How crime affects Trenton

All Trentonians know that our high crime rate isn’t good for the economy. However, not many of us know just how bad it is. It turns out that economists have studied the subject and have asked themselves that very question.

In “CRIME, URBAN FLIGHT, AND THE CONSEQUENCES FOR CITIES”, economists Julie Berry Cullen and Steven D. Levitt worked through quite a bit of crime, census and other data in addition to third party research to build up an econometric model of the effects of crime. It’s worth noting that Steven Levitt later went on to write Freakonomics which is referenced in my earlier article on the economics of crime.

I’ve provided a link to the article but I’ve summarize it fairly simply below. I’ll warn readers of the report in advance that this is an academic paper and some of the conclusions it draws are a bit disturbing to the politically correct mind.

Each crime pushes one of us away

Levitt and Cullen have found that each FBI index crime leads directly to one person moving out of an inner city, like Trenton. That’s bad enough but high income residents are 5 times more likely to leave due to crime than average. Families with children are 3 times more likely to leave. Finally crime rate is negatively correlated with de-population, home values and per capita income.

These conclusions alone are quite damming for Trenton. However, it gets worse.

If a city becomes de-populated the crime rate goes up because the criminals stay behind. Also, because high income people leave poverty becomes more concentrated.

Those that are left, have to pay the bill

Now that the crime rate is high and poverty is concentrated, real estate values go down and therefore so do property tax revenues. Also, sales tax receipts are down because disposable income is down. On the other hand, the concentrated poverty results in a higher per capita cost to serve the population including a high proportion of the budget allocated to police protection.

As a result, the researchers find that crime rate differences between the top quartile of cities and bottom accounts for 40% of tax revenue. This is easy to see in reviewing Trenton’s budget.

Well now you know. Every crime in Trenton chases away one more resident and 88% of the time it will be a high income resident.

Those of use that stay are left holding the financial bag and the terrible budget burden of funding a disproportionately high police presence and level of social service support including education.

A lower crime rate won’t fix things

The news gets even worse. Changes in crime rate don’t affect immigration rates into a city only emigration out. Meaning, the impact of crime mostly affects people already living in Trenton and a lower rate won’t attract new residents. The people that move to Trenton are moving here for some other reason.

The effect of this imbalance in cause and effect is that net migration can be turned around but only if there are strong new reasons to attract residents to the city. The upshot of this logic is that any increase in crime prevention that leads to an eventual lowering of the crime rate must be accompanied by separate efforts to increase the population of high income residents.

Deterrence does help

On a positive note there is evidence, according to Levitt and Cullen that tough policing practices coupled with tough sentencing are deterrents to crime. However, they and other economists, suggest that both a high arrest rate (getting criminals off the street) and long sentences (keeping them off) are necessary to both eliminate the 15 crimes committed by each by the arrested criminal and to deter his peers from trying their luck.

These numbers can be used to calculate the benefit of tougher crime policies. I should point out that these are exactly the type of mathematical relationships necessary to build up an urban dynamics model of a city. Missing are similar relationships related to attracting new residents to Trenton.

Currently, many Trenton activists are calling for a presence by the NJ State Police in patrolling our streets with the expected effect of increasing the arrest rate. I think this is a great tactic. However, higher arrest rates alone just won’t solve anything.

The tactic needs to be coupled with harsher criminal punishments. Rarely do Trentonians complain about our judges but perhaps we should. I can’t tell you anything meaningful about any of them. Do Trenton’s criminals get the book thrown at them? The anecdotal evidence from the police force says we have a bit of a revolving door. Perhaps we should take a break from criticizing Santiago and Capt. Sleepy and start in on the judicial system.

None of this will help without economic development

Likewise, what was the last city policy you can think of that actually made the city more attractive to high income immigrants? Perhaps if we could couple the train station plan with useful policies that increased the attractiveness of our city we’d have something.

In the case of turning Trenton around, half measures aren’t enough. The city has been in a viscous cycle of decline for quite some time. We’ve tried many uncoordinated efforts and to our collective surprise nothing has helped. Maybe it’s time we tried a coordinate approach.

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