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Are We Entering A New Era Of Increasing Violent Crime?
By Leonard A. Sipes, Jr.
Published: 10/28/2019

Violence gun An Analysis of Crime And Fear of Crime Data for Recent Years

This article offers a comprehensive overview of crime since 2015 with a focus on violent crime in the United States from the three principal resources, the FBI, the National Crime Survey and Gallup. It attempts to analyze primary sources plus others and come to a reasonable conclusion based on the data.


The FBI offers crime “reported” to law enforcement agencies, where the National Crime Victimization Survey (referred to here as the National Crime Survey) counts “all” crime through a methodology similar to the national census. A minority of crime is reported to law enforcement, hence the need for a national survey. Both are US Department of Justice agencies. The National Crime Survey originates from the Bureau of Justice Statistics. Gallup and additional sources are offered to gain a comprehensive view.

Crime Politicized

It’s unfortunate that an objective analysis of crime in America has become a political issue with major newspapers and some criminologists insisting that violent crime is not increasing while additional media outlets and criminologists insist that it is. Some will vigorously renounce any thought that crime is rising based on the belief that it compromises criminal justice reform. Others want proof of increasing crime to support their own agendas. But the collective data since 2015 speaks for itself

Property Crime

While most of this report focuses on violent crime, it’s important to note that there continues to be a considerable and continuous decrease in property crime over time with some exceptions.

Have Past Record Lows for Violent Crime Ended?

Probably (per the National Crime Survey for 2018), but the bottom line is that violent and property crimes are still at record lows for the country and, generally speaking, have been decreasing for the last two decades except for recent years (since 2015) with mixed results from the two main Department of Justice sources.

The principal reason for any confusion is the increase in “all” violent crime as measured by the National Crime Survey (an increase in violent crime of 28 percent from 2015-2018), and measures of “reported” crime compiled from local law enforcement agencies via the FBI. Per the FBI, violent crime increased in 2015 and 2016 but decreased slightly in 2017 (violence was essentially flat) and 2018 (a decrease of 3.3 percent).

There have been additional increases since 2000; the rate of violent crime in the US increased in 2005 and 2006 (via FBI data) but the index returned to decreases in 2007.

Thus we have a fundamental question, which holds more importance, a 28 percent increase in all violent crime per the National Crime Survey since 2015 or a 3.3 percent decrease in 2018 for reported crime from the FBI?

Historic Lows Before 2015

Data from the National Crime Survey state that we are at record historical lows for criminal activity. From 1993 to 2015, the rate of violent crime declined from 79.8 to 18.6 victimizations per 1,000 persons age 12 or older.

Using the FBI numbers, the violent crime rate fell 48% between 1993 and 2016. Using data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics (National Crime Survey), the rate fell 74% during that span.

43% Of Violent Victimizations Were Reported To Police

Per the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the increase in the rate of violent victimizations was largely due to crimes that were not reported to police (emphasis added). From 2015 to 2018, the rate of violent victimizations that went unreported to police rose from 9.5 to 12.9 per 1,000 persons age 12 or older.

Based on the 2018 National Crime Survey, less than half (43%) of violent victimizations were reported to police. There were some statistically significant changes from 2017 to 2018 by type of violent crime reported to police. The percentage of rape or sexual assault victimizations reported to police declined from 40% to 25%, while the percentage of robbery victimizations reported to police increased from 49% to 63%, Reported Crime.

As stated, the fundamental reason for the National Crime Survey is an accounting of crime reported and unreported to law enforcement.

Is America Entering a New Era of Increasing Violence?

Probably. Violent crime is increasing in some (not all) cities throughout the US. The media accounts of struggling metropolitan areas are endless.

The number of persons who had been victims of violent crime is up 17 percent from 2015-2017 per the National Crime Survey.

From 2015 to 2018, the total number of violent victimizations increased by 28% per the National Crime Survey.

The latest report from the National Crime Survey states that the number of violent incidents increased from 5.2 million in 2017 to 6.0 million in 2018.

Per the National Crime Survey, the seriousness of violent crimes has also increased, Serious Violence.

