[Washington Babylon ]Congress: The most dangerous neighborhood in America | Harper's Magazine

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A new FBI report shows a sharp rise in crime in the United States, with robberies up more than 7 percent and homicides up 2 percent. According to a story about the report in today’s Washington Post, violent crime overall rose 1.9 percent between 2005 and 2006.

Reading that, I remembered a link someone sent me with amusing statistics on corruption in Congress, and I wondered how the crime rate in Congress would compare to the crime rate in such famously troubled neighborhoods as Anacostia in Washington, D.C., and the South Bronx in New York City.

Anacostia (pop 65,317) sits in Washington’s 7th District and was the site of “crime emergency” in 2006. The number of reported crimes there (including murder, rape, robbery, burglary, grand larceny, and felony assault) committed in District 7 last year came to 3,941. If a different person were responsible for every one of those crimes, District 7 would have a criminal population of about 6 percent, but some individuals likely committed multiple crimes. So it seems safe to reduce that figure by at least half—which means a criminal population of 3 percent (still almost certainly inflated).

The United States Congress makes the South Bronx look like Brigadoon.

The South Bronx (population: 522,412) no longer has the same crime problems it had during the 1980s, but it is still a tough part of town. There were 9,735 crimes committed there last year, which means that as many as 1.8 percent of the population could be criminals. Cutting that rate in half, as we did with Anacostia, brings that figure down below the 1 percent mark.

And then there’s the United States Congress, which makes the South Bronx look like Brigadoon. We can estimate the incidence of lawlessness on Capitol Hill by consulting a report on the most corrupt members of Congress issued September 18 by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW). The report identifies 24 current members of Congress who have been implicated in egregious wrongdoing, including eleven who are formally under investigation. Six current elected officials listed in CREW’s 2005 and 2006 reports on corrupt members of Congress were not included this year (because no new information was available on their cases). Ten congressional miscreants identified in those past reports retired or were defeated for reelection last fall, so they weren’t included in the new report either. That brings the total number of positively identified Congressional rogues up to 42 (37 Republicans, 5 Democrats).

The population of Congress is 535, so the percentage of criminal and general wrongdoers comes to nearly 8 percent. It falls to 7 percent if you increase the “population” to 596, which would include the 61 new senators and House members elected last fall. In my view that’s being overly generous because the newcomers have not yet had much time to engage in criminal conduct, and as the statistics show, it’s likely they will.

I know this is back-of-the-envelope stuff, and sure, to some extent we’re comparing apples and oranges—members of Congress did not commit any rapes or murders, at least not any that we know about. But the fact remains—Congress is one of the most criminal places in America. Maybe that’s why everyone has to go through metal detectors before they’re allowed to enter the building.

Rachel Heinrichs contributed to this post.

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