The Crime Policy Institute will issue timely briefs to highlight criminal and juvenile justice policy issues in the District. These short policy snapshots will identify pressing, relevant crime and safety topics in the District; place those matters in historical and policy context; distinguish trends; and discuss implications. The goal of these briefs is to provide real-time evidence to inform policy discussions that are engaging public safety stakeholders and District residents.
With the recent economic collapse, housing foreclosures have spiked throughout the District of Columbia. Foreclosures are not merely a sign of an unhealthy economy, but they could cause crime in and of themselves by emptying houses, providing space where criminal activity could occur.
To test this connection, DCPI researchers delve into the foreclosure and crime data for the District, finding that the foreclosure rate in the District was relatively low compared to similarly sized cities. They also find that though crime rates fell while foreclosures rose, violent crime did have a moderate association with foreclosures.
It has long been understood that employment and crime are related in various ways. Occupation in conventional employment limits the time available for committing crime. When employed, people also have more to lose from criminal justice involvement. When unemployed, people sometimes substitute illegitimate earnings for legitimate earnings. In addition, a criminal record can bar participation in important segments of the labor market.
In view of the links between employment and crime, this brief examines the local labor market in the District of Columbia.
The Volatility of Monthly Crime
The key to reconciling short-term changes in crime with longer-term trends is to understand the volatility of crime. In this brief, we explore this issue by examining monthly changes in crime during the past decade against the background of longer trends.
This brief examines the demographics of the District of Columbia and how they have changed over the period 2000-2009. The demography of a city describes the context in which crime occurs, as well as the population of possible offenders and victims. The demographics of the District of Columbia have undergone significant change over the past decade, and understanding demographic trends can help put changes in crime into context. Because there are many reasons why crime rates change, we do not attempt to link these demographic changes to changes in crime (which are described in a series of other DCPI Briefs).
After the mid-1960s, theft rates in Washington, D.C., were higher and more volatile than rates for the nation as a whole. Since then, rates in Washington, D.C., have dropped but remained higher than the national level in 2009. Weekly theft counts increased significantly from 2005 to 2009 by approximately 25 percent. Thefts clustered in the central city areas, near business and retail activity. A hot spot was found in the Dupont Circle neighborhood in 2000, but by 2009, thefts clustered strongly in Columbia Heights. A drop in thefts in two central-city neighborhoods also raised questions about what caused those drops.
This brief looks at crime at the Census block level. Most crime is concentrated in a relatively small number of blocks in the District—in any given year, more than one-quarter of the crimes occur in just five percent of the blocks. The largest clusters of high crime blocks are found in the center of the city and on the eastern edge of the city, in the Third, Sixth, and Seventh Police Districts.
DCPI researcher Meagan Cahill provides a look at the changing violent crime rates of metropolitan areas in the United States since 2000.
Over the last decade, violent crime rates (homicide, rape, aggravated assault, and robbery) have been falling both nationally and in nearly two-thirds of the 100 largest metropolitan areas. Yet a recent Gallup poll found that more Americans than ever believe the crime problem is worsening. Lots of Americans also think that population growth brings higher crime and that the nation’s biggest metros face worsening violent crime problems. But the facts don’t support these conclusions either.
Over the past 50 years, nationwide rates of motor vehicle thefts rose slowly and steadily to a peak in 1990 and then declined to a low in 2009. Rates in Washington, D.C. were higher and more volatile, averaging three to four times the national rate for two decades. Recently, however, rates in the District dropped to their lowest level in 25 years. While the Sixth Police District (6D) had the highest rates and counts of motor vehicle theft over the study period, the Seventh Police District (7D) had the largest percentage increase. Hot spots in 6D were located along major thoroughfares.
This brief describes the steady decline in burglary in Washington, DC, to levels below the national average. Washington, D.C.’s burglary rates were more volatile than the nationwide pattern, declining in the mid-1990s and stabilizing in the mid-2000s. Analyses by police district found that while most mirrored the citywide pattern of a decline across the period, burglaries in 7D increased significantly. Hot spots maps reveal the dissipation of one anomalous hot spot in the Second Police District as well as the increasing burglary rates in the Seventh Police District, highlighting the need for micro-level responses to local crime trends.
While the use official statistics to understand sexual offenses presents a number of challenges, an analysis of data from the last decade (2000—2009) in Washington, D.C. reveals some interesting patterns. A long-term downward trend in reports of forcible rape since 1960 stabilized in recent years. More recently (2000—2009), the number of sex abuse reports was volatile with no clear pattern of increase or decline. Police districts 6D and 7D accounted for a disproportionate share of the city’s sex abuse reports, a pattern that may have begun to change at the very end of the series, at least in 7D.
Over the past decade, aggravated assaults in the District of Columbia have steadily declined to levels last reached in the late 1960s. That decline mirrors that of serious violent crime—such as homicide—with a small peak in the early 1970s and a larger peak in the early 1990s. The analysis found that the Seventh Police District (7D) had the most assaults of all districts but also one of the largest declines between 2000 and 2009. In 7D, hot spots of crime were located in both commercial and residential areas, but dissipated over the course of the decade studied.
This brief examines robbery in the District of Columbia over the period 2000-2009, both citywide and by police district. Over the 2000-2009 period, robbery levels were historically low and remained relatively stable throughout the period. A comparison of robbery rates and counts revealed that the two different types of measures followed similar trends over the study period. Following seasonal crime trends, robberies rose in the summer months and dropped in the winter months. Geographic patterns of robbery across the study period remained stable over time with a persistent hotspot in the Third Police District.
Homicides in the District of Columbia by Police District, 2001 - 2009