Quotes from Experts

Trends in U.S. crime

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November 2, 2022


What trends in violent crime have we seen in recent years in the U.S.?


Alexis Piquero, Ph.D.

“I think it’s important to dissect that question by looking at the way we measure crime in the United States. We basically use two principal measures. The first one are the data that the FBI release every year. And the second one is what the Bureau of Justice Statistics puts out, called the National Crime Victimization Survey. The former are based on arrests, and the later are based on self-report interviews with people and households.

What we’ve seen over time, basically since about the mid-1990s, is that violent crime and property crime has tended down. We saw some increases in 2020, as has been well reported, and the data replicate that. And it’s been relegated specific crime types. But in 2021 we saw a little bit of a drop again, relative to where we were in 2020. But both of those series, the self-report data and the official crime arrest records, they track very well together.” (Posted November 2, 2022 | Download Video)

Alexis Piquero, Ph.D.
Director of the Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. Department of Justice

“In the year 2020, at the height of the pandemic, homicide rates in the United States rose by roughly 30%. That’s an unprecedented percentage increase in a single year. In the following year, 2021, homicide rates continued to rise, but at a somewhat slower pace. They went up by about 5% in 2021, compared to the year before. And through the first six months of this year, 2022, according to data from research I’ve been doing for the Council on Criminal Justice, homicide rates in the cities where we monitor crime rates have actually come down very slightly, by about 2% or 3% compared to the same period last year.

“So that’s the homicide picture, and, quite frankly, although the rise wasn’t quite as large, we see basically the same pattern in assaults committed with a firearm. These are cases that are non-fatal but, like most homicides, are gun-related.” (Posted November 2, 2022)

Richard Rosenfeld, Ph.D.
Professor emeritus of criminology and criminal justice, University of Missouri-St. Louis

Shouraseni Sen Roy, Ph.D.

“The trends in violent crime from 1990 to the present time have shown a steady decline. However, in 2020, there was a slight increase in violent crime across major metropolitan areas, large cities, and suburban areas. In addition, at the regional scale, the Northeast and the Midwest showed the largest increases in crime from 2019 to 2020. Furthermore, minority communities and low-income groups remain the most vulnerable to violent crime.” (Posted November 2, 2022 | Download Video)

Shouraseni Sen Roy, Ph.D.
Professor of geography and sustainable development, University of Miami

Ben Stickle, Ph.D.

“Violent crime really saw a dramatic reduction during COVID, and that’s probably because most people were staying at home. They weren’t at work. They weren’t exposed to as much violence. Since that time it seems that violent crime has been increasing, but we’re really not sure how much and to what degree yet. When we look at crime rates, we really want to look at them over a long period of time to really understand if it’s a short-term trend or if it’s a long-term trend. And while it does seem to be increasing in many parts of the United States, we’re not really sure yet if that’s something that is a spike just after the lull of COVID, or if that’s something that’s continuing to increase. Either way it’s something we certainly should keep an eye on.” (Posted November 2, 2022 | Download Video)

Ben Stickle, Ph.D.
Associate professor of criminal justice administration, Middle Tennessee State University

What trends in property crime have we seen in recent years in the U.S.?


Alexis Piquero, Ph.D.

“Property crime has actually gone down and has stayed down, even during the past three or four years when other crime types started to go up, as measured in both the arrest data and the self-report data. Property crime has gone down; there hasn’t been any differences within the overall property crime trends.” (Posted November 2, 2022 | Download Video)

Alexis Piquero, Ph.D.
Director of the Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. Department of Justice

“Here there is a contrast with the pattern we’ve seen in homicide and in gun assaults. Property crimes, which include burglaries, larcenies, motor vehicle thefts—with the exception of motor vehicle thefts—property crimes came down in 2020 and also in 2021. The exception is motor vehicle thefts. They rose during that period. Robberies also came down during 2020 and 2021, but during the first six months of this year, we see a reversal of those trends. The property crimes are up, and robbery rates have risen during the first half of 2022.” (Posted November 2, 2022)

Richard Rosenfeld, Ph.D.
Professor emeritus of criminology and criminal justice, University of Missouri-St. Louis

Shouraseni Sen Roy, Ph.D.

