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Celebrating (and Learning From) Good News

On a family trip to Minneapolis, I happened to see an end-of-the-year article on the dramatic reduction in gunshot incidents in the Twin Cities in recent years. The article in the Star Tribune attributed the decline to better policing strategies, such as use of data to focus police on areas of particularly high crime, as well as other prevention efforts such as keeping local recreation centers open late.

What the Star Tribune failed to note is that the reduction in violence and crime is not limited to the Twin Cities, but is a national phenomenon. In fact, there have been remarkable improvements in all categories of crime, delinquency, and drug abuse. Notwithstanding the occasional articles to this effect, I think the general public continues to think that urban areas are going to hell in a handbasket, when in fact in the crucial area of crime the truth is just the opposite.

I think it would help the cause of evidence-based reform to further publicize and celebrate the turnaround in crime and violence, as an indication that our key social problems can be solved using strategies derived from social science. Evidence-based reform in juvenile delinquency, at least, has been greatly advanced by government and by organizations such as Blueprints that summarize research in this area. At the same time, we need to be working on the next round of improvements (crime and violence are much better than they were, but still too high) and understanding what went right, for a change. Which of the many things cities have been doing over the past two decades have contributed to the reductions in crime?

It's not enough to declare victory. To make further progress, we need to continue to invest in experiments that evaluate promising approaches to reducing crime and violence.

The remarkable rebirth of inner cities such as New York, Baltimore, Washington, and yes, Minneapolis, have both depended on and contributed to reductions in crime. Evidence-based practices can help identify and spread this to more cities and make real contributions to the quality of life for everyone. And who knows, perhaps this approach could also work in education!

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