Crime—Is It Really That Bad?
SOME people are born optimists. Regardless of how bad things seem to be, they always manage to venture a smile and contend that it could be worse. Much can be said in defense of optimism, but it should never be allowed to becloud our vision and prevent us from viewing things realistically. Ignoring problems will never solve them. Refusing to recognize a problem increases the possibility of our becoming its victims.
Now, as regards crime and violence, is it really all that bad?
People who say “No” will be quick to point out that crime and violence are not new. Why, the oldest history book in existence, the Bible, tells us that mankind’s very first family experienced violence of the worst kind. It says: “Cain proceeded to assault Abel his brother and kill him.” Also, in describing the condition that existed over 4,000 years ago in Noah’s day, does it not say that “the earth became filled with violence”?—Gen. 4:8; 6:11.
“Crime is even worse than the statistics reveal”
Granted, crime is not new. Nonetheless, statistics prove that at present it is getting worse. Statistics? Someone may remind us that Oscar Wilde, famous Irish dramatist of the latter part of the 19th century, once said: “There are three kinds of lies: ordinary lies, white lies, and statistics.” His point was that relying too heavily on statistics can be misleading. They can be interpreted in several, sometimes even contradictory, ways. Still, their frequent misuse would not justify one’s rejecting them totally.
For our own benefit let us briefly discuss some of the arguments raised by persons who claim that “it is not really all that bad.” Then we can decide for ourselves.
“Population Growth Accounts for Crime Increase”
Few persons would question that we have witnessed a population explosion during the last few decades. Whereas it took 4,200 years from the flood in Noah’s day (until 1830) for world population to reach one billion persons, it took only 100 more years to reach the second billion in 1930. The third billion was reached in another 30 years (1960) and the fourth in another 15 years (1975). Now, with over four billion persons on earth, it is estimated that by 1985 there will be almost five billion, and well over six billion by the end of the century.
Certainly population growth is a contributing factor to the increase of crime, but it is not its basic or sole cause. If it were, then any increase or decrease in population would logically mean a like increase or decrease in the number of crimes. This, however, is not always the case.
Consider the Federal Republic of Germany. As one of the few countries in the world recently showing a decrease in population—between 1975 and 1977 its population dropped by over 600,000 persons—there should have been, to use this argument, a proportionate decrease in crime. However, government sources say that there were 2,919,390 crimes reported in 1975 and 3,287,642 in 1977, an increase of almost 8 percent. This shows that crime is increasing even in places where the population is decreasing.
And far from having any grounds for complacency, those who say that increased crime is only a normal outgrowth of the population explosion face dismal prospects for the future. According to their own contention, today’s wave of crime will continue to mount in keeping with the growth in world population. Just how bad must the situation get before they will be willing to admit, “It really is bad”?
“A More Accurate Tabulation of Crimes Is Now Being Kept”
It is doubtlessly true that a more exact record of crimes is being kept today than 100 years ago. Thus, an accurate comparison of crimes committed then with those committed now would be impossible. But this argument would hardly hold true if we were to compare the records of 1977 with those of 1975, or even of 1970, would you think? And if, as is contended, better records are being kept at present, we should ask ourselves, Why? Would not the need for increased accuracy and thoroughness of record-keeping in itself suggest that things had gotten worse?
How do the police go about compiling such records? Very few crimes are discovered and reported by police officials themselves. A poll conducted by the German Max-Planck Institute revealed that up to 90 percent of police crime tabulations are based on reports made to them either by the victim of a crime or by witnesses. Keeping accurate records therefore is less dependent on the police than it is on the willingness and alertness of the public to report the crimes they see committed.
Is there anything to indicate that people are more accurate or conscientious in reporting crimes now than they were in the past? Not if the findings of this poll are to be believed: it discovered that only 46 percent of the crimes committed against those persons interviewed had been reported. More than half had gone unreported, either because the victim felt that his loss was too small to bother about, because he felt that the prospects of solving the crime were too minute, or because he had other personal reasons.
These figures, which compare favorably to similar findings in Switzerland, the United States, Canada, Australia and Finland, would indicate that crime is even worse than the statistics reveal. This is backed up by the German magazine Der Spiegel, which said: “In truth the number [of burglaries committed during the year] is ten or twelve times higher [than the number reported].” It quoted Werner Hamacher, head of the Nordrhein-Westfalen State Criminal Investigation Office, who likened the number of crimes reported to “hardly more than the scantiest bikini” in covering the body of total crimes committed.
So what do we logically conclude? That the tabulation or registering of crimes is still very incomplete and that statistics at best can only indicate certain trends. But far from overstating the facts, statistics in reality tell only part of the story. So what do you think? Is it really that bad? Or is it even worse?
“Crime May Be Bad in Some Places, but Not Where I Live”
If this is true, be grateful. Rural sections often have lower crime rates than urban sections, and within a city some areas may be more prone to crime than others. Some countries admittedly have a lower crime rate than others. But, of course, the question is not whether there is as much crime in your locality as there is someplace else, but whether it is on the increase where you live.
What have you experienced in your own community? What do older people say, people who have been able to see the development over a long period of time? Are more crimes being committed now than five years ago? Ten years ago? Are they becoming more brutal?
In view of the seriousness of the problem, the next question is: How can I protect myself and my loved ones? What practical steps can I take?