… to only about 3 times’ the UK’s.  Though that is not the angle taken in this excellent story (hattip Marginal Revolution) which marvels at it falling near to the level of some extraordinary city in Nebraska , Omaha.

Los Angeles, a city of some 4 million inhabitants, is enjoying a blindingly good few years for crime.  So good, in fact, that even these figures from 2008 – an 80% reduction from 15 years before – are now badly out of date.  It looks like LA might have only 230 murders this year.  Less than one per day!  As the article says, they may have to outsource their dramatic reality cop shows.  Nirvanna, for the Los Angelenos.  Which means a murder rate of only 6 per 100,000.

This trend has been widespread in the US since the mid 1990s, so that now one or two cities even seem to have a rate as low as the UK.   Yes, after a couple of decades of improvement, the USA might aspire to having a murder rate in one or two of its many cities as low as the UK as a whole.

Incidentally, this question naturally leads to another one: if the UK is so much more murder-free than its Anglo Saxon cousin, why is it apparently so much more violent? From the same Wiki page and the spreadsheet, you get incredibly low US figures for violence – about a million incidents, in the cities with a combined population of 188m.

Whereas we too have a million violent crimes (source: D Cameron). Therefore we  seem to have about 12000 for every murder, whereas the US has only about 90. Hence a lot of stories from Americans claiming that despite over ten thousand murders annually, they feel safer over there.  In the USA, it seems, you just shoot them dead, rather than endlessly punching them as we do in Blighty.

Why is this? Well, you may think it is about guns, and of course that makes a big difference: murdering without a gun, particularly on the spur of the moment, must be much harder.  Their gun culture is nuts.

But a more prosaic answer, I’m afraid, is that the measurements are different.  See the answer on Yahoo Answers, link above:

Do you realise that harassment and verbal abuse is a violent crime, as are the threats of violence itself or even bigamy, which is considered a violent crime in Britain. Other violent crimes include common assault (again no injury to anyone), as well as wreckless driving, endangering railway passengers and a whole array of other rather baffling criteria.

We count just about everything as a violent crime here. And increasingly so: according to this blog Anxiety Culture:

• Certain “yobbish” behaviours (eg minor scuffles) have been reclassified as crime, with the effect of doubling recorded violent crime.

• A violent crime with many victims is no longer recorded as a single crime. An incident with 5 victims is now recorded as 5 crimes.

It is well known that a denial of this sort of goalpost shift has landed Grayling in trouble.

I am no criminologist, of course.  But you often hear (from the right) about how much better it was when the friendly copper would just knock heads together, deal with things informally, when on the Beat. Given this change in police cultures, it is very hard to believe that all the incidents of domestic abuse that count as violent nowadays were measured as such in the far-more-chauvinistic 1960s, to pick just one example.

I am not condoning or intending to trivialise any of the million things that Cameron was so dismayed by.   Let’s eliminate everything that is bad.  But the more I read the more I have suspicions of the naked outofcontext statistical-scaring that is at the heart of Broken Britain narrative.   I doubt very much that the UK is anywhere near as violent as the US, when practically every US city, even after a prolonged slump in murder, is still more murderous than us.  And people still flock to live there.  Let’s show some commonsense.


I hesitate to reawaken this subject, as it conjures such strong emotions.  Some people believe quite passionately in the reality of a Broken Britain and its Broken society. You could be forgiven for thinking that they so badly want it to be true that they will use any evidence whatsoever.  I don’t think I have ever provoked such a passionate response as when I criticised Theodore Dalrymple’s view that the UK was so irrevocably broken that the only answer was to leave it. Not, presumably, for the USA.


PS more fun from Anxiety Britain:

Surprising Crime Figures

• Around half of all violent crimes result in no injury whatsoever (according to both police figures and BCS).

• 71% of mugging (robbery and snatch theft) incidents result in no injury.

• The number of violent incidents has fallen by 36% since 1995.

• Property crime (burglary, theft, etc) has fallen 46% since 1995.

• The average household is burgled only once every 50 years.


13 thoughts on “Los Angeles murder rate in vertiginous decline

  1. Well of course it is guns. It’s easier to kill on the spur of the moment when you have a gun. I disputte that we are generally artificially pushing up our figures. Lots of crimes just don’t, accidentaly, make it onto police records & many crimes which, in the US would be dealt with seriously, leven murder, get get brought down to things like assault (the asaultee dying barely counting).

    Because most crime is committed by young men, with an aging population we should be going through a real & substantial cut in criminality. We aren’t.

    The prime reason the US is must be that they have something like 1 1/2 million people in prison. I don’t actually advocate that here but we should at least look at what countries with low crime rates do.

    1. We are not yet through to that point in our demographics. Ask again in 20 years.

      And (this is for Dan too)

      My issue for crime stats is: do we measure more violent crime (bureaucratically) than we used to? How have the standards changed over the years (as well as between countries)?

