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September 30, 2020

New FBI crime data for 2019 reports more encouraging crime declines

Distracted by other matters, I have only today had the opportunity to focus on the release of the FBI's mostly encouraging crime data for 2019 (big data chart here), which is summarized in this official FBI press release.  Here are excerpts from the release:

For the third consecutive year, the estimated number of violent crimes in the nation decreased when compared with the previous year’s statistics, according to FBI figures released today.  In 2019, violent crime was down 0.5% from the 2018 number.  Property crimes also dropped 4.1%, marking the 17th consecutive year the collective estimates for these offenses declined.

The 2019 statistics show the estimated rate of violent crime was 366.7 offenses per 100,000 inhabitants, and the estimated rate of property crime was 2,109.9 offenses per 100,000 inhabitants.  The violent crime rate fell 1.0% when compared with the 2018 rate; the property crime rate declined 4.5%.

These and additional data are presented in the 2019 edition of the FBI’s annual report Crime in the United States. This publication is a statistical compilation of offense, arrest, and police employee data reported by law enforcement agencies voluntarily participating in the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program.

The UCR Program collects information on crimes reported by law enforcement agencies regarding the violent crimes of murder and nonnegligent manslaughter, rape, robbery, and aggravated assault, as well as the property crimes of burglary, larceny-theft, motor vehicle theft, and arson....  The program also collects arrest data for the offenses listed above and 20 offenses that include all other crimes except traffic violations.

Of the 18,667 federal, state, county, city, university and college, and tribal agencies eligible to participate in the UCR Program, 16,554 agencies submitted data in 2019.  A high-level summary of the statistics submitted, as well as estimates for those agencies that did not report, follows:

  • In 2019, there were an estimated 1,203,808 violent crimes.  When compared with the estimates from 2018, the estimated number of robbery offenses fell 4.7% and the estimated volume of rape (revised definition) offenses decreased 2.7%.  The estimated number of aggravated assault offenses rose 1.3%, and the volume of murder and nonnegligent manslaughter offenses increased 0.3%.
  • Nationwide, there were an estimated 6,925,677 property crimes.  The estimated numbers for all three property crimes showed declines when compared with the previous year’s estimates.  Burglaries dropped 9.5%, larceny-thefts decreased 2.8%, and motor vehicle thefts were down 4.0%.
  • Collectively, victims of property crimes (excluding arson) suffered losses estimated at $15.8 billion in 2019.
  • The FBI estimated law enforcement agencies nationwide made 10.1 million arrests (excluding those for traffic violations) in 2019.
  • The arrest rate for violent crime was 156.3 per 100,000 inhabitants, and the arrest rate for property crime was 343.3 per 100,000 inhabitants....
  • In 2019, 13,247 law enforcement agencies reported their staffing levels to the FBI. These agencies reported that, as of October 31, 2019, they collectively employed 697,195 sworn officers and 306,075 civilians — a rate of 3.5 employees per 1,000 inhabitants.

As I have said in many prior posts, I think we should all always celebrate any and all crime declines in the US; we also should always keep in mind that the rates and numbers of murders and other violent crimes in the US are still higher than what is typically reported in many European nations and so we ought not pat ourselves on the back too much.  And, of course, perhaps due to all the disruptions of 2020, there has been a considerable spike in murders and shootings this year.  And yet the FBI's  Preliminary Uniform Crime Report for January–June 2020 reported  overall declines in the total number of violent crimes and property crimes over the first six months 2020 compared to the first six months of 2019.

Of course, all these data can be spun in many ways.  In recent years, I have been ever eager to suggest that criminal justice reform advocates should be sure to highlight that we have been experiencing continued reductions in all sorts of crimes amidst  sentencing reform being implemented or considered across the nation.  And 2019 was the first year in which the federal FIRST STEP Act was fully in effect and led to a measurable reduction in the federal prison population.  Based on these data alone, I would never assert that the FIRST STEP Act directly helped to reduce crime in 2019; but these data should make it harder for opponents of sentencing reform to make any facile claim that such reforms always results in crime increases.

Interestingly, this DOJ press release about the FBI data includes quotes from the Deputy Attorney General taking some credit for recent crime declines:

“For the last three years the Department of Justice has worked tirelessly with our federal, state, local, and tribal partners to pursue those violent criminals, cartels, and gangs who seek to harm our communities,” said Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey A. Rosen.  “We are steadfast in our commitment to protect the public safety of citizens and communities across the United States through violent crime initiatives like Project Safe Neighborhoods, Project Guardian and, most recently, Operation Legend.  Violent crime rates had been increasing during 2015-2016, so I am proud of the hard work by all prosecutors and law enforcement agents across the nation who have reduced violent crime rates during each of the last three years.  I look forward to continuing our joint efforts to protect the American public from the violence of criminals.”

Meanwhile, in this post over at Crime & Consequences, Kent Scheidegger seems to question whether the crime decline is just a reporting illusion: "This data set does not include crimes not reported to or otherwise known to the police.  As we have discussed on this blog previously, the change of many crimes from felonies to misdemeanors is likely to decrease reporting as the police are less likely to take any worthwhile action."

September 30, 2020 at 02:42 PM | Permalink

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