The Virtuous Circle of Declining Crime

A blog about business and economics.
April 20 2013 9:34 AM

The Virtuous Circle of Declining Crime  

murder

Those of us who've read out Kevin Drum know that declining lead levels are a key driver of falling rates of violent crime in America. But I was looking at the DC homicide stats this morning which show that not only are the number of murders falling in the city, the clearance rate is rising fast—a reminder that there are some deeper dynamics in play.

One interesting way to look at this is to do the math and chart not just the decline in homicide but the even steadier and more amazing decline in unsolved homicide. Part of the story could just be that the cops are getting smarter. One possible answer is that as crime falls the remaining crimes are disproportionately easy ones to solve—perhaps domestic violence cases. But my guess is the larger issue is simply that when the MPDC has fewer homicides to investigate it's able to investigate the remaining ones more thoroughly and so it gets more difficult to get away with murder. A virtuous circle, in other words, where the decline of an atmospheric toxin not only makes us safer but makes our public safety services more effective in coping with the remaining problems.

Matthew Yglesias is the executive editor of Vox and author of The Rent Is Too Damn High.