31 Mar 2022


The Rise of Crime in Cleveland: A Historical Perspective

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Cleveland, Ohio is located on the shores of Lake Erie just at the start of the Cuyahoga River. In early 1980, the city experienced harsh rustbelt conditions like deindustrialization, population scarcity, increased poverty levels, poor infrastructure, and an ugly popular reputation. However, towards the 1990s, Cleveland fought itself through the vigorous urban growth in the country and registered unexpected renaissance. When it comes to analyzing the surging business world, Cleveland offers the reflection of other big cities have gradually progressed and rebuilt the status of urban America. The essay will talk about Cleveland and the nature of crimes, as well as the impacts.

Historical context

In 1776, Moses Cleaveland, a surveyor from the Connecticut Land Company went on an expedition towards the state’s Western Reserve. He was under pressure to impress his employers by finding a productive land that enabled the establishment of small enterprises. Since he was industrious in his job, Cleaveland decided to stay for over ninety days. His legacy lived on, and the new location he discovered was named after him. The first “a” in his name was dropped, and Cleveland was established. During the post-civil war escalations that characterized the manufacturing belt near the shores of the Great Lakes, Cleveland came up as the primary region of industrialization between Buffalo and Chicago. When Cleveland City became the northern terminus of River Ohio and Erie Canal, its speedy development was guaranteed. The infrastructure created powerful links with the lucrative Eastern markets (Warf and Holly, 1997). Since Cleveland was situated near water bodies, rail lines, and fertile soils, it offered a good place for agricultural activities such as dairy farming and coal mining. Several industrial innovations took place between the1870s making the city one of the first growing places within the United States. Some of the industries included the Standard Oil Corporation, steel-production, electrical motors, machine tools, meat processing, fabrics, and paint by the beginning of 1900. 

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As time passed by, Cleveland surpassed Cincinnati as the largest city in Ohio after registering a population of over five hundred thousand individuals by the end of the century. By 1920, the Cleveland was declared the nation’s fifth-biggest city because it kept on expanding because of the massive increase in industrial establishments. Within the city was a suburban referred to as Shaker Heights, which registered the highest per capita income than any city in the United States (Piiparinrn and Russell, 2013). As, the Second World War continued, the city’s income was strengthened because many military bases depended on it to offer tanks, trucks, and other forms of Arsenal. The increasing capital flow was characterized by a sharp increase in population. Even though the lakeside experienced extreme weather variations, Cleveland recorded a growth rate of about forty-seven percent. 

The number of immigrants from Italy and Eastern Europe flooded the labour market, especially during World War I. Statistics indicate that almost three-quarters of the city’s population were foreigners or first-time immigrants. With time, the immigrants segregated themselves according to their ethnic backgrounds. Some of the ethnicities included Appalachian whites and blacks from the South. However, in comparison to the whites, blacks consisted of the majority and made the highest percentage of immigrants by 1960. 

The city of Cleveland continued to expand, and many people including immigrants flooded the city. The growing population at the shores of Lake Erie caused competition among the dwellers who strived to maintain a good life. As the population increased, job opportunities reduced and conflicts started to arise among the immigrants especially those from different racial backgrounds. It is believed that the racial segregation and discrimination were the foundation of crimes in the United States. The problem was not limited to Cleveland, Ohio but also major cities in America started to experience crimes of different nature. Mostly, the slum areas where many blacks resided were the most affected. 

The division existing between the immigrants caused tensions that only erupted into crimes. Some of the common crimes included robbery, physical and sexual assault, and murder. Murder was at its lowest during this period in Cleveland as compared to the current situation. Now, several murder cases have been reported some of which have not been solved for years (Exner, 2015). 

Shifting trends of crime

American cities have been considered to be significantly violent when the world war ended toward 1965. Those who grew up in the late 1970s believe that the intensity of violent crime has increased (Jencks, 1991). People usually relieve their experience by thinking about their childhood. An interview with middle-class American living during those periods revealed that violent crimes were rare. Most of the individuals in this category led lives that were reserved. As industrialization took a center stage, many urban centers emerged paving way for criminal activities. Many people moved from their respective homes to the urban center to search for greener pastures. However, not all were lucky to get employment. In cities where racial segregation was intense, blacks were discriminated and denied jobs. It caused frustrations among the blacks who resolved to short cuts in achieving their goals and the only way to do his was to engage in criminal activities. 

