Kids today may not be running around the neighborhood without fear like Beaver Cleaver, but the country is in the midst of low levels of crime not seen in decades, according to a report released this week by the FBI.
Violent crime, which has been falling for five years, decreased 4 percent in 2011, according to the Preliminary Annual Uniform Crime Report. Murders are at the lowest point in 40 years. Violent crime, according to the FBI, includes murder, rape, robbery and assault.
Property crime, which has been in a decline for nine years, also continued to drop, albeit by 0.8 percent, notes Reuters. The peak of violent crime and property crime came in the early '90s. The 2011 report represents a 30.6 drop in property crime since 1991, and a 38 percent drop in violent crime since 1992.
Gary LaFree, a criminology professor at the University of Maryland, told MSNBC.com that a combination of factors have contributed to the decline.
"There is some truth to the fact that younger people commit more crimes," he said. "We also have a record number of immigrants, and contrary to popular belief, immigrants have lower crime rates than the rest of society."
He also cites the weak economy (people pull together in a crisis, he says) and more proactive police departments as possible aids in lowering crime.
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Other criminologists weren't quite as optimistic, noting that while the first six months of 2011 represented a decline, crime started rising in the second half of the year, reports the Huffington Post.
"It worried me a little bit, because maybe we've hit bottom and are beginning to inch upward," the site quoted Northeastern University professor of criminology James Alan Fox as saying. "It's the crime rate limbo stick: There's only so low that you can go."
Some cities didn't follow the downward trend: in San Jose, Calif., for example, murders almost doubled from 20 to 39. And in Memphis, they increased from 89 to 117.
Many expected an uptick in property crimes, another expert told the Huffington Post.
"Everyone expected them to go up because of the frustration and economic turmoil," said Carnegie Mellon University professor Alfred Blumstein, who studies crime data.
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Even so, many warn that we should not become complacent.
"If we naively presume that the crime problem has been solved (as opposed to just controlled for the time being), the crime rate could easily rebound," James Alan Fox blogs on boston.com. "If we fail to invest sufficiently in crime prevention and crime control - both personnel and programs, we may someday look back at 2011 and consider them the 'good old days.'"