Despite The New National Wave Of Crime, Downtown Security Strategies Still Stand

In a June 24, 2007 posting, “The Downtown Crime Problem Redux?”, I asked if crime was again becoming a crippling problem for our nation’s downtowns because:
“(T)he FBI just announced an increase in violent crimes for the second straight year, an occurrence that signals the first continued spike in homicides, robberies and other serious offenses since the early 1990s. This spike is especially noticeable in medium-sized cities and cities located in the Midwest. In large cities such as New York, the crime rate continues to decline.

What is unknown at this time is how this recent uptick in crime has impacted on downtown districts.”

I was concerned because such an uptick would be a strong indication that the new policing strategies combined with the creation of 24-hour downtowns were no longer effective ways to solve downtown crime problems. That was important since I had claimed in DANTH’s 2003 downtown trends report that “crime is no longer the barrier to downtown revitalization that it once was” (see our website to download the report

I recently conducted an online search for information about downtown crime rates around the nation. I found data for 12 large and medium-sized cities. While this is admittedly a small sample, the results seem reassuring:

Atlanta, GA, Aug.2007. Population: 486,411
1. For several years downtown had 9% of city’s crime, but a daily population of half the size of the entire city. It now has just 6% of the city’s crimes.
2. Downtown there has been a 61% drop in major crimes over the last 6 months

Boise, ID July 2007. Population: 198,638
Continuing trend of declining crime downtown, with a 14% decline in the last year.

Chapel Hill, NC Nov. 2004. Population: 49,919
1.Reports of “major crimes” had gone down in each of the last three years for which the numbers were available.
2, But the number of arrests for crimes committed in the downtown had gone up. Leaders feared people could still feel unsafe even though statistics showed some positive trends.

Cincinnati, OH May 2004. Population: 332,252
1.Last year, serious crime in downtown dipped by 1 percent. The bulk of all downtown crimes are thefts, many from cars
2. Of the city’s 75 killings in 2003, one was in the Central Business District.
3. Major problem: area is still perceived to be unsafe

Dallas, TX, January 2008. Population: 1,232,940
1. Car break-ins were a problem a few years ago, but crime has gone down in the past
2. “I tell people safety and crime is old news downtown,” says the downtown manager

Dayton, OH, January 2008. Population: 156.771
1. In January, 2008, City of Dayton officials released statistics that show the city’s crime rate continues to decline significantly.
2. Targeted crimes downtown declined by 39 percent over the past five years. From 2006 to 2007 alone, key downtown crime categories dropped more than 25 percent.
3. A further perspective on downtown safety: in 2007, statistics for targeted crime categories downtown represented just 5 percent of the city’s overall targeted crime numbers.

Lawrence, KS, Nov. 2007. Population: 88,605
1. Since 2001, violent crime has risen in downtown Lawrence
2. According to the Kansas Incident Based Reporting System, 41 assaults were reported in downtown Lawrence in 2001, a number which has steadily increased in the last five years. In 2006, there were 245 reports of assault and battery in downtown Lawrence,
an increase of nearly 100 from the year before.

Kansas City, MO June 2005. Population: 447,306
Between 2002 and 2004, the period before and after the improvement
district was introduced downtown crime had dropped in all categories: robbery, 34 percent; juvenile crime, 28 percent; public intoxication, 21 percent; suspicious behavior, 10 percent; and miscellaneous crimes against property, 10 percent.

Los Angeles, CA June 2007. Population: 3,849,378
1.The Downtown crime rate has dropped to its lowest level in more than 60 years.
2. Even as Los Angeles’ decrease contrasts with the national trend of rising crime rates, statistics show that the city still contends with high levels of gang-related violence. There was a 14% increase in such activity in 2006

Miami, FL, 2006. Population: 404,048
1. Over the past five years, Downtown Miami has become a safer place. Investment has soared, new businesses have opened, and the population continues to grow.
2. While the same decreases in crime incidents are registered city-wide over the 2000-2005, the overall decreases are more dramatic within the DDA boundaries.
3 Almost every category of crime incidents decreased within the DDA boundaries between 2000 and 2005.
4. Most notably there was nearly a 68% decrease in robberies and 38% decrease in larceny/thefts.
5. Criminal homicides within the DDA account for less than 4% of those occurring city-wide.

Philadelphia, PA 2004. Population: 1,448,394
1. The 9th consecutive year that there was a reduction in crime downtown
2. Statistics that document a continued drop in downtown crime: Comparing 2003 and 2004, part one crime (aggravated assault, homicide, rape, burglary, robbery, stolen auto and theft, minus retail theft) in the 6th and 9th police districts fell 9.46%; the Center City District experienced a 7.99% drop. Between 1999 and 2003, part one crimes, not counting retail theft, fell 35.77% in the 6th and 9th police districts and 31.94% in the Center City District.
3.Theft from auto declined 19.7% between 2003 and 2004 in the 6th and 9th police districts and 16.77% in the Center City District. Between 1999 and 2003, theft from auto fell 36.58% in the 6th and 9th districts and 30.72% in the Center City District.

Portland, OR, Jan. 2007. Population: 537,081
1. Crime drops for third straight year
2. 16% decrease in 2007

Some Observations:
• Except for Lawrence, KS, a medium-sized college town in the heart of the Midwest, all of the other downtowns report declining crime rates
• In several downtowns (e.g., Cincinnati, Atlanta, Dallas Miami and Kansas City) the wording of the report suggests that the downtown organization is still dealing with the problem of the fear of crime being out of sync with the actual level of crime. This is a long existing problem. Looking at the housing data in Eugenie Birch’s report “Who Lives Downtown” suggested a possible explanation: downtowns that lost considerable populations sent lots of people to live in other parts of the city who would tell others negative things about the downtown and who would be hard to persuade that things had improved. These “lost residents” created a powerful negative word-of-mouth network that spreads fears about being a crime victim if you go downtown. For example, between 1970 and 1980 Downtown Miami lost 41% of its population; Downtown Atlanta lost 21.9%; Downtown Cincinnati lost 27.2%; Downtown Dallas lost 27.7%. In contrast, Center City in Philadelphia only lost 8.8% of its population between 1970 and 1980 and had population increases thereafter. Downtown Portland also had a small population loss during the 1970s, 2.2%, and population growth thereafter. Surprisingly, Downtown Los Angeles has had a growing residential population since 1970.
• The situation in Downtown L.A. also demonstrates that high gang activity need not mean a higher crime rate nor impede a reduction in the fear of crime. This is consistent with the situation in Trenton, NJ that I reported on in a previous posting: Trenton has about 2,000 Bloods in a city of 85,000 people. The crime rate has fallen, though gang activity has risen and violence is confined to areas where the gangs are dominant.