Perhaps one of the most common and safest positions in a political race is promising to be “tough on crime”. Keeping communities safe is a paramount responsibility of government, often reflected as one of the top budget expenses of a local or county government.
5 Facts About Crime in the U.S., a recent report and interactive website from Pew Research, has two main points: serious crime has been decreasing across the U.S. for the last two decades or more, while at the same time, public perception is that crime has been increasing.
Every year, law enforcement agencies across the U.S. submit their crime data to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), who uses this information to produce the Unified Crime Report (UCR). UCR crimes are considered serious and include violent (murder, rape, aggravated assault, and robbery) or property (burglary, larceny / theft, and motor vehicle theft). The UCR are actual counts and not estimates, but only the most serious crime is counted regardless if someone commits one crime in a single event, or multiple crimes are committed by one person in a single event.
It’s inevitable all research and data collection methodologies weaknesses, but UCR statistics have an added weakness: they must be known to law enforcement. Therefore, the actual number of crimes is higher since not all crimes are reported. The most common way police learn of a crime is simply when someone reports it, but also if police witness a crime or learn of new crimes while investigating others. Also, the UCR only considers felonies, and excludes drug offenses such as manufacturing, trafficking, and possession.
Pew facts #1 and #2 refer to UCR data and clearly show a national decline in serious crime. Contrary to what the data indicates, Pew fact #3 uses the UCR and a variety of national surveys such as the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS), the National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS), more than 20-years of Gallup surveys, and recent Pew Research Center surveys to confirm public perception of crime is each year is worse than the previous, regardless if data clearly shows serious crime in the U.S. has been steadily declining over the last two decades.
Fact #4 is perhaps the most obvious of the 5 Facts in how actual crime differs (by rate and type) from one geographical location to the next in the U.S.
In the grand scheme of things, there are many reasons attributing to decreasing crime in the U.S. Since the consequences of being a victim can be incredibly damaging, it’s easy to focus on how crime affects us (actual victims or not) so we concentrate on what we could lose (everything we love and cherish) rather than viewing crime through the broad scope of good data.
When the first four Pew facts on crime in the U.S. are better understood, perhaps Fact #5 becomes the scariest: most crimes are not reported to law enforcement, and of crimes actually reported, most are never solved or even result in an arrest.