Secondly, the media has played roles in the shifting course of crime because they tend to dwell on popular cities like Washington and New York. For instance, in the early 1980s, the media was focused more on Washington, and it experienced a significant increase in lethal aggression.

Thirdly, the selective approach the media gives to crime statistics changes the perception of citizens about crime. In the 1980s, the media had the tendency of focusing on the increasing crime rates other than the decreasing nature of crimes. Somehow to the world, it seemed like they glorified the crimes by airing them over and over. Failing to televise the decreasing crime rates had no impacts on limiting evil deeds. Let us take an example of the headlines that hit the biggest paper in town on July 18, 1990. The New York Times read “Number of Killings Soars in Big Cities across the US.” The story covered the courses of violent crimes for two years. The briefly mentioned the decline in murder cases, which was significantly lower in 1988 as compared to 1980. Instead, it gave more attention in explaining the rising trends than the previous decline. 

After a period of two weeks after the article was published, the Senate Judiciary Committee circulated a report that envisaged the crime rate to go highest by 1990. The news trended for quite a while in the country, but what the journalist failed to talk about was the increasing population in the country. Taking this into consideration, the predicted murder rates in 1990 were almost the same as those of the 1970s. 

After the 1990s, statistics indicate that there was a significant drop in crime rates even though the media dwelled so much on increasing acts of violence. Many people became astonished by the dropping rates of crime during this period and thought of it as temporary. Certain literature has tried to explain the factors that contributed to the drop in crime. First, a particular publication argued that the strong economies existing during this period reduced the levels of unemployment from six percent to four percent in 2001. It is indeed arguable based on these figures that if macroeconomics is crucial in determining criminal acts, then the trends in economies would be used to predict crime rates. According to Becker (1968), enhancements in genuine labour market prospects thwart the interests of criminals to engage in criminal activities. The calculation is appropriate when explaining the crimes related to financial gains like robbery and burglary, but less necessary when predicting crime like murder and rape. In a much clear sense, it just to state that the relationship between economic activity and crime is hypothetically vague. 

The second explanation for the decline in crime rates is the variations in demographics. The development of the baby boomers indicates a philosophical population shift. The majority of people believe that the older people have tremendously low rates in engaging in criminal activities (Levitt, 1999). According to the National Crime Survey data, people aged sixty-five and above underwent victimization rates for dangerous crimes as compared to teenagers aged fifteen to nineteen. As stated by Sampson and Lauritsen (1997), black people are usually victimized by crimes as compared to people from different racial backgrounds. The most common crime associated with blacks includes homicide. Moreover, despite the aging population, the baby boom has increased the number of teenagers and young adults in the United States between 1995 and 2010. This age group is widely associated with crimes even though there is insufficient evidence. 

Thirdly, there has been an improved policing approach that has also been strengthened by the media. The initial plan for the strategy started in New York City under the authority of the police commissioner William Bratton and Mayor Rudy Guiliani. It involved crime tactics like reinforcing the laws and imposing severe punishments on offenders. Additionally, they were able to establish community-policing strategies and identify the hot spots for crime. 

In the current times, there have been contradictory reports concerning the state of crimes in the United States. Different government agencies such as the Federal Bureau of Investigations and Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) have had incongruent reports concerning the rates of crimes. The FBI majorly dwells on administrative data analyzed after every year; unlike the BJS that relies on survey information collected using the same method. It is difficult to monitor closely the trends of crimes based on the FBI method because of the increment of variations.

Every year in the United States, every state submit the number of crimes as well as they types committed within their jurisdiction to the FBI. After that, the police would send the calculations to the media to create public awareness. On the other hand, the Federal Bureau of Investigation uses the information to estimate the crime rates known to the police in the entire country. Based on the recent estimates of the FBI, violent crimes have been on the rise by four percent by 1960 and keeps on increasing.

According to the FBI index of defining violent crimes in the United States, there exist four categories. The first one is murder/manslaughter, forcible rape, robbery, and aggravated attack. Since many cities in America including Cleveland experience robbery and aggravated attack as compared to rape or murder, the state police and FBI approximations of violent crimes massively rely on the number of attacks and theft ( Cleveland Security Bloggers , 2013). 

