Feds Confirm Spike in Crime During Economic Downturn

Although violent and property crime rates are down when compared to the recession of the 1990s, officials say recent violence is worrying and may be an indicator of more to come.

"The current economic downturn has already meant an upswing of crime in some areas. In places like Pittsburgh and Binghamton, where indescribable grief follows senseless violence, we are reminded of the dangers that lurk out there," Deputy Attorney General David Ogden told reporters Monday.

One only needs to look at history to see that crime rates are often unpredictable. During the Great Depression crime did go up the first two years as people lost their jobs and poverty skyrocketed, but then fell through an almost 10-year period after that.

In contrast, compared to the country's recession in the early 1990's, both violent crime and property crimes are today each about a third what they were then, according to the most recent statistics available from the FBI.

Still police say the recent violence is a real concern.

In March and early April, a string of shootings claimed the lives of 53 people, many who police say were frustrated about not finding work, were dealing with money problems or felt wronged by their co-workers.

Most recently on Saturday, in the sleepy Washington suburb of Middletown, five bodies were found: 3 children, under the age of 6, their 33-year old mother and their father, who apparently died from a self-inflicted gun shot wound.

While no motive has been established, five notes were found at the scene. Initially, potential contributing factors included the father's psychological problems, a stressful new job and debt, according to local law enforcement.

Former Washington, DC homicide detective Rod Wheeler says high unemployment, the loss of a home and more guns on the street have historically led to higher crime.

"When you have all of these variables adding up and coming together I call that the perfect storm," he said. "With a disorganized economy, people commit crime."

Miami Police Chief John Timoney says property crime can also rise during recessions. Abandoned buildings, like those in California, ravaged by the high rate of foreclosure, feed the cycle.

"Where the economy does impact on crime, you'll see it in the whole area of mortgage foreclosures where buildings are being abandoned. Homes are being abandoned. Those homes are now being burglarized, which drives up the theft and the burglary rates," he said.

Mental health experts warn a prolonged recession could affect many Americans.

"We see that there is a group that is called the worried well. Those people are suffering right now. Those people are going through financial stress and are having real issues in maintaining their homes and maintaining their sanity," says practicing clinical psychologist Dr. Jeffrey Gardere.

Gardere says the warning signs include periods of sadness, a change in eating habits, feelings of isolation and paranoia

Early intervention could prevent more senseless crime, but someone has to notice and then act.

And according to police, that often doesn't happen.

The Associate Press contributed to this report.