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February 24, 2022

Latest Bureau of Justice Statistics' publication on "Criminal Victimization, 2020" suggests violent crime hit historic lows in 2020

One cannot do a google search on any criminal justice issue without seeing lots of pieces about a huge "violent crime spike" in 2020 and beyond.  Indeed, I have blogged more than a few times about various stories and data runs about significant increases in murders and gun assaults in 2020, and many stories talk up the "historic" nature of these crime increases.  We have also seen considerable policy fall out from the perceived significant uptick in violent crime, often in the form of criticisms of past criminal justice reform efforts or of the people seeking to continue to push reforms.

Against this backdrop, I was a bit gob-smacked to see the latest new Bureau of Justice Statistics' publication, titled on "Criminal Victimization, 2020 – Supplemental Statistical Tables "  Here is how it gets started (with some emphasis added):

The prevalence of violent crime in the United States declined from 1.10% (3.1 million) of persons age 12 or older in 2019 to 0.93% (2.6 million) in 2020.  Violent crime includes rape or sexual assault, robbery, aggravated assault, and simple assault.  The percentage of persons who were victims of violent crime excluding simple assault also declined during this period, from 0.44% (1.2 million) to 0.37% (1.0 million).

In other words, according to this BJS data report, which is based on the National Crime Victimization Survey, it seems violent crime actually dropped about 20% in 2020 relative to 2019.  In addition, the chart that starts this report suggest that the 2020 violent crime rate in the United States was the absolute lowest that it have been in the last three decades.  In addition, there is. according to this document, good 2020 news on property crime as well (with emphasis added):

In 2020, 6.19% of households experienced one or more property victimizations (burglary or trespassing, motor vehicle theft, and other types of household theft), which was a statistically significant decline from the 7.37% of households in 2016.  The prevalence of burglary or trespassing declined 20% from 2019 (1.22%) to 2020 (0.97%).  There was a statistically significant decline in other types of household theft from 5.53% in 2019 to 5.17% in 2020.  The prevalence rate of motor vehicle theft did not differ significantly from 2019 (0.33%) to 2020 (0.32%).

Of course, as blogged here, back in September 2021, the FBI reported its different metrics of national crimes which indicated that "In 2020, violent crime was up 5.6 percent from the 2019 number. Property crimes dropped 7.8 percent."  (Helpfully, BJS has also recently published this new document titled "The Nation’s Two Crime Measures, 2011–2020," which helps explain a bit crime rate variation from different national metrics.)

Critically, the BJS report on victimization notes that the overall 2020 violent crime decline "was primarily driven by a decline in the prevalence of assault during this period."  Because so many more violent crimes are assaults and so relatively few are murders, we could experience a significant spike in murders in 2020 and beyond and yet still experience a significant overall decline in total violent crime thanks to declines in assaults.   Indeed, the data we have on 2020 murders being way up seems pretty sound, and murder is rightly the type of violent crime that we give disproportionate attention to in thinking through crime and punishment policies and practices.  Still, it is always nice to find some important silver data linings in dark crime data clould.

February 24, 2022 at 06:32 PM | Permalink


I am glad to see these broad declines. But I think homicide rates are far more important than the rates of crime.

Posted by: William C Jockusch | Feb 25, 2022 4:51:12 PM

That should have said " . . . far more important than the rates of other types of crime."

Posted by: William C Jockusch | Feb 25, 2022 4:51:57 PM

It's always good to see declining crime numbers. It dispels the myth right wingers have pushed over the past 2 years that we will experience another crime wave. Homicides spiked in 2020, still the rate didn't match the murder rate in the early 90s. Hopefully legislators will take notice and push for greater criminal justice reforms as fewer arrests and closing prisons does not lead to a crime spike.

Posted by: Anon | Feb 25, 2022 6:08:28 PM

"Homicides spiked in 2020, still the rate didn't match the murder rate in the early 90s."

Well that's so cool!!! Because the surging murder rate, taking mostly blacks as victims, is not yet as high as the nauseating record numbers we had thirty years ago, we can all be chipper! Nothing to see here, move along.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Feb 25, 2022 6:30:58 PM

I knew Bill would show up. I'm pointing out that homicides spiked, but not near the levels of 30 years ago. I never said it was good. However, it's important that we not see this as a long term trend and a reason to resort to the "hard on crime" policies from 30 years ago.

Posted by: Anon | Feb 25, 2022 8:30:08 PM

Anon --

When hard on crime policies kicked in about 30 years ago, what happened to crime over the next generation? And what was happening with crime in the generation before that, before we implemented hard on crime policies?

I'll give you some data to help you out: https://www.disastercenter.com/crime/uscrime.htm

Posted by: Bill Otis | Feb 25, 2022 9:47:49 PM

Of course, what this doesn’t do is talk about the crime rate in cities where BLM/Defund the Police nuts are in control. Most of the country still has a degree of sanity and has not fallen for the “myth,” to use Anon’s word, that the police are out there slaughtering unarmed black kids.

A nationwide look does not capture the entire picture.

Posted by: TarlsQtr | Feb 26, 2022 11:40:20 AM

Tell it to the people of NYC.


Posted by: TarlsQtr | Feb 26, 2022 11:43:07 AM

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