What You Didn’t Know About Crime in America

What You Didn’t Know About Crime in America

By Chief Joel F. Shults, Ed.D

Beyond the headlines, every October when the FBI releases its annual report on crime in America is real information that should be used in developing criminal justice policy. While there is a sense that crime is on the rise, resulting in greater fear among the public, we need to see where and why this perception exists.

Has violent crime risen recently? Aggregate violent crime per 100,000 population calculated by the Uniform Crime Report (UCR) fluctuates from year to year for a variety of reasons, some of which are known, some unknown, and many theorized. Violent crime under the At the beginning of the Obama presidency the violent crime rate per 100,000 was about 432. By 2014 that rate had dropped to 361 but began to rise again to 397 at the beginning of the Trump administration. It dipped again to 380 by 2019, then spiked during covid to 398, and stands at 380 again by 2022.

Tying crime rates to the President is an inaccurate correlation, but national economic and social trends like the crime spikes after Ferguson and George Floyd appear to be connected. Recent trends in the current year indicate significant drops in homicides in 58 of 99 selected cities, a rise in murders in 33 of those cities surveyed, with an average reduction overall of well over 10%. Assuming the truth behind the hypothesis that a reduction in police trust is correlated to increased crime, the restoration of funding and the eye-opening reality of the need for proactive policing after experiencing the results on suppressing law enforcement could predict fewer murders.

Debates about so-called assault rifles (also known as just “rifles”) seem to continually ignore the fact that rifles as the weapon of choice for murders don’t even make the top five list. Rifles were used in 1,982 known murders, behind blunt objects at 1,992, hands and fists at 3, 671 and knives at 6, 685.

Racism in the justice system is blamed for the disproportionate number of Black offenders arrested and incarcerated. The problematic numbers, however, show that murders of black victims constitute more than half of all murder victims despite representing less than 20% of the population. With 41,606 black murder victims (compared to 32, 532 white victims), black perpetrators killed 45,182 victims, with 31, 295 persons killed by white suspects.

One significance of this startling disparity is that bias within the system that happens after a crime is committed cannot be blamed for the dramatic over-involvement in violent crime. Other inequality factors must be considered as criminogenic, whether employment, housing, or health services, affecting both victims and perpetrators.

The effectiveness of police investigations might be called into question after examining the clearance rate for violent crimes that stands at about 33%, and a property crime clearance rate of just over 10%. However, more than half of cases the are not cleared by police is due lack of cooperation by the victim. The value of all property reported stolen in 2022 was $463,576,405,747 with $38,983,319,655 recovered, a rate of less than 10%.

Property crime, such as burglary, has consistently trended lower since 2008, although showing a slight uptick in 2022 after a historic low in 2021. The same is true for robbery and larceny. Motor vehicle theft defies the pattern of peaking in 2017 after rising since 2011, falling again until 2021 before rising almost double in 2022. The significance of these property crime trends is that they do not necessarily coincide with trends in violent crime.

Other criminal activities can trend separately and are not as widely reported as violent crime statistics. Credit card and ATM fraud, for example, increased from 88,212 reported incidents in 2012 to 190,996 in 2022, more than doubling. Kidnapping increased from 14,322 in 2012 to 39,195 in 2022, again more than doubling. These are the kinds of incidents that reflect quality of life and fear of crime but are ignored by media reports with the annual UCR release.

Public policy and public perception are too important to be guided by media reports that fail to fully examine the overall crime picture and politicians who leverage crime numbers for votes.