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September 15, 2011

Remarkable drop in US violent crimes rates in 2010 according to latest BJS data

More amazingly great news on crime rates today as reported in this press release from the folks at the Bureau of Justice Statistics:

During 2010, U.S. residents age 12 or older experienced a double-digit drop (down 13 percent) in the rate of violent victimization, the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) announced today.  Violent crime includes rape or sexual assault, robbery, aggravated assault and simple assault. The rate of property victimization, which includes burglary, motor vehicle theft and household theft, also declined by six percent during the year.

The drop in violent victimization, from about 17 victimizations per 1,000 residents in 2009 to 15 per 1,000 in 2010, was three times the average annual rate of decline experienced over the last nine years.  The property victimization rate dropped from 127 victimizations per 1,000 households in 2009 to 120 per 1,000 in 2010, which was about two times the average annual rate of decline from 2001 to 2009.  During the 10-year period from 2001 to 2010, the overall violent victimization rate decreased by 40 percent and the property victimization rate fell by 28 percent.

These declines in violent and property victimizations continued a larger trend of decreasing criminal victimization in the United States. In 2010, violent and property victimization rates fell to their lowest levels since the early 1990s.  From 1993 to 2010, the violent crime victimization rate decreased 70 percent, dropping steadily from about 50 victimizations per 1,000 persons age 12 or older in 1993 to about 15 per 1,000 in 2010. The property crime victimization rate fell 62 percent, from about 319 victimizations per 1,000 households in 1993 to 120 per 1,000 in 2010.

Overall, U.S. residents age 12 or older experienced an estimated 18.7 million violent and property crime victimizations during 2010, down from 20.1 million in 2009. This included 3.8 million violent victimizations, 1.4 million serious violent victimizations (rape or sexual assault, robbery and aggravated assault), 14.8 million property victimizations and 138,000 personal thefts (picked pockets and snatched purses).

The new 20-page publication from BJS with all this and lots more data can be downloaded here.  I remain incredibly happy (and continue to be stunned) by these wonderful crime rate trends despite all the economic doom-and-gloom and broader discussion of the US in decline and the failings of government.  Many like to say that a primary goal, if not the central role, of all government is to ensure the safety of its citizens.  Though nobody can seem to figure out just how or why, it seems that the governments in the US over the last few decades are continuing to get better and better and better at succeeding in making its citizens safer from crime.

Regular readers are used to hearing me respond to this kind of data by asserting that academics and researchers of all stripes should be doing whatever they can to try to figure out what is working with respect to crime these days.  As stressed in this prior post, all the usual tropes about the impact and importance of incarceration rates and broader economic realities seem to fail to explain what is going on these days.  Some new (and perhaps unappealing) theories need to be explored (such as those I set forth in this lengthy post, include my (tongue-in-cheek?) favorites that ample carbs/calories and the availability of "medical" marijuana and prescription opiates are leading relatively crime-prone individual to get so fat or to self-medicate so that they become relatively less crime-prone).

One final (crazy?) point: criminologists and others often used to worry that elevated unemployment levels would result in more crime, but lately I am wondering if reduced crime levels might be resulting in more unemployment.  This crime data surely suggests that there are fewer so-called "career criminals" and that in turn means more people out looking for legitimate work.  Add in the reality that, partially due to less crime, in recent years fewer persons are being sent to prison and thus fewer persons are hired to build and work inside prisons, and we may have a (viable?) criminal justice explanation for the modern stubbornness of the US unemployment rate.

September 15, 2011 at 12:05 PM | Permalink


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The key to the study is in this paragraph:

Almost two-thirds of violent crime victimizations occurring during 2010 were simple assaults (2.4 million), in which the victim did not suffer an injury. The decline in simple assaults (15 percent) between 2009 and 2010 accounted for 83 percent of the total decrease in violent victimizations; there was no measurable change in the number of serious violent victimizations during that time.

Posted by: Anon | Sep 15, 2011 12:23:13 PM

Easily the two most important crime stories of the last 20 years are (1) the massive increase in incarceration and (2) the massive downturn in crime.

The notion that these things are unrelated is beyond wacko.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Sep 15, 2011 1:04:59 PM

Nobody ever said they were unrelated, Bill, that's a red herring. The best studies (the ones James Q Wilson cites, fwiw) say increased incarceration accounted for up to 25% of crime reduction over that period. The question is what caused the other 75%?

I still think a huge factor is the rise of the Internet and video games soaking up the time young males used to spend getting in trouble.

Posted by: Gritsforbreakfast | Sep 15, 2011 3:05:22 PM

Grits --

"Nobody ever said they were unrelated, Bill, that's a red herring."

Actually, any number of commenters on this blog have said they were unrelated. Some (and some articles Doug has posted) have gone so far as to say that we'll have less crime if we have LESS incarceration.

"The best studies (the ones James Q Wilson cites, fwiw) say increased incarceration accounted for up to 25% of crime reduction over that period."

I agree, with one modification. Wilson said that it was 25% "or more," not "up to" 25%.

"The question is what caused the other 75%?"

That's one question, absolutely. Wilson has some answers to that, too, see http://www.crimeandconsequences.com/crimblog/2011/08/james-q-wilson-on-crime-rates.html#more

But before just passing over the 25% or more crime reduction produced by expanded imprisonment, let's think about what that actually means. What it means is that, over the last 20 years, in which we have been building up the much-detested "incarceration nation," we have, by doing so, saved tens of thousands of people from crimes from which they otherwise would have been victimized. Tens of thousands.

