The State of Crime: A Steep Decline, or Another Bidenesque Wild Story?

Gun Rights

In his State of the Union address this year, President Joe Biden proclaimed that “Americans deserve the freedom to be safe, and America is safer today than when I took office,” boasting that “[l]ast year, the murder rate saw the sharpest decrease in history, and violent crime fell to one of the lowest levels in more than 50 years.”

What are voters to make of this? Is it another wild story from Biden, who not too long ago implied that his uncle had been eaten by cannibals after being shot down over Papua New Guinea in World War II? 

Crime/public safety was a top issue in the 2022 midterm elections, and it remains a key issue in the approach to this November’s elections. A Pew Research Center survey reports that six in ten U.S. adults feel reducing crime should be a political priority, and that “[c]oncerns about crime have risen somewhat in both parties since the start of Biden’s presidency. About seven-in-ten Republicans (68%) say reducing crime should be a top priority this year, up 13 points since 2021. And 47% of Democrats say the same, up 8 points since 2021.”

Several recent articles from the Crime Prevention Research Center (CPRC), an organization “dedicated to conducting academic quality research on the relationship between laws regulating the ownership or use of guns, crime, and public safety,” examine the state of crime and crime reporting and conclude, overall, that factors other than actual crime are giving rise to the illusion of safer streets.  

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Two of the articles (The Collapse in Law Enforcement: As Arrest Rates Plummet, People Have Been Less Willing to Report Crime and The Media Say Crime Is Going Down. Don’t Believe It: The decline in reported crimes is a function of less reporting, not less crime) evaluate the statistics and the efforts to reinforce Biden’s claim that violent crime is falling dramatically. A third article examines reliability and other problems with the FBI’s reporting of violent crime.

According to the CPRC, one factor contributing to the ostensible dip in violent crime is that almost 40% of local law enforcement agencies are no longer transmitting their information to the national Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) database. In “2021, 37% of police departments stopped reporting crime data to the FBI (including large departments for Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York),” and for other jurisdictions, like Baltimore and Nashville, crimes are being underreported or undercounted. This leaves a large gap; by 2021, the real crime data collected by the FBI represented only 63% of police departments overseeing just 65% of the population. When compared to pre-2021 data, the result is a questionable “decline” in crime.

Another factor that undermines the official narrative of less crime is the degree of non-reporting or underreporting of crime by victims. Since 1973, the federal National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) has bypassed police statistics and relied, instead, on interviews with a nationally representative sample of some 240,000 individuals. The information collected includes the frequency and type of crime experienced, including crimes that have not been reported to police.

The CPRC summary of NCVS data states that in 2022 (the most recent survey available), only “42% of violent crimes, such as robberies or aggravated assaults, and 32% of property crimes, such as burglary or arson, were reported [to police]… the [NCVS] shows that total violent crime—reported and nonreported—rose from 16.5 incidents to 23.5 per 1,000 people. Nonreported violent crime in 2022 exceeded the five-year average between 2015 to 2019 by more than 17%.”

To provide a somewhat broader context regarding these trends, the NCVS survey for 2015 stated that “[f]rom 1993 to 2015, the rate of violent crime declined from 79.8 to 18.6 victimizations per 1,000 persons age 12 or older,” and that in 2015, “0.98% of all persons age 12 or older (2.7 million persons) experienced at least one violent victimization.” By 2022, according to the NCVS, the violent crime rate had increased to 23.5 per 1,000, and “about 1.24% (3.5 million) of persons age 12 or older nationwide experienced at least one violent crime.”

Another indicator of crime that the CPRC examined was changes in arrest rates. As arrest rates decline, the number of crimes reported to police falls, because if “people don’t think the police will solve their cases, they are less likely to report them to the police.” The CPRC compared violent crime arrest rates in 2022 with arrests for such offenses over the five years before COVID-19, and found that in 2022, the arrest rate across all cities fell by 20%.  Looking at major cities only (those with a population of over one million), the drop in 2022 was an even more precipitous 54%, with only 20.3% of violent crimes in such cities being cleared by arrest.

