It’s Official: Crime Falls

by evseymour

This week it was proclaimed that violent crime is falling, not just in the UK but right across France, Germany, Holland and other parts of Europe. The big question researchers and criminologists are asking themselves is why? There doesn’t appear to be any single, identifiable factor to explain it. Greater minds than mine are grappling with this conundrum but it’s interesting to explore, particularly from a crime writer’s perspective. Some reasons suggested for the drop by those ‘in the know’ are as follows, my comments are below:

Police are better at detecting.

Recently, the police have come in for a bad press. Instances of police failing to act in domestics before it’s too late are well documented. Likewise, police attitudes to rape and sexual crimes often leave much to be desired. Far too many rape victims are reluctant to report crime because they fear how they will be treated, and with good reason. Not all police officers are sympathetic, and violated women are as likely to be accused of ‘making it up’ as have their claim taken seriously.

Our crime statistics are now collated differently so that not all violent acts are registered or categorised in the way that you or I might think they should be. However it’s rare for a killer to get away with murder, even in complex cases. Strides forward in forensics play a large part. The police now have access to a wide range of technical support, including CCTV. In summary, at the sharp end, the police deserve all credit for their work, but is it overstating it to suggest that they are appreciably better at detecting?

There is a societal shift in attitudes towards aggression.

18-30 year-olds fall into the age range most likely to be either a victim or perpetrator of violent crime. Evidence suggests, according to criminologists, that it’s not seen as cool to get into a scrap, and violence of any kind is, therefore, not tolerated. I’m not sure it ever was seen as cool, other than within gangs where violence is mandatory, but if there has been a shift, fine. However, what of the rather more insidious societal creep towards ‘passive aggression’?

Ever made a complaint to a call centre because of an error with the energy company/the council/yes, and even the police. You raise your voice one decibel higher than the norm and the customer care person, or whoever, on the other end will pounce with ‘there is no need to be angry and if you persist I’ll terminate the call.’ Nobody is advocating giving someone a mouthful or bellowing at them, but when people are afraid or upset, they will and do get angry. It’s how humans work. Not everyone who gets a bit exercised has ‘anger management issues.’ To suggest otherwise, is almost a form of aggression in its own right and guaranteed to receive a sparky response.

To unpack this further, we may be less tolerant of aggression, which is a good thing, but there are an awful lot of angry people about and some with good reason: folk hit hard by recession, who will never own their own home and live in crumbling and expensive rentals; those who will never have a decent job, have the right medical and social care for their kids and their parents. I could go on. Sometimes, the result of this grinding pressure can be witnessed in the way people drive, as though they want to kill you. You can view simmering and not so simmering rage on social networking sites between people who have never met each other in person. You can feel it in the street when you’re barged into without a sorry. We might be intolerant of up-front, in your face aggro, but isn’t it too simplistic to maintain that, because we are intolerant of aggression, we are less aggressive either individually, or en masse?

Attitudes to alcohol have changed.

There’s a school of thought that our European café style society, popularised during the Blair years, has much to do with a more sensible approach to alcohol. Certainly, hospital admissions for alcohol related injuries have been cut. Sales of alcohol, particularly among the young have fallen. Many youngsters don’t drink at all. It’s easy to understand. Recession has made jobs and money hard to come by while the unit price of alcohol is higher than it once was. You don’t have to be a brain surgeon to work out the correlation, but is it wise to ramp it up to the next level, as certain professionals suggest, by applying punitive taxes on alcohol? If banning or demonising alcohol were the Holy Grail, Prohibition wouldn’t have sprung up in the States during the 1920’s, a gift to criminals. Not everyone who drinks is a lush, a prospective candidate for cirrhosis, or a walking crime statistic.

All of the above can be debated until we go blind, preferably not through drink. My interest lies elsewhere. If crime is on the wane, why is it that so many don’t feel it’s true? Is it skewed public perception? Is it extensive 24/7 news coverage when it can at times feel as if the tide of crime is rising and not falling? As previously mentioned, not everyone who has had dealings with the police, as a victim of crime, has found it an elevating experience.   And where does all this leave the humble crime writer?

Every story needs a hook, the inciting incident (the event from the story sparks.) In crime novels, it’s quite often a murder, or a scene when a detective is called out to view a corpse, and the rest of the story unfolds from this point as the detective’s quest to nail the killer is told. I can’t remember a single book I’ve read where the hook involves someone getting smashed on a Saturday night, beating the living daylights out of some unfortunate, with predictably fatal consequences.  More likely scenarios: acts of revenge, crimes of passion, and ‘removal’ of witnesses, particularly in drug/gang storylines. If there is any drinking going on, it’s usually the lead detective (and main protagonist) who has the problem, not the killer.

Perhaps, we crime writers are disconnected from reality. Perhaps, lost in our fictional worlds, we have it all wrong. Or do we?