Good question - and it's hard to get a straight answer. When the economy started to tank in 2008, law enforcement officials warned of a sharp pickup in crime, especially robberies and burglaries. It certainly made sense that when times were bad, more people would resort to desperate acts - and there has been circumstantial evidence of a connection between recession and criminal activity going back several decades. But this time it never happened. The FBI's preliminary crime stats for 2010 shows that L.A. had a 10.5 percent drop in robberies from a year earlier and a 5.5 percent drop in burglaries. So what happened? Why is it safer to walk the streets in bad times than in good? From the NYT:
Some experts said the figures collided with theories about correlations between crime, unemployment and the number of people in prison. Take robbery: The nation has endured a devastating economic crisis, but robberies fell 9.5 percent last year, after dropping 8 percent the year before. "Striking," said Alfred Blumstein, a professor and a criminologist at the Heinz College at Carnegie Mellon University, because it came "at a time when everyone anticipated it could be going up because of the recession."
Of course, not everyone bought into the connection of crime and recession. From Reuters:
"Big national trends in crime are much more powerfully influenced by things like drug epidemics and huge demographic shifts ... than they are by the economy," said David Kennedy, director of the Center for Crime Prevention and Control at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York. He cited the era of U.S. alcohol Prohibition during the so-called Roaring '20s, when organized crime controlled bootlegging, followed by the Great Depression of the 1930s. "The era of Prohibition was one of tremendous economic prosperity, accompanied by unprecedented levels of violent crime because of the issues associated with the illicit market for alcohol," Kennedy said. "The country got rid of Prohibition, which got rid of those illicit market issues, entered into the Great Depression, and crime plummeted." Conversely, crime waves that coincided with tough times had more to do with spikes in the illegal drug trade that accompanied them, such as the "crack" cocaine epidemic of the late 1980s and early 1990s, Kennedy said.