NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Americans Slowly Accept Crime Drop

November 20, 1998

Americans are finally beginning to accept the fact that crime is down in the 1990s, according to a USA Today/CNN/Gallup poll.

  • Sunday, the FBI will release 1997 statistics for its so called Index Crimes -- murder, rape, robbery assault, burglary, larceny, car theft and arson -- and all are expected to be down for the 6th straight year.
  • Still, 52 percent of those questioned still believe crime nationally is higher than last year.
  • But that's down from the 89 percent who thought so in 1992.
  • Experts believe the public's unwillingness to accept the good news more widely can be explained by factors as diverse as anti-crime political campaigns, marketing by security firms and saturation coverage of crime and violence in news and entertainment programming.

But the good news is there nevertheless. Since 1991, murder is down 28 percent, rape 13 percent and robbery 29 percent. In almost every big city, the number of assaults, burglaries and car thefts has plummeted. In 1996, the number of crime victims was the lowest since the federal government began keeping stats 25 years ago. In fact, the most significant drop in serious crime in the '90s is in major cities, not the suburbs or rural areas.

How and why crime has fallen is the subject of debate. Suggestions include a stronger economy, community police patrols, drug crime crackdowns, more people doing longer prison terms and fewer people in the crime-prone mid-teen to mid-20s age group.

Still, there are skeptics who question the lower stats on crimes. They note:

  • The Justice Department gathers data from victims' point of view -- and it estimated in 1996 that only 42 percent of violent crime was reported to police.
  • The FBI uses police stats to calculate its crime index -- and critics note recent stories about Philadelphia, Atlanta and Boca Raton, Fla., allegedly manipulating figures to make their crime rates seem lower than they are.
  • While reports track serious crime, they don't tally highly visible crime like drug crimes, prostitution and vandalism -- which heighten awareness and fear.
  • Finally, there is the presence of high-profile, scary crimes like carjackings and home invasions.

Source: Patrick O'Driscoll, "Crime Rate Recedes, But Wariness Remains," "Drop In Crime Is Starting To Sink In With The Public," USA Today, November 20, 1998.


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