Crime Decline in the United States in the 1990s essay

CrimeDecline in the United States in the 1990s

Sincethe 1990s, the United States has experienced a dramatic reduction incrime rate. According to FBI reports, between 1990 and 2000, homicidereduced by 39%, rapes cases fell by 41%, and robbery went down by 44%(Levitt, 2004). During this period, New York is the city thatexperienced the greatest decline in crime rate. For instance,homicide reduced by 73%, rape decreased by 52% and an astonishingfall in robbery cases by 70%. Many studies have tried to explain thefactors that caused the significant decline in crime rate in the U.S.during this period. One of the studies carried out by Zimring (2011)points out that, changes in demographics and social factors mighthave played an insignificant role in the great crime decline. Thispaper attempts to explain some of the reasons behind the 1990s crimedecline in the U.S. The article will also explain why New Yorkexperienced astonishing crime reduction and finally, offer someopinions on whether or not crime rates can continue decliningforever.

Whycrime rate fell dramatically in the U.S. in the 1990s

Aggressiveand efficient policing strategies

Oneof the significant factors leading to declining crime rate in theU.S. in the 1990s is effective policing strategies (Joanes, 1999).Joanes points out that many theories try to discredit policedepartments for crime reduction. Some of these theories argue thatthe public’s failure to report crimes to the police or manipulationof crime statistics by the police departments can all result inreduced crime rate. However, she points out that aggressive policingstrategies can lead to high level of incarceration meaning fewercriminals are left in the streets hence few or no crimes arerecorded. Zimring (2006) supports Joanes’ argument by pointing outthat zero-tolerance policing played a crucial role in crime ratereduction in the U.S. during this time. Zero-tolerance policing isbased on the broken windows theory conceptualized by George L.Kelling, which holds that strict rules against minor crimes such asloitering and pick-pocketing deter criminals from committing seriouscrimes such as murder and rape (Chan, 2007).

Additionally,the former mayor of New York City Rudolph Giuliani, together with hisfirst police commissioner William Bratton adopted a technique knownas CompStat to help keep track of crime problems and hold accountableall the police commanders for most unsafe areas under theirjurisdiction. According to Levitt (2004), apart from being apolicing strategy, CompStat was also a management tool because ithelped the police commanders monitor the performance of the officersunder their authority by keeping track of the number of crimesreported in an area. An increase in crime rate in a particular areameant that the police officers patrolling that neighborhood were notexecuting their duties as expected and the vice-versa. However, asZimring (2011) explains, not all cities that adopt CompStatexperience crime rate reduction. A city like Philadelphia hascontinued to record increasing rates of murder even afterimplementing CompStat in its police departments (Chan, 2007). As aresult, some people have criticized CompStat arguing that it is anineffective way of reducing crime. However, Zimring argues thatCompStat must be combined with other aggressive law enforcementstrategies to realize significant crime reduction (2011).

Increasednumber of police personnel

Increasingthe number of police officers can play a significant role in reducingcrime rates. Conklin &amp Jacobson (2003), argue that the increasedpolice force in the 1990s decreased crime by 5%. FBI reports showthat police employment went up by almost 30% in the 1990s. The CrimeBill, which was passed in 1994, allowed the funding for 100,000additional local law enforcement officers. The more the policepersonnel in the streets, the smaller the number of people eachdetective patrol is assigned leading to better surveillance and toughcrackdown on criminals. Some psychologists further argue that thepresence of more police officers on the streets even if they are notarresting or stopping anyone can deter people from committing crimes.