“Similar to what we see in the case of violent crime and property crime, there has been a constant decline in crime rates and total crime. However, unlike violent crime, property crime showed similar declining trends throughout 2020 and 2021. The only crime in terms of property crime that showed an increase was automobile and vehicle theft. In terms of regional patterns, some of the states that showed a higher rate and total number of property crimes included the District of Columbia, Louisiana—but several states like Massachusetts, New Hampshire showed lower than the national average, so the lowest rates of property crime.” (Posted November 2, 2022 | Download Video)

Shouraseni Sen Roy, Ph.D.
Professor of geography and sustainable development, University of Miami

Ben Stickle, Ph.D.

“Property crime in the United States does seem to be having a slight increase recently. It’s difficult to tell whether this is the result of an extreme low we saw of these types of crimes during COVID, and, therefore, these are increasing currently, or if this is a long-term trend. A couple of crimes we do see as an increase are things like package theft and burglary and things of this nature that are involving going out, taking an item—or breaking into something to steal an item from someone during this time. That may be related again, as we said, to either coming out of COVID and a response there, or unemployment. There’s a variety of factors that influence the rate of property crime. This includes seasonality—we see a lot more of these types of crime in the summer and in the spring—and usually a decline in the winter. So, looking at these crimes, while there does seem to be a slight increase in recent years, more data is really needed to understand fully how and where this is occurring.” (Posted November 2, 2022 | Download Video)

Ben Stickle, Ph.D.
Associate professor of criminal justice administration, Middle Tennessee State University

How are crime statistics assembled, and what are the strengths and limitations of these statistics?


Alexis Piquero, Ph.D.

“Currently in the United States, as is true in most countries around the world, there are two principal forms of data collection that speak to crime data. The first one are from the FBI, and those are based on arrests known to police departments around the country. The second one is the Bureau of Justice Statistics National Crime Victimization Survey, which are based on individuals and households. The latter focus on a series of violent crimes and property crimes, with the exception of homicide. But the FBI data collect a variety of different types of crimes. So in the United States, we have these two measures, and that’s a really good thing because we like to compare and contrast to see if we see the same trends occurring in both of those two forms of data collection.

“With respect to their strengths and weaknesses, obviously with the arrest data, the strength of that is you have all of the police departments around the country—for the most part—reporting. But you miss crimes that don’t come to the attention of the police. With respect to the victimization data, that gives you a way to get at that, what we call the dark figure of crime that’s missing from the arrest data. But then again, not everybody always reports. So you have advantages and disadvantages with each of those, like you do with any kind of data collection system in any particular facet of any particular topic of interest, and so the ideal is always to look at both of them to see if they both tell us the same story.” (Posted November 2, 2022 | Download Video)

Alexis Piquero, Ph.D.
Director of the Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. Department of Justice

“The crime data that I’ve been discussing are based on crimes or suspected crimes that people report to the police and then are recorded as crimes by the police. And so the FBI’s so-called official crime data are also based on crimes reported to and recorded by the police. But as an alternative, the Department of Justice administers what’s called the National Crime Victimization Survey. This is a population survey, a survey of households, in which people are asked whether they were the victims of a whole series of crimes during the previous six months. They’re also asked whether they reported that incident to the police. So we do have an indication of the degree to which the police-based crime data are missing crimes that occurred but simply could not be detected by the police because no one reported it to the police.” (Posted November 2, 2022)

Richard Rosenfeld, Ph.D.
Professor emeritus of criminology and criminal justice, University of Missouri-St. Louis

Shouraseni Sen Roy, Ph.D.

“The crime data is obtained from the FBI national data system, which is called the Uniform Crime Reporting Program. This program has been established for a long time. All the crime data are obtained from this central system. However, in 2021, a new system was implemented, which is the National Incident-Based Reporting System. This system looks into each crime incident in more detail.

“Because of this new system, a lot less reporting has occurred from different police jurisdictions. As a result it is very difficult to get the accurate scenario of 2021 crime in the United States, because of underreporting from these different crime, police jurisdictions.” (Posted November 2, 2022 | Download Video)

Shouraseni Sen Roy, Ph.D.
Professor of geography and sustainable development, University of Miami

Ben Stickle, Ph.D.