      Because comparison with the golden age of the 1960s and 1970s or whenever is put out if we also concede that policing was more informal, a lot of what we regard as a crime now was not so regarded then (can one seriously imagine that in the 1960s there was less verbal abuse, given the changing patterns of political correctness and new discriminatory laws put in since).

      So suppose politicians DID have the amazing clock-turning-back ability they imply in their Broken Society speeches, and this WAS ‘where we could be’ – say, the 1960s (I would love to see the legislation that did it). Then – using current measuring criteria – would we have less crime – given that so much of the casual abuse, racism, domestic violence (insert Andy Cap cartoon) and so on that would have gone unmeasured in those days as ‘crime’ is now treated as such? I don’t know. But the Broken Society narrative – which is utter nonsense- relies on the worship of that implicit assumption.

      less convinced than ever. But I am not going to convince you, and you are certainly not going to convince me, so let’s just get on with our day jobs …..

      1. “I am not going to convince you, and you are certainly not going to convince me, so let’s just get on with our day jobs”

        Er, if you post things on blogs you have to expect people will disagree, and you can’t really close it off by saying let’s get on with our day jobs (it takes me about three minutes to type these comments, while having a cup of tea, so it doesn’t interfere with mine).

        The ‘changing methods of measuring violent crime’ argument works for you while you’re still banging on about Cameron and his million violent crimes AND you are able to suggest that this is wrong because the million crimes include lots of assaults-that-aren’t as a result of changing crime recording standards.

        It doesn’t work once you look at the BCS, which shows 2.2 million ‘violent’ crimes, of which 60% are actual assaults.

        So 1.25 million actual, recognisable crimes of violence – which means that, so far from scaremongering, as you claim, Cameron was understating.

        Trying to shift goalposts onto ‘verbal abuse’ is a very weak tactic, too.

        Though, for what it’s worth, yes, I think it was probably lower in the 1960s in most environments* – how many nurses or teachers were physically or verbally assaulted in schools and hospitals back then? How many are assaulted now – according to the unions (though I expect you and Mr Anxiety Culture know better!), it’s a commonplace.

        (*OK, there were no laws against racial abuse in the 1960s, but do you seriously think that passing laws against things stops them happening? And do you not see the connection between the new laws and the changing methods of crime recording?!)

      2. Sorry, I didn’t object to your disagreeing. After all, if no-one did, why post? But I do think we are at an impasse. I don’t think an uncontextualized figure for violent crimes proves very much, as you can tell.

        My genuine excuse: another institution has expressed an interest in an article about this, so i am trying to do some research on the question (see e.g. this
        and I have to get on.

        No, I don’t think Cameron was lying or scaremongering. But he was implying that his diatribe proved broken society:

        “when there are a million violent crimes committed every year, when there are 100 knife crimes committed every day, when a seven- year-old child starves to death in Birmingham, our second biggest city, and no one does anything about it, which bit of broken society don’t these people understand?”

        I objected to that. From what I have read in the past 48 hours about the extraordinary changeability of crime statistics, I still do.

        Thanks for helping with my research!

  2. ‘Out of context’ does sometimes seem to mean whatever you want it to mean, Giles.

    The ‘source’ for a million violent crimes is not ‘D Cameron’ at all; it’s official Home Office stats.

    That said, true, it does include some crimes where there has been no injury, but you don’t need to link to wiki sites that talk about ‘homocide’ rates or ‘Anxiety Culture’ to discover this – it’s very well known, has been in the papers regularly and is on the Home Office and BCS sites in black and white right now.

    (By the way, not all non-injury violent crimes are trivial – for instance, there are recognised and serious psychiatric conditions which can be caused by the fear inculcated, for instance, by threats of violence. When you’ve been threatened every day for the last year by the violent crackhead living on the floor above you in your tower block in Peckham, come back on the show and tell us how trivial it is because he didn’t actually cut your eyes out for asking him to turn his music off at 3am.)

    But the weird thing is….

    You prefer the British Crime Survey figures (I see, from reading previous blog entries).

    Well, the 2008/09 BCS estimates that there were 2,114,000 violent incidents against adults in England and Wales.

    Of these, 40% were assault without injury.

    Therefore, 60% of them were assaults with injury (and robbery).

    This stacks up as 1,268,400 offences.

    So in his speech, when he referred to ‘a million violent crimes’, Cameron was actually understating the scale of violent crime by more than 25%.

    Way to go with the ‘right wing dog whistle’, Dave!

    Anxiety Culture seem like nice people, but I can’t quite see their objection to recording incidents with five victims as five crimes.

    If I’d been stabbed by a bloke who’d stabbed five other people in a shopping centre, I think I’d regard that as a crime against me. Wouldn’t you?

