Ordinary citizens and local nonprofits have been essential to the great crime decline of the last two decades.
Crime rates in urban centers have been on the decline for the past couple of decades. Theories about the cause behind this decline are many and competing. Yet, in a new book entitled Uneasy Peace: The Great Crime Decline, the Renewal of City Life, and the Next War on Violence, due out later this month, sociologist Patrick Sharkey seeks to shift the dominant narratives slightly. Instead of finding this decline in a systematic cause, Sharkey discovers that this major improvement in crime decline is the result of the combined effort of multiple ordinary people and institutions working at the local level to reduce violence in their own communities.
Local nonprofits, Sharkey argues, have been essential to reduced crime rates.
These organizations, through countless projects and programs, have improved their cities, mentoring those in need of help directly. Rise in local nonprofits corresponds directly with decline in urban crime. Places that still struggle to fight against crime are the precisely the ones that are missing this correlation.
These initiatives, Sharkey says, are “a part that has been completely overlooked and ignored in national debates over the crime drop. But I think it’s fundamental to what happened.”
In light of new statistics showing urban crime rates now rising once more, Sharkey catalogues the specific techniques used by local charities and private organizations across the nation in order to demonstrate the most effective means for combatting this rising crime.
The logic is that if local nonprofits have been so effective in reducing crime rates, then the great weapons for fighting crime nationally must be found in an organized, systematized study of these organizations and their most effective methods.
As the book’s preview claims, its synthesis serves to “document the most successful proven strategies for combatting violent crime and to lay out innovative and necessary approaches to the problem of violence.”
The question then becomes whether these solutions can in fact be systematized or nationalized: is it possible to survey and catalogue the tactics that have been useful in hyper-local communities in order to find an overall, “necessary” strategy for combatting crime as it increases? Or must the effective fight remain at the level where it has, according to Sharkey, been most effective at reducing crime rates in the past twenty years: at the level of the local community, in its awareness of its own problems, and its development of solutions personalized to those problems?
Sharkey’s study itself seems to provide us with the answer.