“We generally have two sources of crime statistics in the United States. The first is the crime that’s reported by local and state police. That’s given to the FBI, and they collect a database that gives us some idea of crime. We also have the National Crime Victimization Survey, where we contact people across the country and ask them if they have been victims of crime. Both of those two things help us to capture crime on two different levels, which is very important.

“However, there is some problems with this. First of all, we don’t collect data on crime victims if we don’t know about it, if it’s not reported to the police, or they choose not to be involved in this survey. Secondly, when we look at crime data, we have several challenges there. First, it’s very hard to tell trends based on a week or even a month-to-month situation. And even year-to-year it can be very challenging. What can be a small increase or even a large increase in one year may just be part of an overall trend over the last four or five that can be challenging to understand.

“Another aspect we also have to consider is crime is very locally driven and individual-specific. So looking at crime overall: quite a challenge. Looking at specifically: has a certain type of theft increased or decreased in a certain city over the last four or five years, those are generally much better questions to answer. And we can get answers to those that give us some idea of how crime is actually trending with a specific time and a specific location.” (Posted November 2, 2022 | Download Video)

Ben Stickle, Ph.D.
Associate professor of criminal justice administration, Middle Tennessee State University

When evaluating crime-reduction proposals, what should members of the public keep in mind?


Alexis Piquero, Ph.D.

“I think members of the public—and I’m a member of the public, too, remember. And I think what we have to always remind ourselves is that whatever we’re doing in our life, we have to at least follow what the data and the statistics and science tell us. And so a really good way I’ve always explained this to people is that: When you go to the dentist, do you want your dentist to have read the utmost and latest scientific literature? The answer is: absolutely, of course. Do you want your dentist to use the appropriate tools and technology when he or she is conducting a dental exam or a procedure? Yes, of course. And do you want your dentist to provide you with an appropriate medicine and prescription should you need one? Well, yes, of course. Well, all of those decisions are underpinned by data and science and statistics. And so I think what we want out of our crime reporting—and especially with respect to our crime prevention intervention strategies—is that they are based always and only on data, science, and statistics.” (Posted November 2, 2022 | Download Video)

Alexis Piquero, Ph.D.
Director of the Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. Department of Justice

“The first thing people should keep in mind is whether the proposal is based on a picture of crime that is accurate or inaccurate. Proposals that are based on faulty data quite obviously are proposals for crime reduction that are not going to be effective. So the first question is: Are the underlying data, is the underlying premise correct? Is it accurate? And I understand that that may not be an easy question to answer in every case. But it can be answered, and it should be. Secondly, people should ask: Is the proposal to reduce crime based on a valid method?” (Posted November 2, 2022 | Download Video)

Richard Rosenfeld, Ph.D.
Professor emeritus of criminology and criminal justice, University of Missouri-St. Louis

Ben Stickle, Ph.D.

“When looking at crime proposals, I think there’s a few things that should be kept in mind. The first is: What is the purpose of the proposals? What is it they’re trying to target: which type of crime, where, and when? Those are very important. And then making sure we evaluate on the same criteria: What crime are we trying to impact? Where is it occurring? When is it occurring? In fact even who it’s occurring to? And so without this information, without a targeted approach, I think it’s very difficult to just have a broad, sweeping effort to reduce crime. So specificity in who and what and when we’re targeting is absolutely important to make sure we drive crime in the right direction.” (Posted November 2, 2022 | Download Video)

Ben Stickle, Ph.D.
Associate professor of criminal justice administration, Middle Tennessee State University

Alexis Piquero, Ph.D.
Director of the Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. Department of Justice

None.

Richard Rosenfeld, Ph.D.
Professor emeritus of criminology and criminal justice, University of Missouri-St. Louis

None.

Shouraseni Sen Roy, Ph.D.
Professor of geography and sustainable development, University of Miami

None.

Ben Stickle, Ph.D.
Associate professor of criminal justice administration, Middle Tennessee State University

None.