NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

More Crimes Are Being Reported

July 20, 2001

When the FBI released its 2000 crime figures in late May, the news was that there had been virtually no change since 1999. It appeared that years of progress in the fight against crime had come to a standstill.

Then in mid-June the Justice Department released its figures and the story was very different. The figures showed that crime in general had decreased 10 percent from the previous year -- and violent crime was down 15 percent nationwide.

There was a reason for this stark disparity, experts point out. The FBI figures are based on all the crimes reported to law enforcement agencies during a calendar year. Justice's data are based on a massive annual sampling of homes -- which amounted to nearly 160,000 persons in almost 87,000 households in 2000.

The key to the data differences is that more people are reporting crimes now than they did in previous years. Experts know this because Justice, in its surveys, asks those who say they were crime victims whether they reported the crime to authorities -- and if they say they did not, they are asked why they didn't. The most common answer is that it was a "personal matter."

According to the Justice survey, while the actual incidence of crime went down, significantly higher percentages of violent crimes, property crime and thefts were reported to the police in 2000 than in 1999.

  • Overall, 48 percent of violent crimes and 36 percent of property crimes were reported in 2000 -- up from 44 percent and 34 percent, respectively, in 1999.
  • Hispanic women reported 61 percent of violent crimes against them in 2000 -- versus only 47 percent in 1999.
  • Black men reported 46 percent of violent crimes against them in 2000 -- compared to 37 percent the year earlier.
  • The figures for white men increased much less dramatically -- from 40 percent to 42 percent.

Experts see this as a most encouraging trend. By abandoning a psychology of victimization, people are saying they have more confidence in police help. The increased number of reports helps police catch more criminals. Therefore, there is less crime. So, people become even more willing to come forward.

It becomes a virtuous cycle.

Source: Iain Murray (Statistical Assessment Service), "Good News! People Are Reporting Crimes!" Washington Post, July 15, 2001.


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