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Editorial Credit governor for drop in crime

January 3, 2019

Crime has dropped in Connecticut over the eight years of Dannel P. Malloy’s governorship. It’s also dropped in New York City, nearly every city nationwide and in the country as a whole.

It’s still a record worth noting as the governor prepares to leave office next week, with the most recent statewide crime trends showing overall reported crime in 2017 was the state’s lowest in 50 years.

After peaking in 1990, crime has continued a long decline in the state, mirroring nationwide trends. The drop continued during the Malloy years, with overall crime in the state down 19 percent since he took office in 2011, including a 19 percent decline in violent crimes.

The degree to which the governor is responsible is up for debate, as is the case for any broad trend. But if the leader of state government takes the blame for a sluggish economy, then a measure of credit must be awarded when positive numbers are reported, as well.

Skeptics point out that factors such as longer prison terms and mandatory minimum sentences, the kind of policies Malloy has fought, should get more credit. But studies have indicated that such “tough on crime” measures usually have a only a modest effect on crime rates, to say nothing of the devastation they can cause in communities hit hardest by the measures.

Malloy and Mike Lawlor, Connecticut’s outgoing criminal justice policy leader, took a different approach, emphasizing cutting the prison population along with costs by way of prison and sentencing reforms and allowing judges more sentencing leeway, among other measures.

Such an approach has now reached the federal level, with the president signing recently the bipartisan First Step Act that includes many Connecticut policies. The governor has proven a national leader on this issue, and deserves credit.

It’s also true that some acts that were illegal 25 years ago are not grounds for an arrest today, including some drug offenses. The decline in murder rates has in some corners been credited to better emergency care, which allows victims who might have died to instead go into the statistics as merely injured.

There’s a measure of truth in all these factors, but none are sufficient to explain the crime drop in full. In fact, experts in the field have puzzled for years over why crime is generally lower today than it was in the 1960s, to say nothing of the early ’90s.

At the same time, many people don’t feel safer. As crime hits record lows, public opinion polls show that many people believe it’s still rising, and that the streets have never been more dangerous. It’s hard to know what would convince them otherwise, what with fear a consistently effective political cudgel.

No one is arguing the system is fixed, or that whatever progress we’ve achieved isn’t vulnerable to changing trends.

Still, the numbers are down. Connecticut is safer than it was eight years ago, and the governor and his policies deserve credit.

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