Sunday, July 8, 2007

New York Crime Dropped Because of Decreased Lead Exposure, Not Giuliani

An economist has linked already known evidence about the connection between childhood lead exposure and later criminal activity with crime rate fluctuations and environmental policies.

read more digg story

The research that suggests (not proves) lead poising contributes to impulsivity and aggression, two factors that are associated with certain types of violent behavior, is indication of where the field of criminology is headed. Many researchers are gathering data to investigate the intersection of environment, opportunity, and biology.

The article also captures one of the less appealing aspects of criminological research - the rejection of science when it does not conform to personal ideology. While the findings of all research do need verification (a strength of science), it is unfortunate that the bulk of social science research is rejected by far too many policy makers who resort to ideology and a coarse version of politics to make and implement policy decisions. Obviously we are not alone if an issue like the environment is any indication. Part of the problem in our discipline is the politicization of issues such as violent crime, which the last statement in the Washington Post article raises. Are the crime control policies of the past and present similar to burning witches in order to purge the presence of Satan? (forgive me the hyperbole, but I am extremely frustrated with the current state of science and public policy - that is why I started this blog).

In a tone similar to who invented the Internet, Giuliani takes all of the credit for reducing the crime rate in New York City. Since the violent crime rate dropped around the country at the time it was declining in NYC, can we attribute that to Giuliani as well?

Not only does the research suggest that the policies of the Giuliani regime had very little impact on reported violent crime (emphasis on reported), but the fact that he is taking all the credit gives me concern about his leadership style.

While the history of criminology has been a progression from such quaint theories as demonology and phrenology to today's theories, we obviously have a great deal of work in front of us before crime control policies are grounded in empiricism instead of ideology and what passes for politics.

1 comment:

Tom said...

I'm tellin' ya, the crime rate in New York will kill ya. There's so many problems, you never feel like you're accomplishing anything. Violence, rip-offs, muggings. The kids can't leave the house. You gotta walk 'em to school. But in Amity, one man can make a difference. In twenty-five years, there's never been a shooting or a murder in this town.~
Chief Martin Brody Quote from the movie Jaws