Politicians get nervous when their constituents start talking about the issues closest to home. A political science professor years ago told our class a story about Lyndon Baines Johnson when he was running for the U.S. Senate in Texas.
He told us that while campaigning, Johnson was urged by one of his campaign chairs to make a local appearance at a press conference to address all the lies being told about him in that particular city. LBJ’s response was, “No, I don’t need to come there and deal with the lies. I need to go down to the Valley and address the truth their telling about me down there.”
It’s the truth that usually hurts more than the lies.
We may not hear much about the issue of crime in the coming election year. Other pressing matters are grabbing most of the attention. However, crime is one of the issues which hits us closest to home. Property crime statistics (per 100,000 in population) for the year 2009 show us the top 10 states (including the District of Columbia) for reported incidents.* For purposes of the UCR table, property crimes include vehicle theft, larceny, and burglary.
Rank - State - (Incidents Reported)
- District of Columbia (4745)
- Texas (4016)
- South Carolina (3889)
- Florida (3841)
- Louisiana (3795)
- Arkansas (3774)
- Alabama (3772)
- Tennessee (3754)
- New Mexico (3736)
- North Carolina (3668 )
Though the FBI cautions against using this data for the purposes of ranking, the 2009 UCR statistics show a higher tendency of property crime in the Southern states. As a native Texan, it is obviously disturbing, but it is also surprising. Given the high level of rhetoric in the state in support of the traditional law and order platform, I would have thought the results to be different.
A closer look at the numbers should give political candidates pause to see just how many of their constituents are directly affected by property crime. The ratio of four reported property crime offenses for every 100 persons is equal to 1 in 25. Of course, it is likely that some individuals are victimized more than once in a year, skewing the data somewhat. Assuming an average household size in 2009 of 2.6 persons, the data would lead us to think that one in every ten households and businesses is victimized annually in these states, whether in the home or in our places of employment.
But, will politicians be able to offer more help? With state and local budgets crushed under the pressure of the current state of the economy, the expansion of law enforcement technology and more cops in the street are unlikely scenarios no matter what promises are made. Preventive measures may be the best long-term tonic in the present economy.
Home and business security systems have gone through a highly competitive phase, and it appears that the pricing trend will continue downward, even while technology is advancing. Some companies are now offering system installations for a few hundred dollars in return for a low monthly fee for monitoring the system. The steady income stream, regardless of how small the monthly fee is for each account, is much more attractive to security companies in light of the volatility which has forced many of them out of the market in recent years .
An argument can be made that adding systems only stresses the local law enforcement agencies more because of the high number of false alarms. In the July issue of Security Sales and Integration trade magazine, Scott Goldfine authored a good article titled “Police Tell Security Companies What They Want From Them.”
Goldfine’s report notes that among the top concerns of law enforcement agencies are poor training conducted by alarm companies on how the systems are to be operated. Also, one of their biggest complaints is the large number of false alarms and late on-the-scene arrivals by dispatched personnel. According to the report, the tardiness is often caused by inefficiencies in the monitoring companies. False alarms can be decreased, police say, by adding a verification step through such systems as video surveillance. Law enforcement agencies have urged security companies to work with them to decrease the inefficiencies and false alarms.
Other no-cost measures can also be taken. Neighborhood watch programs and simple awareness of our neighbor’s absence can help prevent property crime. Keeping the outdoor lighting operable and perhaps adding low cost timers or motion sensors are very good deterrents as well. Indoor lighting on timers is an excellent tool to keep the criminals guessing. Burglars look for the easiest targets and ones which offer quick escape routes should things go badly for them. And then there are dogs, my favorite deterrent of all. Barking dogs don’t have to sound scary; they just have to speak up! And, they do!
As the political season heats up, property owners will have to force a discussion of the crime issue if they want it addressed. Issues so close to home, especially in those regions where the statistics are unfavorable, are not likely to come up unless the voters press them. Meanwhile, taking personal responsibility for prevention of crime is always good.
*Statistics were compiled from the Uniform Crime Report for 2009.