Every time anyone announces new crime statistics, pundits everywhere seem to know, without any investigation whatsoever, what the stats mean, why they are what they are, and the clear solution to the perceived problem. Well, September is the month when the FBI releases its tally of the crime data for the previous year, and last month’s announcement has yielded the typical response from those who have all the answers.
Briefly, the essential “fact” is that there were an (estimated) 1,197,704 violent crimes committed in the United States in 2015. That’s up about 3.9% over 2014. When you adjust the figures for population growth, the increase in the violent crime rate is about 3%. It is from these figures that we see headlines in which one politician or another predicts nationwide (or at least statewide) doom.
There are a number of reasons why these predictions are seen by some as nothing more than sensationalism designed to foster preconceived notions of a massive crime increase. Indeed, both criminologists and statisticians tell us that we can’t discern a trend based upon a couple of years of figures. And one of the reasons why we say this is that although the 2015 figures show an uptick in violent crime, those numbers come on the heels of significant declines in recent years. From 2011 to 2015, the violent crime rate nationwide declined by .7%, and between 2006 and 2015, the decrease was 16.5%. As a result, 2015 was in fact one of the safest years in terms of crime in the past two decades.
Beyond the overemphasis on year-to-year figures, these same people use the stats to attempt to drum up support for overly aggressive law enforcement policies. For example, a Phoenix city councilman claims that the violent crime increase in Phoenix is the result of a not having enough cops on the force. Others claim that cause is the splintering of street gangs. One group says we’re not tough enough on crime. Still others blame the easy accessibility of guns. Finally, some folks say that it’s drugs that fuel violent crime.
So what’s the answer? First, we don’t react to a single year’s data, which is, in any event, just an estimate. Second, in a country which already has by far the highest incarceration rate in the world, we hesitate to suggest a “solution” that would lead to more cops, more jail time, and a further explosion of our prison population.
The Feldman Law Firm PLLC
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Phoenix, AZ 85004