The1990s was a period that was marked by increased rates ofincarceration. According to Conklin &amp Jacobson (2003), the prisonpopulation started to expand during this period and by 2000, morethan two million persons had been locked up. Levitt (2004) points outthat factor such as an increase in drug-related offenses, revocationof parole and longer sentences for serious crimes such as homicidescontributed to the increasing rates of incarceration. The theorylinking high levels of incarceration with crime reduction is based onthe assumption that when criminals are locked up, they are removedfrom the streets hence are not able to continue committing offenses. The other reason is that increased incarceration leads to crimereduction is preclusion (Travis,Western &amp Redburn, 2014). When law enforcement authorities focuson incarcerating criminals, they deter other people looking forwardfrom violating the law. Zimring (2006) supports this argument byarguing that the increasing prison population in the U.S. in the1990s played a significant role in crime rate reduction. According tothis author, people feared the strict laws and the dreadful prisonexperience hence avoided crimes at all cost.

Figure1: Percentage increase in incarceration in the U.S. from the 1970s to2000s.

Source:Travis, Western &amp Redburn (2014)

Improvedeconomy of the 1990s

Backin the 1990s, the U.S. saw improved and sustained economic growth. Itis reported that the real GDP per capita grew by almost 30% between1991and 2001. Economic growth is usually accompanied by increasedrates of employment since many people are absorbed in the private andpublic sector to ensure the supply of goods and services meets thegrowing demand. According to Conklin &amp Jacobson (2003), manypeople in the U.S. got into some form of employment hence reduced theneed to involve in financial crimes such as robbery. Improvements inlawful labor markets opportunities deter people from crime-relatedactivities. However, the argument that improved economy leads toreduced crime rate has been regard as vague.

Expertssuch as Levitt (2004) argue that economic growth can affectfinancially-motivated crimes such as burglary and robbery. However,economic growth cannot lead to a decrease in offenses such ashomicide, rape, and assaults. However, Levitt points out thateconomic growth can indirectly contribute to crime reduction (2004).Economic growth will leave the government with lots of money andresources at disposal, which can be channeled in law enforcementdepartments. Conklin &amp Jacobson (2003) supports Levitt’s claimsby arguing that improvement in the economy will increase governmentspending on police and prison causing a reduction in crime rate.


Apopulation characterized by a significant number of the elderlypeople and fewer youths, is argued to have a low level of crime. Manystudies have established that the young people starting from teenageyears up to 40 years are more likely to indulge in offenses such asburglary, drug trafficking, rape, among others. According to Zimring(2006), the elderly population in the U.S. increased during the1990s, a factor that played a significant role in crime reduction.However, Levitt (2004) points out that the argument that change indemographics leads to reduction or increase in crime rate isambiguous. Levitt explains that during the same period that theelderly population grew in the U.S. the black populace alsoincreased. Just as theories are linking the youths with crime, thereare those that connect the black people with crime. Therefore, thetwo arguments offset each other meaning that changes in demographicsplayed an insignificant role in the 1990s crime reduction in the U.S.

Whydid New York experience the greatest crime decline?

Forthe last two decades, the city of New York has been the biggestbeneficiary of reduced crime rate that has ever been experienced byany metropolitan in a developed nation. According to Zimring (2011),in less than 30 years, crimes that instill public fear such ashomicide, rape, robbery among others have dropped by more than 80% inNew York.

Figure2: The U.S. and New York crime decline from 1990 to 2000

Manypeople attribute New York’s success in crime reduction to effectivepolicing such as the adoption and implementation of CompStat program.However, Chan (2007) reports that not all the cities that embracedCompStat have experienced the tremendous reduction in crime like NewYork. In a 2007 annual meeting of the American SociologistAssociation, one of the members Mr. Karmen explained the disparitiesin CompStat results in various cities. He argued that either it isNew York that followed the CompStat faithfully or CompStat is not theentire reason why crime declined (Chan, 2007).