    Mind you, this might be balanced out – in BCS terms – by anomalies which don’t seem to exercise you quite so much; for instance, that the BCS doesn’t record more than five crimes committed against one person, or crimes committed against children under 16.

    Back to ‘context’.

    The context most British people are interested in – I would guess – is where we are now as compared with where we could be, with the most instructive guide as to where we could be perhaps coming from our own history and current system, and not a slightly spurious comparison with a city in a foreign country 5,000 miles away.

    I’ll bet that there’s an American Giles Wilkes in LA right now writing blogs about how things there are way better there than they are in Bogota.

    Meanwhile, in Bogota, things are way better than they are in Mogadishu.

    And in Mogadishu…

  3. OK. Seemed a bit like you were (objecting), and there doesn’t seem to be much point in helping you with your research since you continue to believe the clearly absurd in the face of the evidence.

    I’ve got to go now myself but I’ll just restate the facts, as opposed to your opinions, for readers who can’t be arsed to follow the whole thing:

    Giles states in the post above that it is the way crime recording has changed which explains our current crime figures.

    This is demonstrably nonsense.

    We have changed some things, sure, but we haven’t changed the definition of a violent crime (for practical purposes) since 1861 – that’s eighteen sixty one – and the introduction of the Offences Against The Person Act.

    Irrespective of all the rubbish which is NOW recorded as a violent crime and would NOT have been so in Giles’ favourite decade of comparison, the 1960s, the stuff which WOULD have been a violent crime then is a still violent crime now. (Read the Act.)

    So we can make a direct comparison, not one which is obscured by Giles’ crime recording changes.

    Now: 1.25 million of these proper, actual violent crimes committed per annum.

    Then: Clue – adjusted per capita, it is hugely, enormously, astonishingly lower.

    Giles likes to suggest that this disparity is largely down to the fact that in the 1960s Britain was a police state ( as we surely all remember – you could hardly move for cops, it was like Moscow in the 1920s). But then Giles also likes to suggest that the increase in crime figures is because of all the new laws that have been introduced… Which is slightly incoherent.

    One other thing I forgot to mention in defence of Cameron and his (underestimate) of 1 million violent crimes p.a., the 1.25 million actual violent crimes Giles hadn’t bothered to find oput about is only the figure for England and Wales. Cameron was speaking for N Ireland and Scotland as well, which chucks another 200,000 or 300,000 offences into the pot.

  4. For some reason – probably haste – I’m out of order (sequentially speaking) and making my replies appear before your reply.

    Interesting blog, by the way, and nice to find someone with whom one can disagree but still enjoy reading.

    1. Why thank you. I think you have utterly misrepresented my views, in what seems like a bit of a temper, but it has still been enjoyable debating with you. And I mean it about helping with my research.

      I am sure objective readers will read through the comments and reach their own conclusions about whether or not I ‘clearly believe the absurd’. Where did I say we were a police state? What I said, or thought I meant, was that in the 1960s we were likely to have had a far less bureaucratic poh-leece, who did not measure anything like as many things as being violent crimes we would now, would intervene far less in domestic abuse, and so on. That was my guess anyway.

      And if I were ever to want to point to an example of how impressive sounding numbers can dissolve and shape change in the light of intelligent debate, I would point them to this thread.

      Good having you hear. Please remember that the original point of all this was to criticise a rhetorical technique …

  5. As it happens, my day job does involve researching the history of crime in the UK. And the freethinking economist is, to a first approximation, right. As far as we can make out, there’s a massive variation in reporting rates for all types of crime in the UK, with the long-term trend being for far more crimes – violent and non-violent – to be reported. We may well be getting more violent – we may well be getting less violent – we may well be getting more screwed up by equal or ebbing amounts of violence – something else may be happening: but in any event, the numbers are a very bad way of attempting to measure this.

    In the US, policing is a function of local government: the DoJ has far fewer powers than does the Home Office, and thus their National Crime Reporting Standard is flaky in the extreme compared to UK crime stats. That’s why the Americans pioneered victim survey research in the 1970s: they needed to.

    It’s also worth noting, though, that recent research into ‘violent’ incidents at work has shown that there’s no correlation between how traumatised the victim is and whether or not there’s any physical violence in the incident. Context and expectations appear to be very important.

    1. Thank you so much! You put it far better than I have been able to!

      Incidentally, I am trying to turn this into an article; may I send you a pre-copy to see if it nonsense (they really ought to be asking you instead). I feel ever so embarrassed to be setting myself up as any kind of expert …

      1. Yeah, go on. Pretty much all that know on the topic is in a chapter of Godfrey,
        Lawrence and Williams ‘History and Crime’ (Sage: London, 2007). ISBN 978 1 4129 2079 7 – that’s the one to get hold of if you;ve got time.

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