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Modern Criminal Justice - Crime Trends

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By the mid-1960s following the assassination of President John F. Kennedy (1917–1963; served 1961–63) violent crime and property crime rates rose to high levels that would carry through the following decade. Police were falling behind. In addition, political crime had become widespread. In 1965 President Lyndon B. Johnson (1908–1973) declared a "war on crime." Congress passed the Law Enforcement Assistance Act (LEAA) that funneled billons of federal dollars to states over the next ten years to fight crime. The federal Crime Commission created by Johnson issued a lengthy report in 1967 warning that crime was greatly affecting the culture and quality of life in the United States. Congress responded with the Crime Control and Safe Streets Act to direct the war on crime.

Since the 1930s local police departments had been fully responsible for the health and safety of their community residents. Since citizens did not really help in community policing, the commission recommended they become more active in protecting themselves, such as installing alarms and improving locks on their properties. Such advice from a presidential commission, however, also served to increase the public's fear of crime. Many people avoided public parks and felt uncomfortable on the streets at night.

To lessen public fear, another national advisory commission in 1973 recommended citizens form local organizations to take a more active part in crime prevention. Such programs as Neighborhood Watch grew out of this idea. Residents banned together to watch for suspicious activities in their neighborhoods and report any activity to police. The earliest focus was on property crime, but this expanded in high crime areas to include drug activity by the late 1980s. By 2000 some fifty million Americans participated in local Neighborhood Watch programs.

By the late 1970s, the American public wanted a tougher approach to crime, including harsher punishment of criminals. This included a renewed interest in the death penalty and fixed or mandatory sentencing in order to not only discourage crime but make sure criminals paid for their crimes. Local commissions, created to study the crime issue in numerous cities and towns, developed new approaches to fighting crime. These included expanding police departments with money provided in part by federal funding.

New Crime New Technologies New Challenges

During the 1990s increasingly complex communications became available in businesses and homes. New communications networks provided tools for criminals. The growth of the Internet in particular opened new opportunities for criminal activity and created challenges for the criminal justice system.

The first computer-related criminal law in the United States was the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. It targeted people interfering with computers and computer networks. Soon the focus changed to the kinds of information available over the Internet. New high-speed techniques were available for gathering, processing, and distributing information on almost any topic. A major consequence was that personal information about individuals became easily accessible. Controlling how this information was used and who used it proved a big challenge.

Concerns over privacy became of utmost importance. The explosion of available information affected copyrights, trademarks, and patents. Copyright laws allowauthors or artists the right to determine how their creations may be used, including how their works are reproduced, distributed, or performed. Trademark laws allow manufacturers to assign a specific identifying symbol to their products, meaning no other business can use that particular symbol. Patent laws grant inventors exclusive rights to operate, produce, or sell their products. Enforcement of these laws, if violated by using the Internet, has been virtually impossible. For example, songs have been freely copied off Internet sites instead of buying the music, which prevents artists from receiving proper royalties. The government has tried to penalize these criminals with fines but new "share" music and free music download sites that help conceal the identity of the downloader are launched everyday.

Other issues for criminal justice involving the Internet include the sale and distribution of child pornography (photos and films of children engaged in sex acts) and adults luring kids through Internet chat rooms into meetings and often into sexual relations. These criminal activities have crossed state and national boundaries. New technology has enabled criminals to operate where no boundaries exist. In the twenty-first century, the criminal justice system struggles to keep pace as it must continually redefine crime and criminals. (See chapter 11 on cyber crime for more information.)

Approaches to local policing changed through time as well. For example, the 1980s brought a return to police walking their patrols. Police wanted to reconnect with their communities on a much more personal level than they could while riding in patrol cars. Called community policing, police tried to create stronger ties with the public in fighting crime. Mounted police patrols (officers on horseback) became common sights in public areas such as parks.

Through the 1980s crime rates remained high as almost every basic category of serious crime increased. Youth gangs became a major concern, as did a rise in crack cocaine use. Twenty-two out of every 100,000 males, between the ages of fifteen and twenty-four, died violent deaths in 1987.

In 1990 some 35 million crimes occurred and 2.3 million Americans were victims of violent crime. Fear of violence was a major part of life in the United States affecting millions. This fear was heightened by racial rioting, known as the Rodney King riots, in Los Angeles in 1992. These riots broke out after videotapes of white policemen brutally beating a black man named Rodney King were shown on newscasts across the country.

Gun purchases rose dramatically, and business and home security systems became a very profitable business in the 1990s. Private security firms that provided bodyguards and other security measures, also received many customers. Mace (a chemical spray used to stun criminals) sold briskly and self-defense classes became popular. The widespread use of cell phones in the 1990s was driven, in part, by concerns over crime and personal safety.

Such programs as Neighborhood Watch grew out of a 1973 national advisory commission recommendation that citizens form local organizations to take a more active part in crime prevention. (© Landmann Patrick/Corbis Sygma)

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over 6 years ago

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