Accordingto Zimring (2011), unlike the U.S., which focused on sendingcriminals to jail, New York adopted different solutions to solvingcrime and yet its prison population has continuously decreased sincethe 1990s. Additionally, New York neither focused on racial andethnic factors nor lowering poverty and unemployment rates to reducecrime. Zimring argues that reducing crime does not require sendingmassive numbers to prisons or cracking down drug dealers. New Yorkhas succeeded in sustaining reduced crime rate because it focuses onaggressive policing strategies and expansion of the police force.According to Rosenfeld&amp Fornango (2014), increased numbers of street cops andaggressive policing such as police stops have played a crucial rolein reducing robbery and burglary crimes in New York. Essentially,anyone arrested in New York spends not less than 24hours locked in apolice cell. Such an awful experience for a person who has never beenin jail discourages one from indulging in crime (Chan, 2007). Holdingpeople in a police cell for a short period and short sentences aresome of the strategies that New York has used to deter people fromcrime and keep its prison population low.

Isit possible for crime rate to continue reducing forever?

Frommy point of view, I believe that crime can continue declining as longas the right strategies are adhered to faithfully. Zimring (2011)points out that one of the lessons that people should learn from NewYork success in crime reduction is that the number of police officersmatters. I support Zimring argument because there is adequateevidence linking increased number of police personnel on the streetswith reduced crime rate. From personal experience, one becomescautious of doing anything unlawful in the presence of a policeofficer. Therefore, just like New York, other cities can continueexperiencing decreased crime rate if they invest in policedepartments by employing more officers.

Zimring,F. E. (2011), governments should stop focusing on racial and ethnicfactors if they aim to continue benefiting from reduced crime rate.Crime rate can keep decreasing forever if the government adopts andimplements efficient policing. Some theories argue that crime ratescannot continue falling forever because of changes in demographics,economy, and unemployment rates among others. However, New York keptexperiencing declining crime rate even during the 2008 financialrecession. According to Zimring (2011), New York policing strategiesand adoption of technologies such as CompStat are some of the tacticsthat can ensure continued decline in crime rate. I firmly believethat as long as a government does not relax its focus on effectivepolicing strategies and investment in its police departments, it canendlessly benefit from declining crime rates.


Thereis more than adequate evidence that attributes reduced crime rate itthe U.S. in the 1990s to effective policing and increased policeworkforce. The increased number of police officers in the U.S. afterpassing of the Crime Bill in 1994 played a significant role incombating crime. From a theoretical point of view, the presence ofmany police officers in the streets even if they are not stopping orarresting people deters individuals from violating the law.Additionally, New York`s success in eradicating crime is proof thateffective policing strategies such as CompStat, police patrol andbetter management can lead to reduced crime rate. Finally, it isimportant to note that crime rates can endlessly decline if the rightstrategies are implemented, monitored and even improved over time.There is a great need for governments to stop focusing on socialproblems such as unemployment and bad economy and start investing intheir police departments to continue benefiting from declining crimerates.


ChanS. (2007). WhyDid Crime Fall in New York City? InternationalNew York Times. Retrieved from: new-york-city/

Conklin,J. E., &amp Jacobson, J. (2003). Why crime rates fell. Crimeand Justice International, 19(72),17-20.

Joanes,A. (1999). Does the New York City Police Department Deserve Creditfor the Decline in New York’s City`s Homicide Rates-A Cross-CityComparison of Policing Strategies and Homicide Rates. Colum.JL &amp Soc. Probs.,33,265.

Levitt,S. D. (2004). Understanding why crime fell in the 1990s: Four factorsthat explain the decline and six that do not. TheJournal of Economic Perspectives,18(1),163-190.

Rosenfeld,R., &amp Fornango, R. (2014). The impact of police stops on precinctrobbery and burglary rates in New York City, 2003-2010. JusticeQuarterly,31(1),96-122.

Travis,J., Western, B., &amp Redburn, F. S. (2014). The growth ofincarceration in the United States: Exploring Causes andconsequences.

Zimring,F. E. (2006). Thegreat American crime decline.Oxford University Press, USA.

Zimring,F. E. (2011). Thecity that became safe: New York`s lessons for urban crime andits control.OUP USA.