America is peaceful. No, really.
Though Hollywood and the news media often portray the nation as a chaotic crucible of gangsters and crime, the U.S. is more "peaceful" now than in the past two decades. So says the United States Peace Index, released Tuesday by the Institute for Economics & Peace, a nonprofit research group that based its conclusions on federal statistics on homicides, crimes, police employees, small arms and the jail populations of all 50 states.
"The last twenty years have seen a substantial and sustained reduction in direct violence in the U.S. The homicide rate has halved since 1991, with a concurrent reduction in the violent crime rate from 748 to 399 violent crimes per 100,000 over this period," the study said.
Some states are more peaceful than others. Maine sits at the top of the list, Louisiana at the very bottom. New Jersey, at No. 28, is more peaceful than New York at 31, while Virginia (25) outranks Maryland (38), and Florida languishes in 47th place.
Peace is cheaper, the researchers insist. "Containing violence" costs the U.S. $460 billion a year for law enforcement and incarceration — or $3,217 for each U.S. taxpayer, the study said.
"What this research really says is that America is a much safer place than the average citizen might think. People are more fearful than they need to be," Steve Killelea, chairman of the research organization, told The Washington Times.
He said the expansive study is not a "moral judgment," but practical research.
"The media has a role in creating the impression of violent America. Let's face it. The only big news is bad news, and violence sells," Mr. Killelea said. "It's complex. Politicians who adopt a tough law-and-order policy, for example, find their programs resonate with people who want to feel safe."
Other states that share the peaceful limelight are Vermont, in second place, followed by New Hampshire, Minnesota, Utah, North Dakota, Washington, Hawaii, Rhode Island and Iowa.
The least peaceful states after Louisiana are Tennessee, Nevada, Florida, Arizona, Missouri, Texas, Arkansas, South Carolina, Mississippi and Alabama.
The ranking goes into excruciating detail: Cambridge-Newton-Framingham in Massachusetts is the most peaceful metropolitan area in America. Detroit-Livonia-Dearborn is the least peaceful.
The researchers have distanced themselves from touchy-feely notions about peace, and have stuck by the statistics and the numbers.
"It's really important to count, or we have no way of knowing if our policies help or hinder fostering peaceful communities. These studies are a method to get peace away from mere hippie kind of talk and into the hands of the mainstream," Mr. Killelea said.
Local factors weigh heavily. For example, New York and New Jersey — the "Sopranos" territory — have large police forces.
"The Northeast is once again America's most peaceful region. The Northeast has the highest police-employees rate, however, if New York and New Jersey were factored out, then the [police-employee] rate would be below the national average," the study says.
Also, the South and its guns shall rise again.
"The South is the least peaceful region in the U.S., with the highest overall score and the highest homicide, violent crime, and incarceration rates, as well as the highest prevalence of gun ownership, and the second highest police-employees rate," the findings conclude.
"To the cynics, I'd say that some societies are more peaceful than others, and it is worth understanding the reasons why," Mr. Killelea said. "Whatever the causes, the study of peace is key. And we were conservative in our conclusions. There's still a lot of stuff we could have counted, but didn't."
The 53-page study can be seen online at www.economicsandpeace.org.
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