Cause crime. Crime causes poverty...


March 30, 1991|By THEO LIPPMAN JR.

POVERTY DOESN'T cause crime. Crime causes poverty. Therefore, to fight poverty, fight crime.

How does crime cause poverty? Suppose your family lives just above the poverty line. A burglar breaks into your house and steals all your clothes. What it costs you to replace them drops you into poverty, since you no longer have the minimum needed for food and shelter.

Or suppose you're on your way home from work. A mugger takes your paycheck and beats you up so badly that you have to miss another week's work. Losing two weeks' pay is impoverishing at many levels.

In 1988, according to the Department of Justice, "the total estimated cost of crime to victims was $16.6 billion. This estimate includes losses from property theft or damage, cash losses, medical expenses and other costs. The estimate was derived by summing crime victims' estimates of the amount of stolen cash, the value of stolen property, medical expenses and the amount of pay lost from work because of injuries, police-related activities, court-related activities, or time spent repairing or replacing property."

Not all of that $16.6 billion came from poor and nearly poor victims, but much of it did. The rate of criminal victimization is higher in cities, where most of the poor live, than in suburbs or non-metropolitan areas. It is highest by far in cities our size -- 500,000-999,999 -- half again the rate for large metropolitan suburbs, more than double the rate for medium metro suburbs.

The rate of criminal victimization also correlates to income for many crimes. Someone with an income of less than $7,500 is three times more likely to be robbed than someone with an income over $50,000, and is twice as likely to be assaulted.

That $16.6 billion surely underestimates the annual monetary cost of crime. Think of the lost wages of people who won't take a better-paying job -- or a job at all -- because of fear of street crime. Think of higher insurance costs in high crime neighborhoods. Think of paying for home security systems out of food budgets.

So it seems to me that a real federal anti-poverty effort would be one aimed at reducing crime, especially inner city crime, and in my view that would be money spent on more police officers. I mean a lot more money. Not the few hundred million dollars the Bush administration proposes or the billion Sen. Joe Biden proposes.

Crime rose in big cities in the past two decades while police forces shrunk. Baltimore had 3,471 officers in 1972, 2,915 in 1989. Cleveland went from 2,299 to 1,743. Philly, 8,183 to 7,190. New York, Indianapolis, Detroit and most big cities -- ditto. From 1972 to 1989 in Baltimore, which is typical, the number of offenses known to police went from 50,937 to 71,373.

If the feds shifted enough billions from military and welfare budgets to grants for more urban police, crime -- and its resultant poverty -- would go down dramatically.

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