Posted on April 29, 2024

The Media Say Crime Is Going Down. Don’t Believe It

John R. Lott Jr., Wall Street Journal, April 24, 2024

Americans think crime is on the rise, but the media keep telling them they’re wrong. A Gallup survey last year found that 92% of Republicans and 58% of Democrats thought crime was increasing. {snip}

Americans aren’t mistaken. News reports fail to take into account that many victims aren’t reporting crimes to the police, especially since the pandemic.

The U.S. has two measures of crime. The Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Uniform Crime Reporting program counts the number of crimes reported to police every year. The Bureau of Justice Statistics, in its National Crime Victimization Survey, asks some 240,000 people a year whether they have been victims of a crime. The two measures have diverged since 2020: The FBI has been reporting less crime, while more people say they have been victims.

The divergence is due to several reasons. In 2022, 31% of police departments nationwide, including Los Angeles and New York, didn’t report crime data to the FBI. In addition, in cities from Baltimore to Nashville, Tenn., the FBI is undercounting crimes those jurisdictions reported.

Another reason crimes reported to the police are falling is that arrest rates are plummeting. If victims don’t believe criminals will be caught and punished, they won’t bother reporting them. According to the FBI, if you take the five years preceding Covid-19 (2015-19) and compare them with 2022, the percentage of violent crimes in all cities resulting in an arrest fell from 44% to 35%. {snip}

Arrests for property crimes dived even more sharply. FBI data show that in 2022, 12% of reported property crimes in all cities resulted in an arrest. {snip}

Based on the National Crime Victimization Survey, only 42% of violent crimes, such as robberies or aggravated assaults, and 32% of property crimes, such as burglary or arson, were reported in 2022. {snip}


While the rate of reported violent crime fell 2.1% between 2021 and 2022, the National Crime Victimization Survey 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 2015-19 average by more than 17%.