F.R. Duplantier reporting Behind The Headlines
Week of:
February 13, 2000
Maybe We Can Take Care of Ourselves



F.R. Duplantier

by: F.R. Duplantier

What's the main reason for falling crime rates? How about good old private initiative?



"Politicians have ready answers" for declining crime rates in America, observes Florida State University Economics Professor Bruce Benson. "They claim credit through their support of prison construction, longer mandated sentences, greater police funding, and so on. They also claim credit for the strong economy and low levels of unemployment, which reduce the incentives to commit property crimes. Police point to their efforts in the war on drugs," Benson continues, "or to innovations in policing strategies such as 'community policing.' Criminologists," he adds, "cite many of these same causes, along with the changing age distribution of the population: the number of crime-prone young males has been shrinking thanks to aging and reduced birth rates."

While acknowledging that "probably all of these things work together to help explain falling crime rates," Benson suggests "another, perhaps even more important factor that has gone largely unnoticed. Private citizens have responded to the fear of crime by investing increasing amounts of their own time and money in crime prevention," he reports in a recent issue of Ideas on Liberty, a monthly publication of the Foundation for Economic Education.

"Private-sector responses to crime have taken many forms," Benson notes, "including crime watch and other types of neighborhood or building watching, patrolling and escort arrangements, installation of alarms and other detection devices, improved locks and lighting, investments in self-protection such as martial-arts training and guns, and employment of private security personnel. All these activities," he emphasizes, "have been increasing dramatically."

Benson points out that the number of private security personnel was roughly equal to that of police officers in 1970, but is now nearly three times greater. "The private security market apparently is the second fastest growing industry in the United States," he observes, "but increasing employment of private security personnel is only part of the story." Benson notes that Americans spent as much as $17 billion on security equipment in 1990. "It is estimated that at least 10 percent of the homes in the United States were connected to central alarm systems in 1990," he adds, "up from one percent in 1970." Benson concludes that private citizens and entrepreneurs in the burgeoning security industry "deserve much of the credit for falling crime rates."

Instead of idly bemoaning our vulnerability, or pleading for assistance from pandering politicians, we Americans of the late twentieth century have finally rediscovered the can-do spirit of our forebears. We've reverted to form, doing what came naturally to earlier generations and taking matters into our own hands. Hallelujah! It's about time. We're standing on our hind legs again, acting like men instead of beasts. Maybe, as we cross that imaginary bridge to the 21st century, we can leave Big Daddy behind and enter the new millennium not as cowed aliens and browbeaten minorities but as proud, self-sufficient, free and equal Americans. On our own initiative, we've secured our homes and property against theft, and our persons against injury. What else might we learn to do for ourselves again?


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