The human and financial toll that was NOT taken out on these people must, in a decent society, be taken vastly more seriously by the let-them-out theorists than it has been up to now.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Sep 15, 2011 4:41:13 PM

I am sorry, but "The prevalence of injury in violence increased in 2010 to
previous levels"

"In 2010, 29% of all victims of violence suffered an injury. Of
those victims of violence who were injured, 5% were seriously
injured, and 23% suffered minor injuries (not shown in table).
About 41% of all victims of serious violence suffered an injury
from their victimization in 2010. Of the victims of serious
violence who were injured, 15% were seriously injured, and
23% suffered minor injuries.
From 2001 to 2006, the percentage of victims experiencing
violent victimization who suffered an injury from their
victimization was relatively stable at about 28% (figure 5). In
2008, the percentage of victims of violence who were injured
dropped to 24%. The percentage has since increased to 28% in
2009 and 29% in 2010."

As to the unexplained 75% of the drop in crime, consider, video addiction mentioned by Grits, obesity, marijuana use causing extreme high absenteeism not just from work, but from street crime, and the extraordinary high wealth level of poor people. They don't bother stealing because they have it all already.

If addiction to violent game video is proven to be a factor, it would accompany the evidence that the legalization of child porn is followed by a drop in the number of child sexual abuse abuse victims in the physical world, similar to the drop in physical, real world rape cases following the legalization of pornography, in multi-national studies of naturalistic experiments.

The murder rate has dropped almost entirely from enhancements in trauma care learned in war. The number saved from better trauma care may far exceed the number killed in war. The great debt owed to our warriors making the ultimate sacrifice to save our freedoms must include saving the lives of trauma victims back home.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Sep 16, 2011 4:19:19 AM

Its just a static data..... nobody can claim this data.....

Posted by: AB International | Sep 16, 2011 6:59:04 AM

Bill: The Wilson article is fascinating. Given your repeated complaints about cultural deterioration, what do you make of his conclusion that crime is decreasing "because of a big improvement in the culture?" Granted, the improvements cited by Wilson (with the possible exception of decreased demand for hard drugs) are mostly technological and environmental rather than moral, but with sufficient salutary effect, don't environmental advances become moral?

Posted by: Jonathan Edelstein | Sep 16, 2011 7:07:40 AM

Bill, I guess I was assessing what the research says, not past blog commenters you're taking out of context. The 25% is important, but you ignore that the same studies Wilson cites found that we overincarcerate. One of those studies by Bill Spelman estimated Texas' prison system is roughly twice the size it needs to be to optimally reduce crime. Wrote Spelman, "it's not (too) difficult to use current estimates of the crime-control effectiveness of prison, the costs of crime to victims and nonvictims, and the costs of prison to show that we overshot the mark sometime in the early 1990s. Enormous cutbacks - reductions of 50% or more in the prison population - are not difficult to justify and would probably save the US public billions of dollars each year. Certainly there is little economic justification for continuing to build." These new crime data reinforce Spelman's point, not yours.

Posted by: Gritsforbreakfast | Sep 16, 2011 7:28:26 AM

Jonathan Edelstein --

I wrote a somewhat involved answer to your post this morning, only to see it eaten by the computer. This has inspired me to become more succinct, if not more modest.

Not that I was immodest in the eaten message. When I grow up, I'd like to be a culture critic, but as things stand now, I don't have the education or breadth of experience for it. So I speak with all the circumspection due from someone in so compromised a position.

That said, I agree with Wilson that the culture has in some respects improved in recent years. It's a tricky subject, though, because the culture is fragmented, and an observer's assessment of it is likely to reflect the contours of the fragment he occupies.

The fragment I occupy is benign. I'm an academic in a half-assed sort of way, and I live a decently (or I suppose some would say, indecently) comfortable life.

From my little corner (of course everyone's corner is little), it seems that people are getting more polite. I see more doors being held open, less pushy driving, more "thank you" and "you're welcome," and more decorum in debates, even while the ideological divides they expose are deeper than ever.

There's another -- undoubtedly many other -- cultures out there, most of which I see only dimly. My nephew is a junior at Duke. He's into this post-Playstation world of hipsters, not that I know what a "hipster" is since I certainly don't. It seems to be a class of people in their twenties who know a lot about contemporary "music," movies, American Idol, Lady Gaga and other alien objects.

Anyway, that's one other culture in this country. There could be 200 or 300 additional ones for all I know. But even in that one, things seem pleasant. For example, my nephew's friends, some of whom I met recently, all seem to be polite, thoughtful people with plenty of ideas. So I am not without hope; much to the contrary.

To answer your direct question: Yes, some environmental advances become moral imperatives. As Wilson notes, one of the probable causes of decreased crime is the end of lead-based paint and gasoline. To go back to the old way of producing those things, while it would very likely save short run dollars, would produce what is in my view unacceptable long run costs and misery.

Without trying to start a fight, the same thing is true on the crime front, if we go back to the non-incarceration non-solutions of the Sixties and Seventies. Yes, we'll save short term dollars, but we will unconscionably increase the long term costs and misery -- not to mention the number -- of future crime victims.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Sep 16, 2011 4:30:41 PM

Thanks a lot for sharing this with us, was a great post and very interesting

Posted by: cooltasche | Sep 16, 2011 9:41:51 PM

Perhaps this is the reason ( see you tube video ). Why rob when you get "free money" ?

Posted by: Bernie R | Sep 16, 2011 9:43:47 PM

Yes, because EVERYBODY on welfare is a deadbeat loser...

Posted by: JDU | Sep 21, 2011 4:37:32 PM

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