Causes of crime

The modern definition f crime describes it as an action or omission comprising of unlawful deed punishable by the court of law. Simply, people may tend to engage in “wrong” activities, but they are not considered a crime, whereas some may indulge in something “right” but they will be of criminal nature. Hence, crimes are perceived as matters of the law and not base on the opinion of people. As the society progresses because of innovations in technologies, certain actions that were considered offensive in the past are no longer criminal. For instance, in the past, smoking in public was no criminal offense, however, in the contemporary society, one caught smoking in such are likely to face the rule of law. In the United States, there are certain laws made by the federal government and others under the state government. Every state has their rules and regulations that deal with different kinds of crime. It is very common for people not to agree with different laws. However, in any democratic institution, there are opportunities to revise the existing laws. America has been known to be very democratic when it comes to law reforms. Offenders are usually given the chance to defend themselves and will be perceived as innocent until established guilty by a court of law. Many countries all over the world have embraced the act of punishing crimes to warn people and reduce their levels of participation in them. A majority of the governments consider serious crime to be those involving violence and death. 

Understanding the causes of crime are quite complicated. According to many kinds of literature of crime, poverty, caregivers neglect, esteem issues, and drug and substance misuse are some of the leading causes of crimes. On the other hand, some people are at a risk of committing crime depending on their upbringing. Looking at Cleveland, the city has experience particular social problems relating to racial segregation and drug trafficking. Even though black, whites, and other minority immigrants are subjected to the same rule of law, some of them seem to bend the rules. Racal segregation plays a major role in the participation of crime. Over the past centuries, Cleveland has been seen to have racial discrimination in schools, and only whites were enrolled as well as white teachers. As a result, unrest was common among the blacks causing a disconnection between the two racial groups. Most of the elite jobs during the industrialization period were left to the blacks, whereas, the white collar jobs were dominated by the whites. Such happening prompted the minority groups to look for a means of survival, and some of the convenient ways included engaging in crimes such as drug trafficking and robbery. Most students now participate in the drug business, and some have even become persistent users. All these stem from the type of environment the children are brought up in up the accompanying hardships. Of course, not everyone would want to commit a crime, but the circumstances and hardships of life may sometimes push one to do the unthinkable. 

Statistics of Cleveland indicate that the city is one of the common drug routes in the state. Meanwhile, there is a black market trade of weapons, and they easily fall into the hand of citizens who misuse them. Even though reports show that there is a decrease in murder cases in the region, weapons used are usually illegal guns. Nature and nurture greatly contribute to the participation of crime. Children brought up in crime prone areas are likely to master the footsteps of their caregivers. Since most learn through social learning and observational learning, they are likely to engage in criminal activities as well. It can be referred to as the cycle of crime. In some cases, crime is consistent because it is part of the family legacy or part of n organized crime.

Law enforcers in the United States sometimes have a hard time tracking down criminals, especially if they are in gangs. In Cleveland, there are rules that or rather commandments that govern the gangs. For instance, no one should be seen talking to a police officer in any circumstance. Such rules usually thwart police investigations and undermine the tracking of crime gangs thereby enabling the continuation of crime within the State and the entire country.

Let us look at the perspectives of two different groups of people concerning crime, the individualists, and the collectivists. First, individualists concentrate more on personal weaknesses or lack of “morals” as the root motivation for crimes. In the end, when a person decides to commit a crime, they have to be ready to face the consequences. According to the majority of people from this school of thought, the society should set clear rule and enforce stringent laws on criminals to assist in the reduction of such tendencies. They believe that having very strict regulations and difficult punishments would be a source of negative stimulus hindering people from participating in crimes. On the other hand, collectivists believe that people engage in crime because of different social conditions. Their tactical approach in tackling crime is by addressing the conditions that encourage crime to take place. Based on this approach, the federal government and the state governments should address employment and housing issues. In most cases, societies that are living in poor conditions tend to be attracted to crimes. That is why criminal activities are very common in the slum areas. If only people are satisfied and happy with their living conditions, the levels of crime will reduce because they will have better things to occupy their minds. 

