Herald-Whig

Study shows that engaged citizens helped drive crime rate down

Posted: Dec. 1, 2017 9:25 am

RESEARCHERS believe they have solved the 20-year-old mystery -- saying everyday citizens who decided to improve their communities deserve much of the credit for falling crime rates.

Between the early 1990s and 2015, the U.S. homicide rate was cut in half. Many other parts of the overall crime rate also have fallen. And for more than 20 years, sociologists, criminologists and politicians have debated what sparked the change.

Patrick Sharkey and a team of researchers at New York University think they have found the missing piece of the puzzle. Their report indicates that for every 10 community programs created in a city of 100,000 residents, researchers found a 6 percent drop in violent crime, 4 percent drop in property crime and a 9 percent drop in the murder rate.

Sharkey does not specifically say that higher-profile solutions -- more cops, stop-and-frisk, an increase in the prison population -- had no effect. It's just that neighborhood-level nonprofits that quietly went about their work were a better barometer of whether a community's crime rate was going to fall.

The study also found that while many of those neighborhood programs were not specifically designed to combat crime, they were doing so anyway.

Quincy was not included in that study, falling well short of the population threshold of 100,000 residents. But anecdotal evidence seems to follow the trends in other cities.

"The more we positively interact with all aspects of the community, the more frequently we see information exchanges that help us combat crime," Quincy Police Chief Rob Copley said.

Neighborhood Watch programs started to multiply in Quincy during the early 1990s, although Copley said only two watches remain active. Quincy Regional Crime Stoppers has been active since 1997.

"What we tend to see is that neighborhoods and watches come together if there are specific problems. If there are prowlers or burglars, neighbors band together and once the problems end, the (watches) go away," Copley said.

Other programs that are not designed to address crime also have been active in Quincy. The Teen Reach program, several mentoring efforts, even the Big Brother/Big Sister programs have helped engage young people.

None of those everyday residents and volunteers and founders of unsung small nonprofits had to don a Batman suit to fight crime. All they had to do was establish mentorship and after-school reading programs and erect playgrounds and provide young men returning from prison second chances and kids a place to appreciate the arts or participate in sports. Even unorganized, spontaneous efforts to improve communities suffering from high-crime rates proved valuable.

Sharkey agrees that more research must be done to pinpoint which of the programs were most effective and efficient. Until those details emerge, it's good to know that efforts at the local level are making a difference, and that our neighbors and friends may secretly be crime-fighting heroes.