For murder and non-negligent manslaughter exclusively, arrest rates in major cities decreased from rates that had been consistently over 60% during 2015 to 2019, to 40.6% in 2022. Major cities saw similar reductions in arrests between those time periods for robberies, aggravated assaults, and rape. Robbery arrest rates dropped by over half (from over 30% in 2015-2019 to 13.1% in 2022) and aggravated assault arrests declined from a high of 54.6% in 2015 to just 23.4% in 2022. Property crime arrests mirrored the trend. “Comparing the five years from 2015-2019 to the arrest rate in 2022 shows a drop of 33% for all cities and a 63% decline for [major] cities.”

Using these arrest rates and the NCVS figure that only 42% of violent crimes were actually reported to police in 2022, the CPRC conclusions regarding crime become much more dismal. Of the 42% of actually reported crimes in 2022, only 35.2% likely resulted in an arrest, meaning that overall, only 14.6% of violent crimes result in an arrest. Applying the analysis to major cities only (using the 2022 figure of 20.3% reported violent crimes resulting in arrest), the implication is that only 8.4% of all violent crimes culminated in an arrest. “For property crimes, the numbers are even worse. With 31.8% of property crimes reported to police and only 11.9% of those reported crimes resulting in an arrest, that means that only 3.8% of all property crimes result in an arrest. For large cities with over a million people, only 1.4% of all property crimes result in an arrest.”

The last paper by the CPRC reviewed the FBI’s violent crime statistics by comparing the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) program (official police statistics of crimes reported to law enforcement) with the NCVS data collected by another federal agency, the Bureau of Justice Statistics. (The agencies’ measurements overlap somewhat but are not the same; the NCVS includes, for instance, unreported crimes.)

According to the CPRC, from 2008 through 2019, the two measurements were “unrelated” (a correlation coefficient of 0.0473) but have since shifted to an almost perfectly negative (or inverse) correlation of -0.9597. While the FBI figures indicates a national drop in violent crime, the NCVS reports the opposite: “between 2021 and 2022, the FBI UCR showed reported violent crime fell by 2.1%, but the NCVS showed reported violent crime increased by 29.3%.” The evidence “indicates real problems with the FBI-reported violent crime measure and that the FBI data are extremely misleading after 2020,” and unfortunately, the mainstream media tend to rely “exclusively on FBI-reported violent crime data.”

Last week, another article, this one written by a former director of the Bureau of Justice Statistics at the U.S. Department of Justice, took exception to President Biden’s claims that last year, “the murder rate saw the sharpest decrease in history, and violent crime fell to one of the lowest levels in more than 50 years.” The most recent, finalized FBI crime statistics (2022) fail to support any “record-setting decline in murder rates.” Using alternatively-available data for the half-dozen largest local law enforcement agencies for 2023, the author concludes that, while these agencies did report declines in homicides from 2022 to 2023, the declines “are nowhere near enough to compensate for the huge murder spike from 2019 to 2022. Indeed, homicides across all six agencies rose from 2019 to 2022 by a combined 46 percent.”   

The outcome for overall violent crime is expected to be the same. When the “BJS publishes the 2023 NCVS early this fall, it won’t be surprising if it shows a similar trend—a reduction in urban violent crime from 2022 to 2023 that doesn’t come close to negating the 58 percent increase from 2019 to 2022. But for now, the only truly reliable national statistics [the NCVS] for making cross-year comparisons only cover through 2022. According to those numbers, America’s urban areas have collectively seen nothing but increases in violent crime since our most recent experiment in lenient law enforcement began.”

President Biden is anxious to enhance his appeal to voters by unrealistic assertions that his policies have made the country “safer today,” with the added benefit that a “safer” America justifies his delusional gun control measures. If the CPRC and others are correct, there has been no astonishing decline in homicides, or even violent crimes generally. The real declines are the worrying drop in reporting of crimes to police and the much-reduced arrest rates, without Americans actually experiencing a greater “freedom to be safe.”

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