A strange fact about periods of soaring violence rates is that people roam over much larger areas and for a far longer portion of the day, the two greatest examples being the Jazz Age and the similar apocalyptic times of the mid-'70s through the early '90s. In such a dangerous world, that would seem like a death wish. When violence rates plummet, you find people locking themselves in their homes and generally hunkering down -- what are they so afraid of when the outside world has become so peaceful? The extreme cases here are the Leave It to Beaver 1950s and the current age of helicopter parents.
There are two extremes for how broadly or locally people perceive the threat of evil to be. At one end, all evil is localized within some small well-defined space (this handful of neighborhoods, this handful of states, this race but not that other race, etc.). This view predominates in falling-crime periods, when people have less vivid evidence that the threat is everywhere -- although those guys over there or maybe the nation on average has a crime problem, we're doing just fine in our neck of the woods. At the other end, the threat of evil is completely uniform or constant across space, a mainstream view in rising-crime times, when people observe climbing violence even in the home setting, even from the nice-looking kid down the street, at school, and anywhere else.
When your perception is more in the direction of "it could strike anywhere," then there is nowhere to hide -- so why bother? You might as well be out and about if the bad guys can attack you anywhere. After all, if you avoid urban nightclubs to stay in your own neighborhood, you've still got to contend with child molesters, troublemakers prowling the public parks, peepers and rapists hiding behind your neighbor's bushes, weird cults conducting who knows what kind of rituals and perhaps looking for sacrificial victims, and on and on. Even staying in your own home won't save you -- there are abusive step-parents, funny uncles, friends of the family just waiting for the right moment to abduct or molest you, not to mention robbers, murderers, rapists, and vandals who could break in and terrorize you in your own home at any moment.
In contrast, when your perception is more in the direction of "it only happens over there," then you will avoid those areas and restrict yourself to your own tiny pocket of security. People with this view tend to shrink their territory to the home and the nuclear family, hence the greater demand for entertainment the whole family can enjoy, now that they're all locked up together, in contrast to a variety of entertainment for different age and sex groups when family members each have a life of their own. Physically and sexually abusive step-parents, sketchy friends of the family -- nah, that's not going to happen to us. The nuclear family nestled together in the home is the one place in the world that's free of conflict that could escalate, and all that stuff about step-parents etc. is just overblown stories from children's fairy tales.
In his book Moral Panic: Changing Concepts of the Child Molester in Modern America, Philip Jenkins reviews two separate cycles of obsession with child molesters. (They mostly overlap the two cycles in the homicide rate, although he did not draw that connection.) In times of truly increasing risk of violence, including for children, people saw the threat of child abuse as pervasive -- it could be happening on your own block, from the nice man you rented a room to, in the daycare center with gentle-looking owners, and from people very close to or even from within your nuclear family. This is the perception during the first crime wave of at least 1900 (maybe a bit earlier) through 1933, as well as from 1959 through 1992, although the height of the panics seem to lie just after halfway through.
However, in times of falling risk of violence, people's perception changes to see the threat coming from faraway boogeymen roaming from one state to the next, or trying to lure naive locals out to his den of evil way over there, not from us pure folk around here. This view ruled during the falling-crime eras of 1934 through 1958, when this figure was called the "sex psychopath," and from 1993 through the present, when he has been called the "sexual predator" and "cyberpredator."
As Jenkins notes, in these periods people lose their awareness of the threat that comes even from the local area, even within the home, and even from nuclear family members and their friends. Naturally this complacency sows the seeds for another wave of violence, since the sociopaths and other criminally inclined people from within the community begin to sense that their neighbors don't believe that bad things could happen here and have therefore unplugged their psychological defense systems.
They have outsourced their defense instead to a faith in the police to keep the bad guys out, perhaps going further to erect a gate around their community. People in such times forget that Ed Gein, the basis for Norman Bates, Leatherface, and Buffalo Bill, carried out his crimes in the Nordic paradise of rural Wisconsin in the late 1950s. It does not matter that some areas and some races have lower violence rates than others. When people focus too much on that relative measure of safety, they slip into equating it with an absolute level of safety. Just move away from those particularly crime-prone populations, and problem solved, simple as that.
As recently as 1990, that view would have been thought dangerously naive, judging from the popularity of the TV show Twin Peaks, which explores the theme of evil within a hard-working, all-white small town in the Pacific Northwest. Fargo sought to do this too, but was too self-aware and ironic to fully convince the audience that such gruesomeness could happen there.
Ultimately, then, the mindset of falling-crime times is a dehumanizing one, as more and more people believe themselves and their families (and maybe even their neighbors) to be free of original sin and sociopathy, which only affects the roaming and rootless sexual predator, the Islamofascist terrorist, and the voters of The Other Party. So much for the humility that says we're all flawed and need to guard against ruinous temptations. But that is a topic for another post.