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September 14, 2020

Bureau of Justice Statistics reports encouraging crime declines in release of results of 2019 National Crime Victimization Survey

As reported in this press release and as fully detailed in this 53-page report, the Bureau of Justice Statistics has just published the results from its annual survey of households about their experiences with crime. Notably, most other reports about crime rates are based on crimes reported to police, but this annual survey in different: "TheNCVS is the nation's largest crime survey and collects data on nonfatal crimes both reported and not reported to police." Here are some of the statistical highlights via the press release:

After rising from 1.1 million in 2015 to 1.4 million in 2018, the number of persons who were victims of violent crime excluding simple assault dropped to 1.2 million in 2019, the Bureau of Justice Statistics announced today. Statistics on crimes that have occurred in 2020, during the coronavirus pandemic, are being collected now and will be reported next year....

The rate of violent crime excluding simple assault declined 15% from 2018 to 2019, from 8.6 to 7.3 victimizations per 1,000 persons age 12 or older.  Among females, the rate of violent victimization excluding simple assault fell 27% from 2018 to 2019, from 9.6 to 7.0 victimizations per 1,000 females age 12 or older.  Violent crimes other than simple assault are those that are generally prosecuted as a felony.

From 2018 to 2019, the portion of U.S. residents age 12 or older who were victims of one or more violent crimes excluding simple assault fell from 0.50% to 0.44%, a 12% decrease.  There were 880,000 fewer victims of serious violent or property crimes (generally felonies) in 2019 than in 2018, a 19% drop. From 2018 to 2019, 29% fewer black persons and 22% fewer white persons were victims of serious crimes.  Victims of serious crimes are those who experienced a serious violent crime or whose household experienced a completed burglary or completed motor-vehicle theft.

This year, BJS provides new classifications of urban, suburban and rural areas, with the goal of presenting a more accurate picture of where criminal victimizations occur. Based on the NCVS’s new classifications, the rate of violent victimization in urban areas declined from 26.5 victimizations per 1,000 persons age 12 or older in 2018 to 21.1 per 1,000 in 2019, a 20% decrease from 2018 to 2019.

Nationally, rape or sexual assault victimizations declined from 2.7 per 1,000 persons age 12 or older in 2018 to 1.7 per 1,000 in 2019. Across all crime types, victimizations reflect the total number of times people or households were victimized by crime. Based on the 2019 survey, less than half (41%) of violent victimizations were reported to police. The percentage of violent victimizations reported to police was lower for white victims (37%) than for black (49%) or Hispanic victims (49%).

In 2019, there were 5.4 million total violent incidents involving victims age 12 or older. The portion of violent incidents involving black offenders (25%) was 2.3 times the portion involving black victims (11%), while the portion involving white offenders (50%) was 0.8 times the portion involving white victims (62%) and the portion involving Asian offenders (1.0%) was 0.4 times the portion involving Asian victims (2.3%).

The 2019 survey found that an estimated 12.8 million U.S. households experienced one or more property victimizations, which include burglaries, residential trespassing, motor-vehicle thefts and other thefts. The rate of property crime declined 6% from 2018 (108.2 victimizations per 1,000 households) to 2019 (101.4 per 1,000).

This decline in property crime was partly due to a 22% decrease in burglary from 2018 to 2019 (from 15.0 to 11.7 burglary victimizations per 1,000 households). Moreover, the rate of burglary victimization declined to the lowest level since the NCVS was redesigned in 1993.

In addition to being eager to celebrate this report of important crime declines in 2019, I am tempted to highlight that the FIRST STEP Act became law at the very tail end of 2018 and was in effect for all of 2019.  I do not want to seriously claim, based only on this data, that there is likely a cause-and-effect relationship between modest federal sentencing and prison reforms in December 2018 and national crime declines in 2019.  But I still think it quite notable given that some prominent critics of criminal justice reform loudly called part of the Act a "foolish ... jailbreak that would endanger communities" or regularly asserted that this "leniency legislation inevitably would lead to more crime."  As long-time students of crime and punishment know well, it is almost impossible to make simple and accurate predictions about what kinds of sentencing legislation will or will not end up having an impact (positive or negative) on crime.

September 14, 2020 at 10:58 AM | Permalink

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