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Crime is Back--How Long Can We Avoid Talking About It?

On Capitol Hill, all too many Members of Congress find themselves at the same quiescent place: mute on the issue of increasing violent crime.
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The shouts from police, mayors, and scholars are getting louder, but is anyone listening? The latest evidence that America is facing a coming tide of violent crime can be found in data released this week by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. According to the FBI, violent crime continued to rise with a 3.7 percent jump in the first half of 2006 compared to same period in 2005 (which showed similar increases compared to 2004). The report documented a 9.7 percent jump in robbery, a 1.4 percent increase in murder, and a rise in aggravated assault of 1.2 percent. While murder in cities over one million increased 6.7 percent, the biggest jump--8.4 percent--was seen in cities between 500,000 to 999,999. The data, contained in the FBI's Preliminary Semiannual Uniform Crime Report, January-June, 2006, compiles the voluntary submissions of 11,535 law enforcement agencies and is the precursor to the agency's annual Uniform Crime Reports.

According to today's front-page Washington Post story, "James Alan Fox, a criminologist at Northeastern University in Boston who has been critical of the Bush administration's crime-fighting strategies, said the overall rise in violent crime should be expected given dramatic cuts in assistance to local police and simultaneous increases in the population of males in their teens and 20s." The Post quotes Fox as stating, "We have many high-crime areas where gangs have made a comeback, where police resources are down and where whatever resources there are have been shifted to anti-terrorism activity. It's robbing Peter, and maybe even murdering Peter, to pay Paul."

So far, the repeated warning signs over the past two years that America's crime lull is coming to an end have been ignored. On Capitol Hill, all too many Members of Congress--with notable exceptions--find themselves at the same quiescent place: mute on the issue of increasing violent crime. But for different reasons. Some engage in the time-honored tradition of blaming the victim, viewing the issue solely through prisms of race, class, or an equally false urban/rural divide. Others, on both the left and right, fear that talk of violent crime in general, and increasing homicide rates in particular, could lead to talk of gun control. Others simply don't care and hope that by ignoring the problem it will magically evanesce.

If today's story in the Post is any indicator, all these hopes, regardless of their origin, are false. Crime is back. And the issue can't be avoided.

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