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June 11, 2012

Still more (and still puzzling) crime rate declines reported by FBI

Chart500This press release from the FBI, which carries the exciting title "FBI Releases Preliminary Annual Crime Statistics for 2011," includes some truly exciting news about the latest crime rate data:

According to the FBI’s Preliminary Annual Uniform Crime Report released today, the nation experienced a 4.0 percent decrease in the number of violent crimes and a 0.8 percent decline in the number of property crimes in 2011 when compared with data from 2010. The report is based on information the FBI gathered from 14,009 law enforcement agencies that submitted six to 12 comparable months of data for both 2010 and 2011.

Some of the crime-rate specifics are detailed in the graphic reprinted here and via these data snippets:

  • In 2011, all four of the violent crime offense categories — murder and nonnegligent manslaughter, forcible rape, robbery, and aggravated assault — declined nationwide when compared with data from 2010. Murder and nonnegligent manslaughter declined 1.9 percent, while forcible rape, robbery, and aggravated assault each declined 4.0 percent.

  • Violent crime declined in all city groups. Cities with populations of 50,000 to 99,999 saw the largest decrease (5.2 percent) in violent crime. Violent crime decreased 6.6 percent in metropolitan counties and 4.7 percent in nonmetropolitan counties....

  • Nationally, the property crime offense categories of larceny-theft and motor vehicle theft decreased in 2011 when compared with 2010 data. Motor vehicle theft dropped 3.3 percent, and larceny-theft decreased 0.9 percent. However, burglary offenses increased 0.3 percent.

  • Three of the nation’s regions had decreases in property crime in 2011 when compared with data from 2010. These offenses declined 1.3 percent in the South, 0.8 percent in the West, and 0.4 percent in the Midwest. However, property crimes increased 0.2 percent in the Northeast....

  • Arson offenses, which are not included in property crime totals, decreased 5.0 percent nationwide. Arsons declined in all four regions in 2011, with the Northeast experiencing the largest decrease (12.3 percent).

In this notable and astute analysis of these new data, Professor James Alan Fox compares the data for all of 2011 with the FBI data from just the first half of 2011 to conclude that, in fact, "several crime categories showed an increase in the second half of the year, including a 1.9% uptick in murder."  Based on this analysis, Fox has this view and advice:

[W]e shouldn't overstate the significance of the trends for the second half of the year; they are as volatile as those for the first half.  The late-year increases may say more about low crime levels near the end of 2010 than anything about 2011.  The fuller picture remains to be seen.

Whatever the final data show, it would seem that the long-term downturn in crime has slowed, and may even have bottomed out.  Crime can’t go down forever, of course.  At this juncture, we need to focus on making sure that any increase that does occur is relatively modest.

With rates relatively low, this is not the time to diminish crime fighting efforts.  If we naively presume that the crime problem has been solved (as opposed to just controlled for the time being), the crime rate could easily rebound.  If we fail to invest sufficiently in crime prevention and crime control — both personnel and programs — we may someday look back at 2011 and consider them the “good old days.”

As regular readers know, I continue to be amazed and puzzled with modern American crime rate trends, especially during a period in which so many Americans (on both the right and the left) seem convinced that the country's political and legal systems are highly dysfunctional.  In this important arena, something keep working; whatever that something is, I hope it does not run out of all its still positive momentum anytime soon.

Some related posts on the great modern crime decline: 

June 11, 2012 at 04:11 PM | Permalink

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Comments

I chalk it up the widespread prevalence of p0rn0graphy and videogames. More and more would be perps are choosing to stay home and masturbate or play video games instead of victimizing the neighbors. I am not being facetious.

Posted by: Jardinero1 | Jun 11, 2012 7:25:30 PM

"As regular readers know, I continue to be amazed and puzzled with modern American crime rate trends..."

The Butterfield Effect strikes again.

Posted by: Anon | Jun 12, 2012 9:33:57 AM

fyi, Doug, blogging your way on this.

Posted by: Gritsforbreakfast | Jun 12, 2012 6:45:56 PM

I think one cause of the drop in the murder rate is modern forensics. Results:

1) The murder clearance rate has started to rebound from its lows.
2) The actual clearance rate is increasing faster than the statistics show, because prior to modern forensics, the proportion of wrongful convictions was higher than it is today. This led to murders being marked as "cleared" which were in fact not cleared.
3) Many cold cases can be and are now being solved.
4) Offenders probably think that modern forensics is even more effective than it actually is, and so are more reluctant to commit murder.

Additional factors:

* Longer sentences mean that more offenders are in prison.
* Bait car programs likely lower auto theft
* Omnipresent security cameras

Posted by: William Jockusch | Jun 12, 2012 9:47:01 PM

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