Here's Hoping Numbers Don't Lie

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It's a good day for law enforcement in America. Two sets of numbers were released Monday, each casting their own optimistic light on the citizenry and what one analyst called "the contagion of lawfulness." The first figures, from the FBI, show that serious crime plunged 10 percent in the first half of 1999, the largest drop in the 1990s. Those rates include rape, murder, aggravated assault and burglaries. And as if that's not enough to put a smile on Bill Bennett's face, new numbers from the private antidrug group Partnership for a Drug Free America show that drug use among teens aged 13 to 18 declined or leveled off from 1997 to 1999. That includes experimental and regular use of marijuana, crack and cocaine.

It's hard to say which agency will be more self-satisfied over these figures. The Partnership for a Drug-Free America is citing its antidrug campaigns (think "Just Say No") as a major factor in the new age of abstention, claiming that drugs are shedding that pesky veneer of "coolness." Attorney General Janet Reno is applauding the Clinton administration for putting more cops on the street and stepping up antigun campaigns. It's probably more complicated than either of these explanations would suggest, and there will be a rash of analyses; some will point to the rising rates of incarcerations, some may even promote a causal link between the numbers (less drug use means less crime). At this point, of course, everyone will claim as much credit as possible, pat themselves on the back and whisper prayers to the gods of healthy economies.