consequence of rising crime?

Of course, if the immigrants are of a better socioeconomic class than the locals that would argue in a more traditional direction.

Cedric Morrison said...

Dog of Justice beat me to it. This is Brin's blog:

http://davidbrin.blogspot.com/

and this is his site:

http://www.davidbrin.com/

The two of them contain a lot of interesting reading. Don't be too fast to judge Brin. The temptation is to conclude that he is a knee-jerk liberal, but he is considerably more complex than that.

Re. cell phones, now that they have built-in cameras and video recorders, they should cut down on crime even more, including official malfeasance.

Anonymous said...

How about DNA testing?

Anonymous said...

Dont cell phones lead to more efficient crime,as in drug dealing. I wonder about the effects of technology on gangs,which seem to be getting better organized. Theres a campaign underway in the black 'hoods called "Dont Be A Snitch"! Maybe the criminals are feeling the ehat of too many eyes!

Anonymous said...

I don't think there's a paradox here. Cell phones can simultaneously facilitate drug deals or whatever, while reducing actual (street crime, violent or otherwise. Frankly, if cells phones only reduced people selling drugs directly on the street, this would make us safer. Not the same as "reducing crime," I realize. This would need an actual study before I'd be totally convinced, but it's a neat theory.

Chip said...

We need solid research, but assuming it pans out, it will interesting to see what happens with Steve Levitt's abortion/crime nexus when the cell phone data are taken into account.

Steve Sailer said...

Immigration has no doubt helped reduce New York City's crime rate by pushing African-Americans out of increasingly expensive NYC. Of course, the American blacks don't leave the country, so it's not clear that there is a net gain overall, but that's of little concern to the New York media elite, who are personally safer.

And there's the problem of the first to second generation transition -- when a 25 year old immigrant shows up in America, he's not too likely to join a criminal gang, but 20 years later his 15 year old son might very well do so.

Anonymous said...

Not only cell phones, but young people growing up watching police procedural television shows like CSI Miami, Law and Order and the like probably get young would-be-thugs thinking that its damn near impossible to get away with much of anything after you have been booked for the first time, printed, etc..........................

Anonymous said...

Didn't I read somewhere that some 911 service was gearing up to allow video from cell phones?

Anonymous said...

There have been a couple recent cases in which subway flashers in New York have been caught because the young women have taken the flashers' pictures with their cell phone cameras.
One of the flashers surrendered after his picture was shown on the cover of the Daily News and/or the Post.

Peter
Iron Rails & Iron Weights

Steve Sailer said...

It took awhile for cell phones to get properly plugged into 911 services. I recall driving past a burning car in Chicago in 1992, so I pulled out my bulky cell phone and called 911. But the emergency center I got was that of a small community 40 miles outside of Chicago. I believe that within a few years, these system problems were ironed out.

uofigrad said...

I think the crime drop most coincided with the longer lockups for violent Afro-Americans after the crack wars of the early-to-mid-90's. But cell phones may have some effect. The first and only time I've ever called 911 was in the aftermath of the Illinois loss in the NCAA championship game against North Carolina in 2005. Some students took to vandalism afterwards and I witnessed a pair of hooligans setting fire to several dumpsters next to apartment buildings. I was on my cell phone immediately telling them a white and hispanic male with shaved heads were commiting arson and tailed them giving the operator directions until the police picked them up in about 45 seconds. I wouldn't have been able to do that with a landline. It took the firetruck about 2 minutes to arrive, and by then the fires were roaring.

As a side note, the University decided to do away with Chief Illiniwek as a mascot/symbol.

R.K. said...

But don't forget another big likely reason for the crime rate drop: DNA technology. It particularly may explain the drop in rape

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