US violence is both increasing and decreasing? Who’s right?

We have a paradox, significantly rising violence and serious violence in 2022 per the National Crime Victimization Survey and mostly decreasing violent crime in 2023 based on big city police dashboards.

Only 41.5 percent of violent crimes are reported to law enforcement.

It’s possible that “overall” violence is up but “reported” violence to police is down in 2023.

Property crime is up per the National Crime Victimization Survey in 2022 breaking a multi-year pattern.

I usually do not include notes when publishing National Crime Victimization Survey data but it’s important for readers to log onto the site and review the notes for yourself to gain a clearer understanding of discreet variables used to present data.

This article takes a confusing set of data from multiple sources from 2022 and 2023 to make sense of whether violence is increasing or decreasing in the US.

I explained national crime data for decades, first as the senior specialist for crime prevention for the Department of Justice’s clearinghouse (the National Criminal Justice Reference Service) and then as the director of information services for the National Crime Prevention Council.

Understanding national crime statistics has never been more confusing.

I recently wrote about significant increases in violent crime based on the US Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics National Crime Victimization Survey for 2022 titled, “Big Increases In Categories Of Violent Victimization in The United States.

I’ll start off with the observation that the Bureau of Justice Statistics report, “Criminal Victimization-2022,” released on Thursday, September 14, 2023 has been mostly ignored by the mainstream and criminological media.

We have record fear of crime, and violence was a top issue during the midterm elections and will be prominently featured during the upcoming presidential election. Not a day goes by that mainstream media doesn’t cover what many refer to as escalating violence.

So why is the media ignoring the report?

I believe the reason for disregarding Criminal Victimization-2022 probably has more to do with the confusion between crimes reported to law enforcement as reported by the FBI and the fact that few seem to understand (or know about) the National Crime Victimization Survey (the number of reporters assigned to a crime and justice beat has plummeted).  The NCVS is based on a system similar to the US Census where crime victims are surveyed as to their experiences.

Why a national crime survey? Because the great majority of crimes are not reported to law enforcement. Only 42 percent of violent crime is reported to the police. It’s much less for property crime.

Some Background On National Crime Counts From The US Department Of Justice

Some suggest that crimes reported to law enforcement are “important” enough to call the police and that surveys count the “real” number of crimes.

People do not report crimes to the police for an endless number of reasons, one is that most violent crime happens among people who know each other. Your drunk friend could hit you with a beer bottle (an aggravated assault) but you choose to handle it personally. But when the National Crime Victimization Survey calls and asks about recent victimization, you tell them about the assault.

Both the FBI and the Bureau of Justice Statistics release separate crime reports in the fall for the proceeding year thus both release what is essentially old data “yet” the FBI’s crimes reported to law enforcement will get significant media coverage because people are more familiar with it.

It would take pages to describe the difficulty both agencies are having with their crime statistics. I’ll summarize with the observation that the FBI moved to a new-comprehensive and robust reporting system but approximately 30 percent of local law enforcement agencies haven’t completed their adoption.

The Bureau of Justice Statistics is contemplating a redesign as to how they collect data through the National Crime Victimization Survey (redesign reports are available on their website). My description here of the complexities is woefully understated, see Violent And Property Crime in the United States for more.

Note that it’s anyone’s guess what the FBI will release for 2022 (coming soon). Both the FBI and the National Crime Victimization Survey have disagreed with each other in the past.

To give you an indication of the complexity of crime statistics, the Bureau of Justice Statistics states that the violent victimization rate dropped by 22 percent in 2020, Criminal Victimization 2020This is the largest decrease in violence ever reported by the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

Per 2020 FBI final statistics released in September 2021, the number of homicides increased nearly 30% from 2019, the largest single-year increase the agency has recorded since it began tracking these crimes in the 1960s. Overall violent crime and aggravated assaults also increased. Historically, homicides have been used as an indicator of overall violence.

The Obvious Difference in Crime Counts Is Comparing 2022 to 2023 Data From Different Sources

First, we judge the state of national crime via last year’s statistics.  If the FBI states that violence is up for 2022, it’s interpreted by many as national crime increasing now. It’s always been that way while noting that it’s the FBI’s intention to release quarterly statistics when they have a sufficient number of police agencies participating.

