Is it time to stop taking risks and start being safe?

By on December 10, 2010

by Kaneland Krier Editorial Board
Antinette “Toni” Keller told her friends that she was going on a walk to a DeKalb park to get some ideas for an art project. That’s the last time she was seen alive–going into the woods with her art portfolio and a camera. She was reported missing Oct. 14, and burnt remains of her body were found a few days later in a densely wooded area of the park.

Sadly, this is the way many of these stories begin: a respectable community, an unsuspecting victim and a shocking crime. And it’s these sad stories that so often convince people to begin carrying pepper spray, not going out at night or even keeping a gun in their homes. But where does the line stand between being too careless and way over-cautious? When is it time to stop taking risks and start being safe?

Trends have shown that since 1950, crime rates have gone down because poverty has decreased. On the other hand, fear has gone up. Why?

One major theory is the media effect. According to research done by Kenneth Dowler and the Department of Criminal Justice at California State University at Bakersfield, media affects people’s views on crime. Dowler argues that viewers internalize the violent and random images they see on the news and in turn develop a “mean world view” or a scary image of reality. This view is characterized by mistrust and cynicism and forces people into being over-cautious themselves. Although fear of victimization will depend on who is viewing the crime stories, research indicates that media sources will be more meaningful when direct crime experience is lacking. In other words people who live in these respectable neighborhoods and have never experienced crime first-hand will be the first ones in line to buy pepper spray.

Although this may very well be true, the opposition has to be taken into consideration. The crime stories that make the news in the first place are always the most shocking and violent that happen, and are also the rarest. Most crimes that are covered are not local, but actually happening within your state (or sometimes even country). Accordingly, a report done by the U.S. Department of Justice showed that rates of violent crimes decreased between the years of 2000 and 2009 by 39 percent and that there has been a declining trend of overall crime from 1974 through 2009.

Research may support both sides, but the fact of the matter is no one side is completely right.

On one end of the spectrum, those who live in the “it’s totally going to happen to me” mindset will be too busy being cautious and paranoid to ever relax and enjoy a moment. Living in a suburban neighborhood is almost always protection enough from violent crimes. But on the other hand, close relatives and friends are often the ones doing the crimes in the first place. In that case, there really isn’t a way to see it coming ahead of time.

And for the parents who never let their children out of their sight in fear of the worst, how will they ever learn? From the time we leave the womb and enter the world, we live with the basic human instinct of safety. Learning to take risks and be a little more relaxed is a good thing.

Nevertheless, people who do try to be safe have a good point: those who are careless are always at a greater risk of being the victim. It’s asking for trouble to do things like walk alone at night or never lock your car. The trick is finding the right balance. Taking basic precautions might be a smart move, no matter where you live or who you are.