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January 17, 2005

That's no way to reduce crime

Thanks to Mickey Kaus, here's an amazing article about how the St. Louis police cut the crime rate -- by not filing crime reports. The idea is that when police suspect the complainant is not telling the truth, they write a memo and put it in the equivalent of the circular file: someone's desk drawer. The benefit for the city, of course, is that the crime rate is lower than it otherwise would be, and that's a major selling point for cities. The delightfully named Mayor Francis Slay of St. Louis claims that this practice is not widespread, that it has minimal effect on the crime rate. But why should it ever be the right of the police to decide unilaterally which crimes should be reported? Certainly, this doesn't follow the FBI's crime-reporting guidelines.

When I lived in New York City in the early 1980's, it was widely understood that the police wouldn't be interested in "small" crimes, like burglary (when there was no contact with the burglar). So people simply didn't bother to report these crimes. I suppose the situation in St. Louis is better than that. At least there the citizens aren't so demoralized that they won't even bother dealing with the police.