Because of the screwy-complex nature of both national crime reporting systems, we have recently come to rely on big city police dashboard data as a proxy for “current” national crime data. We are making an assumption that big-city crime data influence current conditions for a metropolitan area or a state, and because big-city numbers are so large, it’s not an unreasonable assumption. Grouping multiple city police crime dashboards together creates patterns.

Summation Of City Police Crime Data For 2023

We have data from Jeff Asher stating that murder is down, violence is flat (slight decrease) and property crime increased (especially auto theft) based on an analysis of city crime for the first half of 2023.

The data Asher offers is a bit different from a previous report from The Council on Criminal Justice stating that homicides are down, overall violence is down and some forms of property crimes decreased except auto theft for the first half of 2023.

The Major City Chiefs Association offered data for the first half of 2023 stating that homicides, aggravated assaults, robbery, and rape have all decreased in 2023.

So the consensus is that, for 2023, homicides are down in the cities studied and overall violence is either decreasing or flat (slight decrease).

Summation of the National Crime Victimization Survey for 2022

The violent victimization rate increased from 16.5 victimizations per 1,000 persons in 2021 to 23.5 per 1,000 in 2022.

There were 6.6 million violent victimizations of persons age 12 or older in the United States in 2022, up from 4.6 million in 2021.

Many groups had very large percentage increases in violent victimization.

Households in the United States experienced 13.4 million property victimizations in 2022, up from 11.7 million in 2021.

The Differences Between 2022 and 2023 Are Considerable

This isn’t the first time that national crime reports have deviated. Both violent and property crimes in the United States per the National Crime Victimization Survey have either been flat or decreased in recent years.

An obvious explanation is that violence increased in 2022 and simply decreased in 2023 per city police dashboards.

But let’s look at discrete categories as offered by the 2022 report from the National Crime Victimization Survey:

The rate of serious violent crime (excluding simple assaults) went from 5.6 to 9.8

Female serious violent crime went from 6.2 to 10.0

Male serious violent crime went from 4.9 to 9.5

There were additional big increases in serious violent crime for Whites, Hispanics, younger and older people, widowed, separated and divorced people, and virtually all income levels including those making $200,000 or more.

Violent crime percentages reported to the police decreased from 45.6 to 41.5.

Serious violent crimes went up considerably in urban and suburban areas with a smaller increase in rural areas.

Conclusions-Possible Explanations For Different Crime Reports

Big increases in violence and serious violence in 2022 via the National Crime Victimization Survey and considerable decreases in violence via city police crime dashboards in 2023 make little sense.

There “may” be a difference in people unwilling to report crimes because of issues with police-community relations or thousands of police officers leaving the job and very long wait times for the police to arrive and take reports. Both could drive down crimes reported to law enforcement.

Homicides (not counted by the National Crime Victimization Survey-you can’t interview dead people) are fairly accurate.

It’s possible that the big increase in violence in suburban areas per the National Crime Victimization Survey could offset the number of violent crimes in cities. Rural crime was also up per the survey.

Yes, there have been previous big increases in crime per the National Crime Victimization Survey. From 2015 to 2018, the total number of violent victimizations increased by 28% but after that, violence either declined or was mostly flat. Serious violent crime also increased.

So it seems that we have a paradox, significantly rising violence and serious violence in 2022 per the National Crime Victimization Survey and mostly decreasing violent crime in 2023 based on police city dashboards while recognizing that only 41.5 percent of violent crimes are reported to law enforcement.

It’s possible that “overall” violence is up but “reported” violence is down. There are huge differences in the numbers compiled by the National Crime Victimization Survey compared to crimes reported to law enforcement. Generally speaking, the larger the numbers analyzed, the more accurate the results.

We still await the yearly report from the FBI (crimes reported to law enforcement) and no one knows what they (and their depleted numbers of participating agencies) will say.

Understanding crime in the United States has never been more confusing.

It’s also interesting that property crime has been mostly down for years and the current report from the National Crime Victimization Survey seems to be the first significant departure from that pattern. The rate of property crimes for 2022 is higher than the rates in 2019-2020-2021 and most past years.

Another Take On This Data

See Jeff Asher’s analysis of this data at Did Gun Violence Actually Surge in 2022? Jeff’s scrutiny of crime data is superb.

See More

See more articles on crime and justice at Crime in America.

Most Dangerous Cities/States/Countries at Most Dangerous Cities.

US Crime Rates at Nationwide Crime Rates.

National Offender Recidivism Rates at Offender Recidivism.

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