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Oakland’s Crime Wave is Hardly Unique

With everyone from Dellums supporters to Republican attorney general candidate Chuck Pachoogian claiming that Jerry Brown is responsible for the sharp increase in murders in Oakland over the last year, it is important to get some perspective on the subject. Mid-sized cities across the US are grappling with a stunning crime wave, with murders in Minneapolis (a city only slightly smaller than Oakland) more than doubling so far this year. America’s largest cities, meanwhile, are not experiencing a murder spike.

This excellent article in the Economist (unfortunately only available to subscribers) summarizes the data thusly:

It is a similar, or worse, story in Newark, a poor New Jersey city of 280,000 that had 97 murders last year. Like Minneapolis and nearly everywhere else in America, Newark’s violent-crime rate dropped steeply in the mid-1990s (see chart). Then it began to rise again. As the murder rate in bigger, more notoriously violent cities such as Chicago, New York and Los Angeles has steadied or continued to fall in the past few years, Newark, along with other cities of similar size, has become deadlier. According to the FBI, murders in cities of more than a million people rose just 0.5% between 2004 and 2005. In cities of a quarter to half a million, they rose by 9.4%.

It is newsworthy enough to note this is a widespread problem, which points to causes far out of the control of local elected officials (Congress, on the other hand, has drastically cut policing aid to cities since 2000). But there are some indications of a solution. First, the largest cities in America are far outpacing the average mid-size city in job and population growth. In addition, the resources of a large city can be more effectively diverted to high-crime areas, unlike the limited resources of a mid-sized city. More tellingly, perhaps, is the fact that large cities have more police both per-capita and per-mile than other cities: New York has 116 officers per square mile (Oakland has about twelve). The Economist concludes that limited social resources and poorly-organized gangs (which cannot be decapitated) are the problem, and advises mid-size cities to avoid copying policing approaches that worked in bigger cities.

Posted in california, oakland, opd.

7 Responses

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  1. jesse says

    Thanks, this is a refreshing change from the common hysteria about crime in Oakland. Oh, how I wished I still had an Economist subscription.

  2. Oakland Native says

    The Economist is the best! Here’s an article in today’s New York Times discussing Mayor Brown’s targeting program.

  3. drydock says

    The economist article is pretty sparse on evidence for their little theory about gangs in big cities having more control over who gets killed. The upswing in violence in mid-size cities is an interesting revelation but I suspect that some alternative theories should be looked at and at least rebutted before people start hitching their wagon to the economists pet theory.

  4. Oakland Native says

    I’m not totally sure I buy the gangs argument, but it does seem clear that the murders are somewhat gang-related yet very disorganized.

    I am more focused on the lack of resources that mid-sized cities can bring to bear on their problems. Federal cuts to policing and social services have been combined with local police cuts to greatly reduce our ability to deal with problems.

    The fact that mid-sized cities across the country are dealing with a dramatic crime spike doesn’t necessarily change how we approach our problems, but certainly gets Mayor Brown off the hook (who, of course, attempted to increase policing but was defeated at the ballot box).

  5. Oakland Native says

    We can probably all agree that we shouldn’t blame the fashion industry, as Chip Johnson does in his article today, “When gangsta rap becoms grim reality.”

  6. Anonymous says

    I think Chip Johnson is a well-meaning person, but he is not doing quite enough research to be taken as much of an authority. One has the sense of a guy sitting in his living room cooking up a column out of thin air and general speculation.

  7. Oakland Native says

    That’s how all of the Chronicle’s columnists are. Check out middle-aged suburban columnist C. W. Nevius’s “expert’ opinion about MySpace.