With murder rates spiking and fear of crime growing across the country, there is some good news and bad news about the role of teenage offenders. According to a Department of Justice report recently released, violent crime among youth has declined from previous levels. Juvenile arrests for violence peaked in recent years around 1996, then declines with a slight bump in about 2006 and declining thereafter.
Important caveats are stated in the body of the report for those making a close analysis of the information: “The number of arrests is not the same as the number of people arrested because an unknown number of individuals are arrested more than once during the year. Similarly, arrest statistics do not represent the number of crimes that arrested individuals commit because a series of crimes that one person commits may result in a single arrest, and a single crime may result in the arrest of more than one person. One should not use arrest statistics to indicate the relative proportions of crime that youth and adults commit. The FBI requires law enforcement agencies to report the most serious offense charged in an arrest. The arrest of a youth charged with robbery ad aggravated assault would be reported to the FBI as an arrest for robbery.”
Keeping in mind that crime rates are influenced by the proactivity of law enforcement, the willingness of the public to report a crime, and the accuracy of statistics provided to the Department of Justice by local law enforcement, the trends appear to be in the right direction. Not part of the calculus of this particular data is the percentage of persons aged 0-17 in the population relative to the percentage of persons 18 and older. The increase in the adult population due to immigration and the decrease in birth rates in recent decades would be necessary to calculate the true impact of juvenile crime, but fewer kids relative to the population could be a factor in the decline. We also note that these figures are from the year of the height of isolation from the pandemic. Nevertheless, raw numbers show a decline.
According to the report, of the 424, 300 arrests involving persons under 18 in 2020. Eight percent of those arrests were for a violent crime, representing 5% for aggravated assault, 3% for robbery, and 1% for murder. It may be no surprise that 80% of juvenile arrests are of males. For the most violent of offenses, males make up 92% of juvenile murder arrestees and 88% of juvenile arrests for robbery. Those somber figures are the bad news, even though those numbers are in decline.
Relative to all arrests for violent crime, suspects under 18 years old accounted for 7% of all arrests. This percentage is half of that reported in 2010. The rate of decline for juvenile involvement in violent crime is much higher than any decline reported in the adult category.
The age group of 18—24 represents a much higher threat to public safety than those under 18. This older group of young people represents 19% of all arrests and 21% of arrests for violent crimes. They are responsible for four times the number of murders than their younger cohorts.
In more bad news, young people are also crime victims. Serious crime victimization of juveniles showed a spike in 2019, a dramatic decrease in 2020, with the exception of murder. Youth homicide claimed the lives of 1,780 children and teens in 2020, a rise of 30% over 2019. Over half of these victims were aged 15-17. Over a fourth were children under age six. Two-thirds of the victims were killed by gunfire. Males were not only more frequently the perpetrators of murder, but also 74% of victims. Black victims represent 55% of homicide victims.
There isn’t much good news about the crime rate in recent months, and even these statistics give a limited prospect of optimism. We can only hope that families, law enforcement, schools, and positive organizations for young people can unite to keep young people from becoming offenders and victims.