Paul Collins finds a curious mobility takeaway in the 1934 memoir Savage of Scotland Yard:
The overwhelming sense of the book, though, is that Scotland Yard once spent a great deal of its time dealing with habitual neighborhood criminals who were, in their own way, an ancient and unsurprising part of the social fabric of city life. The police knew them well, knew which pubs and boarding houses they frequented, and so the real long-haul career criminals learned how not to push their luck too hard.
At the end of his book, Savage blurts out a remarkable comment on the spiking crime rates of the 20th century. The Scotland Yard detective — who’d began back before the force even owned a single car — knew exactly whodunnit: Henry Ford.
“My experience convinces me that the criminals of twenty and thirty years ago were cleverer, more daring and enterprising than the criminals of today…. The increase in serious crime is due not to education, but to the incoming of the motor-age. The introduction of the motor-car has made life easy and less risky for criminals. They travel faster and farther afield, and this increased mobility makes the chance of capture infinitely less than it used to be. The activities of criminals knows no bounds… In the old days a smash and grad was done by a pedestrian with a brick, and he had to rely on his legs to get him quickly out of danger of capture. The motor-car gave him considerably increased facilities both for committing a crime and escaping detection.”
Hmm. Has anyone, I wonder, ever tried plotting crime rates in the early 20th century against car registrations among males 16 – 35?
Sounds like a job for Historical Freakonomics. Another way to look at this, of course, is that police, at least in New York City, stopped living in the neighborhoods they patrolled, and in many cases they were the ones who had shifted to car-based patrols, thus distancing themselves from the community.