The old newsroom adage, “if it bleeds, it leads,” did not apply to Australia recently, as editors covered the front pages with positive headlines about one of the world’s most dramatic drops in crime rates ever reported in a developed nation.
Since 2001, break-ins have fallen by 68%, motor vehicle theft by 70%, robbery by 71%, attempted murder by 70%, and murder rates by 50%, while overall homicide including manslaughter plummeted by 59%.
A comprehensive report in the Sydney Morning Herald provides the details of the precipitous fall, while also attempting to explain this bettering of society.
Possible reasons for the declines include less alcohol consumption among young people, improvements in the economy with lower unemployment, and improved access to better safety technology in cars and homes.
Furthermore, black markets for stolen goods have dried up, creating a greater risk for thieves.
In 2000, this wasn’t the case—and a book published by a team of Australian social scientists called The Vanishing Criminal bears witness. Rising crime rates were the norm, like other English-speaking nations, in the 70s and 80s.
The authors cited an international crime statistics survey of 25 countries at that time which showed Australia had the second-highest rate of car theft, the highest rate of burglary, the highest rate of crime victimization, among other dubious distinctions. Against these depressing trends, the recent fall looks miraculous.
Rising demand from the public on police to produce results seemed to coincide with an increased understanding of what works best in policing, along with a drop in heroin abuse.
It really bears out what Steven Pinker and Matt Ridley write in their books Enlightenment Now and The Rational Optimist: Meaningful ways in which the world is getting better are happening at rates never before seen by our species, and virtually no societal problem is insurmountable by progress.
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