But per the FBI, violent crime was flat for 2017 and was down 3.3 percent for 2018. As stated, violent crime per the FBI increased in 2015 and 2016.

Fear of Crime

Mass Shootings: In the wake of two August mass shootings that claimed the lives of 31 people in one weekend, Americans are more worried about themselves or a family member being the victim of a mass shooting than they were after two previous massacres.

Currently, 48% of U.S. adults are “very” or “somewhat” worried, compared with 39% in 2017 after one gunman killed 58 people in Las Vegas and 38% in 2015 after a San Bernardino shooter left 14 dead, Gallup

Worry About Crime: 75 percent of Americans worry about crime and violence (April, 2019), Gallup.

Fear Of Crime Was The National Top Concern in 2018

Per Gallup, 75 percent of Americans worry about crime and violence (down from 78 percent in March, 2018), which was the same as health care, the top concern, Fear of Crime.

Gallup asked those polled if they worried about topics a great deal or a fair amount. Crime was ranked the same as health care using a combined score.

Half of Americans Believe Crime is Very or Extremely Serious

In 2018, just under half (49%) of Americans believe the problem of crime in the United States is very or extremely serious — a 10-percentage-point drop and the first time the number has been below 50% since 2005, Serious Crime Concerns.

Gallup’s Measure Of House Hold Crime

Household crime per Gallup for 2018 increased. 24% of households were victimized by violent or property crimes (excluding cybercrimes) in 2018, up from the 22% who said the same last year. Beyond the 24 percent of households victimized by violent and property crimes, 23% of U.S. households were victimized by cybercrime in 2018.

It’s reasonable to suggest that close to half of American households were victimized by crime per Gallup.

Summation–Yes, It’s Confusing

If violence is growing per the National Crime Survey for 2018, I’m not suggesting explosive increases per the FBI as during the crack cocaine days of the 1980s to the mid-1990s, CityLab. But for many cities and states, the latest increases in violence are a real concern.

There are those insisting that we have never lived in safer times due to an almost continuous (and considerable) twenty-year plus decline in crime, but that argument is getting stale since the increases in violence began in 2015 per one or more of the three national reports.

If you read the daily national crime reports and newspaper accounts on this site and others, you get a sense that there is a growing concern regarding violence in America.

Decreases in 2014 and 2013 from national reports (FBI and National Crime Survey) and increases in crime found in National Crime Survey data (for 2011 and 2012, categories in 2016 and numbers and rates comparing 2015-2018), and the 2012, 2015 and 2016 FBI reports (violent crime increases-violence was flat in 2017) and the 3.3 percent decrease for 2018 create mixed results and needs to be watched carefully, but the trend over decades is clearly down, while rising in recent years.

Per the FBI (crimes reported to police) national crime was flat or decreased slightly for the last two years.

Per the National Crime Survey, numbers have increased twenty-eight percent from 2015 to 2018. Serious violent crime has increased.

Per Gallup, household crime for 2018 increased. 24% of households were victimized by violent or property crimes (excluding cybercrimes) in 2018, up from the 22% who said the same last year. Beyond the 24 percent of households victimized by violent and property crimes, 23% of U.S. households were victimized by cybercrime in 2018.

The bottom line? Violent crime seems to be increasing since 2015. The only good news is FBI data indicating small decreases in reported crime for 2017 (violence essentially flat) and 2018 (a decrease of 3.3 percent).

Identity Theft

Identity theft is increasing by considerable margins, from 7% in 2014 to 10% in 2016, Bureau of Justice Statistics.

Reprinted with permission from https://www.crimeinamerica.net.

Contact us at crimeinamerica@gmail.com or for media on deadline, use leonardsipes@gmail.com.

Leonard A. Sipes, Jr has thirty-five years of experience supervising public affairs for national and state criminal justice agencies. He is the Former Senior Specialist for Crime Prevention for the Department of Justice’s clearinghouse and the Former Director of Information Management for the National Crime Prevention Council. He has a Post Master’s degree from Johns Hopkins University and is the author of the book "Success With the Media". He can be reached via email at leonardsipes@gmail.com.


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