Being one of the most populated countries in the world, the United Sates is no exception to crimes. In this case, Cleveland has been reported to record increasing crimes daily. Violent crimes have been on the rise between 1985 and 1990. The peculiar factor that has gotten people unsettled over many years is the trend of crimes. Their graph has been gradually increasing, and people worry about what the future will represent with such a trend. Some of the trending fears enveloping the Cleveland residents and America as a whole include anxieties about drugs, hedonism, unplanned childrearing, expanding ghetto, and the depreciating academic standards. The combination of these uncertainties proves to many people that there is a rot in the American society, and the level of security has been highly compromised. 

Compared to other powerful countries such as the United Kingdom, Japan, and Canada, statistics show that America is the leading in crimes. Cleveland makes the top list of the riskiest cities in the United States. There is a steady increase in the crimes with every year that comes. The majority of the citizens and residents have placed blame on the slow economic growth. However, their claims cannot be justified because other states also experienced slowed economic growth but their crime rates are low. A critical study of the city indicates that many crimes are caused by social factors. Some of the rampant crimes in Cleveland include use and trafficking of drugs, murder, illegal weapon possession, and violent activities like robbery and sexual assault. 

Many Americans have embraced the act of violence as part of their daily routine. It is inbuilt in the nations’ mythology and their history. As it is known, there was more bloodshed in America during their independence and rise in development. A majority of the slaves were mistreated, and others were killed. The grim heritage has been in existence for as long as history lives. 

The best indicator of crime rates in the country is murder rates. There have been massive numbers of people that have been killed under unknown circumstances, and their cases remain unsolved. Victimization surveys reveal that violent crimes like rape and robbery are among leading crimes in America. According to the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI), property crimes are reported after every two seconds whereas violent crimes after every twenty-two seconds. In Cleveland, property crimes are rampant as compared to violent crimes. The most common crimes in this city include theft, burglary, vehicle theft, aggravated assault, and robbery. 

In conclusion, the rising crimes in Cleveland have altered the way people live, not only in this specific city but also in the entire United States. Since the recent statistics indicate murder and robbery as the most common crimes, the people are left to live in fear and have mistrust on the justice systems. Terrorism is one of the new emerging crimes in the United States as well as the entire worlds. Extremists groups have taken over government intelligence and with the new technologies in weapons, they can plan attack anytime. Such instances have created mistrust among different nations because most attacks defy the treaties signed. Meanwhile, the United States Federal government has come up with different policies like the Gun Control Laws to curb the increasing crime rates. Statistics indicate that the number of guns owned in the United States exceeds the number of adults (Cook and Ludwig, 1996). However, there is no sufficient information that the gun control bill has reduced the level of crime in the United States (Ludwig, 1988). Lastly, the federal government has increased the use of capital punishments to show seriousness involved in curbing crimes. Many inmates have been put on death rows over the past years. 


Becker, G. S. (1968). Crime and punishment: An economic approach. In The Economic Dimensions of Crime (pp. 13-68) Palgrave Macmillan UK

Cleveland Security Bloggers,. (2015). Cleveland Crime Rates are going up . Retrieved on 28th July 2016 from http://www.clevelandsecuritybloggers.com/cleveland-crime-rates-are-going-up/

Exner R. (2015). Crime rates for U.S cities: down in Cleveland. Cleveland North East, Ohio . Retrieved on 28th July 2016 from http://www.cleveland.com/datacentral/index.ssf/2015/05/crime_rates_for_large_us_citie.html

Cook, P. J., & Ludwig, J. (1996). Guns in America: results of a comprehensive national survey on firearms ownership and use . Washington, DC: Police Foundation.

Jencks, C. (1991). Is Violent Crime Increasing? The American Prospect Retrieved on 28th July 2016 from http://prospect.org/article/violent-crime-increasing

Levitt, S. D. (1999). The limited role of changing age structure in explaining aggregate crime rates: Criminology , 37 (3), 581-598.

Ludwig, J. (1998). Concealed-gun-carrying laws and violent crime: evidence from state panel data. International Review of Law and Economics , 18 (3), 239-254.

Piiparinen, R., & Russell, J,. (2013). From Balkanized Cleveland to Global Cleveland: A theory of change for legacy cities.

Sampson, R. J., & Lauritsen, J. L,. (1997) Racial and ethnic disparities in crime and criminal justice in the United States: Crime and Justice , 311-374.

Warf, B., & Holly, B,. (1997). The rise and fall and rise of Cleveland: The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science , 208-221.

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