News: CJ Exclusives

Sprawl Doesn’t Boost Crime Rate

New studies shine light on crime-fighting, public housing, hunger

Author Douglas Morris and other “smart growth” advocates say that suburban sprawl contributes to increased violent-crime rates. But a comparison of crime rates among cities characterized as smart growth and “sprawlers” shows a different story, say the National Center for Policy Analysis’ H. Sterling Burnett and Pamela Villarreal.

In 2002, Los Angeles’ violent-crime rate of 1,349 per 100,000 was more than double that of the Riverside-San Bernardino metro area, considered the country’s most sprawling area by Smart Growth America.

Portland’s violent-crime and property-crime rates of 828 and 7,127 per 100,000, respectively, were much higher than sprawling Raleigh-Durham, which had rates of 455 and 4,416. Seattle’s violent-crime and property-crime rates of 705 and 7,298 per 100,000 outpaced sprawling Denver’s rates of 534 and 4,994.

In addition, both violent-crime and property-crime rates in Portland, Seattle, and Los Angeles are much higher in the central city than in the wider metropolitan area including the suburbs. In fact, there are no suburbs in the country that have a higher murder rate than their associated central city, according to FBI crime statistics.

Smart-growth policies have produced mixed results at the neighborhood level as well. A study of Raleigh showed that street robberies were less likely in neighborhoods having sprawl-associated features such as cul-de-sacs, high rates of home ownership, and single- family homes.

Using statistics to fight crime

Since the mid-1990s, New York City’s police department has used a new management program based on predicting and preventing crimes before they happen. Known as Compstat, the program emphasizes the use of updated weekly data on crime statistics in various precincts, and more “hands-on” leadership from commanders and accountability from officers.

Nationwide, crimes dropped by 4.9 percent between 1998 and 2002. Many cities have adopted Compstat techniques because former NYPD officials have taken charge of their police departments. The results have been amazing, observers say.

In Baltimore, major crimes declined by 39 percent over four years, under the direction of two former NYPD officials. In Raleigh, major crimes dropped by 13 percent under a former New York deputy chief.

Some officials in smaller cities argue that New York’s big-city crime problems do not apply to them, and that Compstat’s emphasis on gathering statistical information about crime occurrences would not be necessary.

However, Chief Jose Cordero of Newton, Mass., who was formerly a New York City inspector, said Compstat methods “have nothing to do with size. It’s common-sense police management.”

Reported in the New York Times.

Public housing service work

Federal legislation enacted six years ago requires public-housing recipients without certain exemptions to perform community service work as a condition of receiving their housing. The requirement, part of the welfare reform movement of the 1990s, requires that all public-housing residents who are not employed full-time, in school, disabled, or of retirement age, to perform 96 hours of community service per year — equivalent to 12 days of full-time work.

The New York City housing authority began implementing the legislation a year ago. Recipients can divide up their hours in a variety of increments, whether eight hours per month for a year, or 96 hours over one month. Community service hours can be spent working for the housing authority or in nonhousing authority activities.

Those who didn’t meet a May 1 deadline for performing the service may face eviction unless the city housing authority allows them an additional year’s extension to complete their work. In fact, the city had been sending reminder letters to those who have not yet begun their community service work.

Some public-housing advocates decry the community service requirement, claiming that many residents lack information about the requirements and have been baffled by the letters. Moreover, some residents find it insulting that they are being told what to do with their time.

Reported in the New York Times.

Hunger exaggerated

Since 1987, the U.S. Conference of Mayors has released an annual report on hunger and homeless-ness. Over this period, the mayors have reported that food-bank use, which is a proxy used to measure hunger, has grown at an average rate of 17 percent per year, roughly doubling every four years.

Researchers at the Heritage Foundation, however, say these claims of mass hunger are exaggerated. In their latest study, the researchers found that the mayors’ results are not only implausible, but are also contradicted by other more reliable surveys.

The U.S. Census reported that there has been a slight decrease in the use of food pantries and soup kitchens from 1995 to 2001 as compared to a 150 percent increase claimed by the mayors’ reports over that same period. Second Harvest, the major supplier to food banks, reports that emergency food use has increased by 9 percent between 1997 and 2001.

One of the problems with the mayors’ report is it does not report the number of people using these services, only the rate of increase as compared to the prior year. In addition, it fails to account for the 20 percent of emergency food providers that go out of business every year, thus leading to over-counting.

The Heritage report is available online.