Thursday, February 12, 2015

Not just Lincoln

My Tuesday post about the long-term crime data in Lincoln seems to have surprised some people, despite the fact that I have posted similar data on several past occasions. This trend is not unique to Lincoln. Here's what violent crime rates per 100,000 population in the United States look like since 1993:

The FBI's Uniform Crime Report website provides a nice downloadable table of the national crime rates from 1994 through 2013. There is no strong consensus on the cause of this unprecedented drop, but theories abound. I've reviewed some of these before. I continue to be intrigued (though not convinced) by the unleaded gasoline theory.

It's hard to overestimate how these decreases in crime have changed urban living for the better. Regardless of what you may think, you haven't been safer in the U.S. since the 1960s. Why the perception hasn't caught up to the reality is also an interesting question, with most observers citing the same factors I have described previously, towards the bottom of this post.

It is worth repeating, perhaps, a fact that I have often mentioned here on my blog in connection with crime statistics: crime is only part of what the police do. In fact, it's a rather small part. Those FBI Part 1 crimes upon which virtually all comparative stats are comprised amounted to only 10,003 of nearly 119,000 police dispatch records last year. It's the same in almost all cities.

Traffic control, public intoxication, illegal panhandling, crash investigation, crowd management, dispute resolution, mental health investigations, special events, loud motorcycling, inappropriate leaf blowing, mean people on Facebook, poorly-placed upholstered furniture, temperamental seven year-olds, foreign doggie poo,  and other low-level public order incidents and non-criminal services are all components of the police workload.


Anonymous said...

How about just murder and business robbery, since the actual and reported rates differ the last for those two violent crimes. Corpses and insurance claims generally require LE involvement. Auto theft too, but that's not a violent crime, unless it's a carjacking (which is a robbery).

For other violent crimes, including street robbery, assault, and rape, the reported and actual rates can be slightly to massively disparate, especially in high-crime areas where violent crime is, sadly, almost accepted as a natural part of the environment.

Anonymous said...

I don't put much faith in theories put forth by academics that do statistical analysis of data from a cozy office on a University campus far from the real world. These so called "experts" often times don't know how to pour urine out of a boot but just because they have a PhD before their name their opinion carries more weight than a street cop that has decades of experience dealing with the events the so called experts use to do their studies. Sorry if my opinion offends any fuzzy headed academic types. . . not.

One thing I wondered about was the conclusion in the one study that part of the decline in crime during the 90's was the end of the "crack cocaine" epidemic. During the Crack Epidemic I am sure you were on the street to observe the effect of that drug. My question: How do you think the problem of Meth compares to the problems created by Crack?

The author of that study also concluded that abortion might have been partly responsible for a reduction in crime because millions of "unwanted" children were not born. I don't know the statistics but isn't the number of children born out of wedlock and being raised by single Mothers higher than ever?

I am definitely not an academic but I believe that a strong traditional family structure would drastically reduce future crime rates.
Gun Nut

Anonymous said...

It's not just the difference between actual crime rates and reported rates, it's that sometimes you can't even trust the way some cities classify crimes. For example, sometimes they even take obvious murders and classify the death as accidental, flat-out lying in order to bump the murder rate and/or the number of murders down for political/PR reasons. Here's a few cases from Chicago:

The Truth About Chicago’s Crime Rates

Things like this are why I'm hesitant to accept reports of falling crime rates at face value.

Tom Casady said...


That's a fascinating article. While I suppose you could tinker slightly with homicide numbers in Chicago, I don't think you could do this on a large enough scale to conceal the trends. When you have over 400 murders annually, failing to include a handful because the cause of death is still "under investigation" isn't going to drastically change the rate--although it might prevent reaching a threshold number (like 500) that would make for a banner headline.

Fixating so intensely on murder numbers is, in my view, not wise. They represent a tiny fraction of violent crime, many are not amenable to prevention by anything the police could do, and the difference between an aggravated assault and a murder can be a matter of chance, rather than severity of the attack. Nonetheless, that's the crime stat that grabs Chicago headlines.