Monday, August 15, 2011

What is the real crime rate anyway, a request for information

Generally in the past, I've always used the homicide rate as a proxy for crime as a whole. I've done this primarily because every other number is gamed all to hell. For instance, I know of cases of grand theft auto that the police around these parts didn't even bother to investigate and might not even have recorded when reported in their actual reported numbers. The constellation of 'identity theft' crimes never seem to be pursued. I know quite a few people who have had such crimes done to them and none who ever had a chance to see justice done to the perpetrator. Considering how lucrative such crimes may be, it is perhaps not surprising if lots of forms of theft have been rendered passe.

However, recently a fact has come to my attention. I suppose I should have known it all along considering how many of my relatives are doctors or nurses.

Trauma medicine has gotten really really good. A lot of people who make full recovery now from gunshot, stab wounds, blunt trauma or the like would've been six feet under with the standard of care even twenty years ago. The old numbers, for instance, that I recall when I was in college were that pistol wounds were 10-15% lethal, shotguns and rifles closer to 80%---I think these were from some of Gary Kleck's studies. Anyone know what these numbers are now?

For example, I know of one case one of my sisters in law worked as a nurse. The patient pulled a Hemmingway---i.e. he tried to commit suicide by cleaning a 12 gauge with his mouth. Tried was the operative word, last I heard he'd made a full recovery.

So what I'd like to see is a plot of homicide normalized to, say, 1960 level trauma care. How much of the decrease in homicide is the result of formerly deadly wounds that were downgraded through improved medicine to merely serious ones? How does this change our insight into the suicide and fatal firearm accident rates as well?

I know some studies on this have been done recently, anyone have the links or further insights?


Anonymous said...

It is a less violent act to attack someone with a particular weapon in an age when the wounds it causes are more easily treatable than in an age where they are harder to treat.

For example, stabbing someone in the guts in the 18th century meant trying hard to kill them. Whereas now it's more like trying to hurt them, while being indifferent to whether they die.

So I don't think we can just say "there are more gut stabbings now therefore we are more violent".

To take it to the extreme, maybe in the future we will have full body transplants, so that stabbing someone anywhere other than the head will be more like a property crime than a true violent crime. In such a world there would probably be a lot more stabbings, but it wouldn't necessarily be a more violent world in any real sense.

Jehu said...

I suspect one could persuade an economist of this, but I'd have a hard time making people believe it at a gut level.

I see this as something of an overall trend though---massive reductions in the efficacy of government in doing its actual job masked by huge improvements in technology, which it of course attempts to take credit for despite frequently being the biggest obstacle to it.

Anonymous said...

In one of his essays in... "Life at the Bottom" I think, Theodore Dalrymple explicitly makes this point and says that the homicide rate in Britain would have risen since the 60's but for improvements in trauma medicine.