This 19-year-old idiot's criminal career (now on ice for a loooong time) reminded me that the real sociological mystery is not why the crime rate came down after its crack-driven peak in the early 1990s (when, for example, New York City alone experienced over 4,000 murders in just 1990-1991), but—why it hasn't fallen farther?
According to the FBI, the number of homicides dropped sharply from 1992-1999, but has gone up slightly since then.
Think how easy it was to steal stuff back when crime was just starting to boom in the mid-1960s. In those innocent days, many folks not only parked their cars unlocked in their driveways overnight, for example, but left their car keys in the ignition! You could pursue a lucrative career in auto theft just by climbing into random cars and driving them away.
One of my earliest memories of reading the news in the mid-1960s is of all the articles warning citizens to start taking their car keys with them. But even when that lesson sunk in, many people still didn't lock their cars. A common memory of my boyhood is my father and I seeing a parked car with its headlights left on, so he'd open the car door and switch them off before the battery drained down. In that trusting era, thieves merely had to hotwire the ignition.
And even if they got caught, punishment was light back in those naively liberal days. Indeed, the imprisonment rate was lower in 1975 than in 1960, although the murder rate had more than doubled.
In response, owners began to lock their cars. Since my childhood, I've tried a few dozen times to turn off the headlights of strangers' cars, but the last time the car turned out be open was 1972. And automakers began armor plating the ignition system, and then adding steering wheel locking systems.
As it became harder for crooks to steal cars in toto, they started smashing the windows and prying out the expensive new 8-Track stereos. This set off a defensive arms race to harden the target that is still going on. Ultimately, though, electronic in-dash gizmos got so cheap that these days it really isn't worth fighting past all the defenses just to sell the loot to a fence for a small fraction of its heavily discounted retail price. [More]