Researchers at New York University find that for every 10 additional organizations in a city with 100,000 residents there was a 9 percent drop in the murder rate and a 6 percent drop in violent crime.
Most theories for the U.S. crime decline over the last 25 years have focused on the would-be criminals, reports the New York Times, including strict policing tactics, mass incarceration and the diminishing crack epidemic. None of the explanations have paid much attention to the communities where violence dropped the most. New research suggests that people there were working hard, with little credit, to address the problem themselves. Local nonprofit groups that responded to the violence by cleaning streets, building playgrounds, mentoring children and employing young men had a real effect on the crime rate, argues Patrick Sharkey, a sociologist at New York University. “This was a part that has been completely overlooked and ignored in national debates over the crime drop,” he said. “But I think it’s fundamental to what happened.”
Between the early 1990s and 2015, the homicide rate in the U.S. fell by half. Rates of robbery, assault and theft tumbled in tandem. In the same communities where crime was dropping, the number of nonprofits began to rise sharply, particularly those addressing neighborhood and youth development. Sharkey and his students used data from the National Center for Charitable Statistics to track the rise of nonprofits in 264 cities across more than 20 years. The researchers believe they were able to identify the causal effect of these community groups: Every 10 additional organizations in a city with 100,000 residents, they estimate, led to a 9 percent drop in the murder rate and a 6 percent drop in violent crime.