Monday, October 22, 2012

An Increase In Crime Isn't The Most Troubling Aspect Of The National Crime Victimization Survey

by Chordboard / Wikimedia / CC by SA 3.0
Last week saw the release of the US DOJ Bureau of Justice Statistics National Crime Victimization Survey. The results of the survey are somewhat troubling. In the BJS press release they included these findings:
Between 2010 and 2011, the rate of violent victimization increased 17 percent, from 19.3 to 22.5 victimizations per 1,000 persons age 12 or older. The increase in total violence was due to a 22 percent increase in the number of aggravated and simple assaults. There was no statistically significant change in the number of rapes or sexual assaults and robberies.

While the percentage change in violent crime from 2010 to 2011 is relatively large, the actual difference between the rates for those years (3.3 victimizations per 1,000) is below the average annual change in violent crime (4.3 victimizations per 1,000) over the past two decades. The low rates make the percentage change large, but crime still remains at historically low levels. Since 1993, the rate of violent victimization declined 72 percent.
The Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) is a different way of counting and estimating crime. Where the FBI’s annual Uniform Crime Reports (UCR) program counts crimes reported to law enforcement, the NCVS relies on surveying a representative sample of the public and asking them about crime victimization.

While most news stories about the NVCS reported on the troubling increase in violent crimes reported compared to last year, I think one of the real important parts of the survey is looking at how many crimes are actually reported to police. The NCVS had this bit that is worth noting:
In 2011, 49 percent of violent victimizations and 37 percent of property victimization were reported to police. From 2010 to 2011, there was no statistically significant change in the percentage of violent victimizations reported to the police. The percentage of property victimizations reported to the police declined from 39 percent in 2010 to 37 percent in 2011.
Did you see that? Less than half of all violent crimes are reported to police and just a little over one third of non-violent crimes are reported to police. I find this lack of reporting to be very problematic. If crimes are not being reported to police, it is very hard for the police to do anything about them.

As law enforcement agencies, we need to ensure that we are encouraging people to report crimes and to ensure that we make this process as convenient for them as possible. It's only when we have the most accurate information about crime in our communities that we can adequately address it.

What is your agency doing to encourage people to report crimes?

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