Some good news amid bad on crime

January 12, 1993|By Frank Langfitt | Frank Langfitt,Staff Writer

If you think that crime in America is spiraling hopelessly out of control, spend some time with Lawrence Greenfeld.

Mr. Greenfeld, a soft-spoken bespectacled man, lives in Columbia and works for the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics in Washington.

He has some good news and the numbers to back it up.

Consider:

* The violent crime rate in the nation actually fell from about 34 victims per 1,000 people in 1982 to about 31 per 1,000 in 1991.

* The percentage of households experiencing crime steadily decreased, from 32.1 percent in 1975 to 23.7 percent in 1991.

"I think this is good news," said Mr. Greenfeld. "You rarely hear the good news."

One of the reasons we know these things is because of Mr. Greenfeld. Since he started working at the bureau in 1982, the agency has increased the number of publications on the corrections system from six reports a year to 20 or more.

As associate director, Mr. Greenfeld helped bring in strong data analysts from the Census Bureau and also helped develop customized computer data programs. The agency can now respond more quickly and efficiently to inquiries from politicians, the press and the public, Mr. Greenfeld said.

This week, the 24,000-member American Correctional Association will give Mr. Greenfeld a national award during its winter conference in Miami for "his efforts in designing and developing the nation's most comprehensive, creative and accurate correctional data collection program."

This week's award has added meaning for him, because it is named for Peter P. Lejins, his former criminal justice and criminology professor and mentor at the University of Maryland at College Park.

"I'm very happy," Mr. Lejins said last week from his home. "It's unusual that an award in my name would be given to a former student."

Mr. Lejins, now a professor emeritus, estimated that he had taught 10,000 people since coming to the university in 1941 and recalled the 45-year-old Mr. Greenfeld as "an exceptionally serious and good student."

Each year, Mr. Greenfeld's office produces reports drawn from nearly 1,300 federal and state correctional facilities, 3,300 local jails and more than 4,000 probation and parole agencies.

According to "Violent State Prisoners and Their Victims," women were 50 percent more likely than men to attack people they knew in 1986.

"Capital Punishment 1991" reveals that 3.8 percent of people sentenced to death since 1977 have actually been executed.

As for "Women in Jail 1989," there were 37,253 of them.

The reports help those who make public policy, wardens and police agencies develop a broader and more detailed understanding of what's going on in the nation's streets and prisons. The reports also explode some of the more popular myths about crime.

One of the biggest myths, Mr. Greenfeld says, is that the national crime rate is going up. On the contrary, from 1981 to 1991, the rate of crimes against people, including theft, robbery and assault, declined 23.4 percent. The rate of crimes against property, including burglary, dropped 27.9 percent during the same period.

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