Strictly speaking, violent crime is up. It jumped 18% last year — the first rise in nearly 20 years. Property crime rose for the first time in 10 years.
But should we stop there in examining this data?
The U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics reported Wednesday that the increase in the number of violent crimes was the result of an upward swing in simple assaults, which rose 22 percent, from 4 million in 2010 to 5 million last year. The incidence of rape, sexual assault and robbery remained largely unchanged, as did serious violent crime involving weapons or injury.
Property crimes were up 11 percent in 2011, from 15.4 million in 2010 to 17 million, according to the bureau’s annual national crime victimization survey. Household burglaries rose 14 percent, from 3.2 million to 3.6 million. The number of thefts jumped by 10 percent, from 11.6 million to 12.8 million.
The statistics bureau said the percentage increases last year were so large primarily because the 2011 crime totals were compared to historically low levels of crime in 2010. Violent crime has fallen by 65 percent since 1993, from 16.8 million to 5.8 million last year.
“2011 may be worse than 2010, but it was also the second-best in recent history,” said Northeastern University criminology professor James Alan Fox.
“These simple assaults are so low-level in severity that they are not even included in the FBI counts of serious crime,” Fox said. FBI crime data only counts aggravated assaults.
The growth in violent crime experienced by whites, Hispanics, younger people and men accounted for the majority of the increase.
Now, one data point does not a trend make. To know if violent crime is actually taking an upward climb will require more data, and that just takes time.
But let us look at the crime data we do have.
Consider the general trend: crime has been decreasing. This is a great thing! There’s all sorts of things you could attribute this to, like the rise in gun sales, concealed carry permits, and individuals taking more direct responsibility for the safety and well-being of themselves. It could be that we’re improving our situation as a nation, because despite what the media and politicians say, we’re still quite well-off as a nation compared to much of the rest of world. But this is a complex matter and pinning the trend on a single cause isn’t going to happen. Let’s just be happy that crime is dropping.
But still… while the trend might be dropping, look at the hard numbers. 5 million simple assaults. That’s still a LOT of assaults… and that’s just simple assaults (doesn’t count rape, sexual assault, robbery). 3.6 million home break-ins… 12.8 million thefts. That’s still a LOT of crime going on! Even if crime is dropping, it’s still quite present. This trend doesn’t mean there isn’t crime… perhaps less chance of you encountering it, but still you have a chance of encountering it, and your chances remain higher than winning the lottery.
Accept that crime is out there. Accept that you can be a victim of crime. Do your best to avoid crime, to make yourself less of a target, decrease your chances of being a victim. Do your part to make the world a better place where people can be given options to choose crime or something better. And keep a realistic understanding of the world around you.