There are some citizens who, in this season of Thanksgiving, believe America is going to hell in a hand basket. I am not one of them.
From my perch in the world of crime and justice, I find more than 686,000 reasons to be thankful. That's the number of full-time law enforcement officers in the United States: 686,665 sworn officers, to quote the latest statistics, who go out every day to help keep us safe. I know it is popular among some groups to distrust police. It is clear that not everyone who wears a badge is perfect. But when things go wrong, this is the force that doesn't hesitate to go into a dangerous situation determined to make sure the problem doesn't spread into the public at large. By the way, on average, about 85 working officers are killed every year, and that doesn't include those who die from on-the-job accidents.
The daily life-and-death work these folks do has helped reduce America's crime rate. It is true that some U.S. cities remain more dangerous than others. St. Louis; Detroit; Baltimore; Memphis, Tennessee; and Kansas City, Missouri, have high rates of violent crime. So do Albuquerque, New Mexico; Cleveland; Indianapolis; Nashville, Tennessee; and the California cities of Stockton, Oakland and San Bernardino. But FBI statistics show that in 2018, the overall U.S. violent crime rate fell nearly 4% compared with the year before. The property crime rate went down just shy of 7% during that time. These percentages may seem small, but any improvement is good in my book.
Forbes.com has crunched the crime figures since President Donald Trump took office in 2016 and reported, "Had the violent crime rate in 2018 remained at 2016 levels, almost 58,000 additional murders, rapes, robberies and aggravated assaults would have occurred."
I am thankful that thousands of Americans were spared.
Part of the reason the crime rate is in decline is the aging of our population. Criminologists have long reported that younger people commit most of the crime, so as the under-30 crowd gradually ages out of their prime crime years, the rate goes down. But a multitude of advances in technology have also helped keep criminals in check, and that is something for which we can all be thankful.
Tech advances have given law enforcement the ability to more quickly scan crime databases and social media feeds to ferret out suspects' motives and match their identity to crime scene photos. Departments now have an improved ability to read license plates from afar, identify specific gang tattoos and receive reports on real-time gunshots for faster response to crime scenes. And the FBI and hundreds of state and local public safety agencies are using high-powered drones to help solve crimes. Critics worry about privacy issues as these technologies are increasingly adopted. I worry more about what the criminal element does.
And did you know a specially designed LED flashlight has been developed to stop fleeing criminals in their tracks? It emits nausea-inducing, multicolored flashing lights that cause a suspect to immediately vomit or become disoriented by vertigo for easier arrest. And then there's something the Brits developed called SmartWater, a solution containing a unique chemical code that can be sprayed on your valuables. In case of theft, the marked items can be identified by their invisible "barcode" and returned to the rightful owner. All sorts of other crime-deterrent technologies are being developed to help keep you and your family safe.
Here's another encouraging statistic to be thankful for: We learned this year that the seemingly out-of-control U.S. drug death toll has begun to slow down. For the first time in nearly two decades, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported the number of Americans dying of a prescription drug overdose declined by 5%. For families overwhelmed by a loved one's addiction to painkillers, this is a small but optimistic development. Solving the drug-dependency problem in this country isn't going to come overnight, but that doesn't mean baby steps toward resolution shouldn't be applauded. Fewer people incapacitated by narcotic drugs is a good thing.
That said, the CDC also reports that overdose deaths from street drugs like fentanyl, synthetic opioids, methamphetamine and cocaine are still on the rise. It is clear more needs to be done to stop criminal drug dealers and help cure the addicted. Fewer drug addicts equals fewer crimes committed as a means to pay for their next fix.
Newspapers are full of articles about what is wrong with our nation's politics, local governments, education facilities, social welfare programs and, yes, even media. The name of the game in news reporting is to reveal the negative. During this Thanksgiving holiday season, I prefer to dwell on the positive things that have been achieved.
Stay safe everyone, and remain hopeful.
Diane Dimond is a syndicated columnist and television reporter of high-profile court cases.