Crime—an Overview - Crime On The Decline
increase percent crimes rate
In the 1990s much of the public believed the crime rate was increasing. The randomness of crime (drive-by shootings, driveway robberies), along with sensational news reporting, fed this belief. The BJS reported, in Perceptions of Neighborhood Crime, 1995 (Carol J. DeFrances and Steven K. Smith, Washington, D.C., 1998), that about 7.3 percent of U.S. households reported crime as a major problem in their neighborhoods. Not surprisingly, households in central cities were twice as likely (14.5 percent) to feel that crime was a serious problem. In 1995 19.6 percent of black central-city households identified
|Population group||Number of agencies||Population||Violent crime||Murder||Forcible rape||Robbery||Aggravated assault||Property crime||Burglary||Larceny-theft||Motor vehicle theft||Arson|
|500,000 to 999,999||20||13,651,785||−4.1||−3.9||−10.5||+0.8||−6.4||−1.0||−2.2||−1.4||+2.2||−0.8|
|250,000 to 499,999||37||12,889,909||−4.3||+1.5||+0.7||−4.4||−4.9||−2.1||−3.4||−1.2||−3.8||−8.1|
|100,000 to 249,999||157||23,617,458||−2.6||+8.3||−3.4||−1.8||−3.3||−0.3||−0.8||−0.9||+3.4||−12.6|
|50,000 to 99,999||282||19,431,570||+0.6||−0.3||−3.2||+0.9||+0.9||−1.2||−0.5||−1.8||+1.7||−9.1|
|25,000 to 49,999||568||19,782,085||−1.1||+2.3||−1.9||−1.2||−1.0||−0.2||0||−0.7||+3.2||−13.3|
|10,000 to 24,999||1,253||19,918,282||−1.6||+2.1||−7.3||+0.6||−1.6||−0.5||−0.4||−0.6||+0.3||−6.9|
|1Includes crimes reported to sheriff's departments, county police departments, and state police within Metropolitan Statistical Areas.|
|2Includes crimes reported to sheriff's departments, county police departments, and state police outside Metropolitan Statistical Areas.|
|By geographic region|
|Region||Violent crime||Murder||Forcible rape||Robbery||Aggravated assault||Property crime||Burglary||Larceny-theft||Motor vehicle theft||Arson|
|For consecutive years|
|Years||Violent crime||Murder||Forcible rape||Robbery||Aggravated assault||Property crime||Burglary||Larceny-theft||Motor vehicle theft||Arson|
|SOURCE: "Table 1: Crime Index Trends by Population Group and Area," "Table 2: Crime Index Trends by Geographic Region," and "Table 3: Crime Index Trends, Two-Year Trends," in Crime in the United States, Uniform Crime Reports January–June 2003, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Washington, DC, December 15, 2003|
crime as a neighborhood problem, compared to 13 percent of white central-city households.
According to FBI, state, and city reports, however, the crime rate has been dropping steadily since 1991. During that period the number of crimes in the United States declined from 14.9 million crimes in 1991 to 13.7 million in 2002, a decrease of 8 percent.
That general trend continued through the first six months of 2003, although more modestly than in previous years, according to preliminary UCR data released by the FBI. The violent crime index total was down by 3.1 percent in 2003 from the same time period in 2002, while the property crime index decreased by 0.8 percent. (See Table 1.1.) While these trends were encouraging, no society has ever been totally free of crime. James Alan Fox, dean of the College of Criminal Justice at Boston's Northeastern University, notes, "We're moving in the right direction, but we have a long way to go still before we can claim victory over our crime problem."
Why the Decline?
Experts have attempted to identify key factors contributing to the marked trend. The statistics suggest that as the baby boomers (the generation born between 1946 and 1965) outgrew their prime crime years, the crime rate began to decline. Some observers also attribute this decline to other factors, including:
- More money spent on law enforcement.
- Stiffer sentences handed down by the courts.
- The growing number of neighborhood watch programs.
- The declining number of neighborhood bars.
Others argue the decline in crime was due to the increases in incarcerations (people being jailed). From 1980 through 1995 the population in federal and state prisons more than tripled from 329,821 to 1,104,074. At midyear 2002 the number of prisoners, including city and county jail inmates, reached just over 2 million. Between 1990 and 2002 the annual incarceration rate—the number of persons in custody per 100,000 residents—rose from 458 to 702, an increase from a rate of 690 in 2001.
Urban police officers attribute the decline in crime to an increase in the number of police officers and the creation of gang and violent-crime task forces. They also praise citizens who joined crime watch organizations. In a 1995 Chicago study, researchers found that urban neighborhoods with a strong sense of community and shared values had markedly lower rates of violence (Robert J. Sampson et al., "Neighborhoods and Violent Crime: A Multilevel Study of Collective Efficacy," Science, vol. 277, August 15, 1997). Of special importance, the study noted, was the "willingness of residents to intervene in the lives of children," especially in the areas of truancy, graffiti, and teenage gang participation, such as hanging out on neighborhood street corners. Others posit that the booming economy of the 1990s, with its low unemployment figures and rising wages, had some effect on crime. Other theories maintain that it is a combination of these or other factors.
Causes of the Earlier Crime Increase
If crime actually declined through the 1990s, what factors lay behind the apparent increase in crime that started in the 1960s and continued through the 1980s? Experts differ as to whether the increase in reported crime for that period was real. Some believe the increase only reflected better record-keeping and participation of more local law enforcement agencies in the FBI reporting system. Others attribute the long-term increase in the crime rate to the growing up of the baby boom generation. As this population bulge entered its juvenile years, it was only natural, they argue, that the crime rate would increase. In general, males between the ages of 15 and 24 commit the most crimes. Males born during the post-war baby boom—that is, from 1945 through 1964—would be between the ages of 15 and 24 from 1960 through 1988.
Neither the FBI nor the BJS has provided official interpretations as to why the crime rate increased in the late 1980s. Unofficial observations generally attributed the increase to the influence of drug use and drug trafficking, especially involving "crack" cocaine. A large proportion of convicted offenders were on drugs while committing the crimes for which they were sentenced.
Many crimes, including murder, are committed during drug transactions. Various theories have been proposed to explain why youth gangs exist; however, many gangs exist to conduct business: drug trafficking. While some gangs restrict their activities primarily to drug dealing, other gangs deal drugs as a means of earning money to engage in other activities. The development of crack (a less expensive, more marketable form of cocaine) in the 1980s provided gangs throughout the United States with a money-making commodity. Gang wars over territory or "turf" led to many deaths of gang members and innocent bystanders. Some gangs, often with strong ethnic ties such as the Chinese "tongs" or the Jamaican "posses," became dedicated to the drug trade and participated in brutal crimes.