NBC News reports that crime in the United States has declined significantly over the last year. Apparently, new FBI data contradicts a widespread national perception that law-breaking and violence are on the rise. A Gallup poll released this month found that 77% of Americans believe crime rates are worsening. However, new FBI data and other statistics show these perceptions are mistaken.
The FBI data, which compares crime rates in the third quarter of 2023 to the same period last year, found that violent crime dropped 8%, while property crime fell 6.3% to what would be its lowest level since 1961, according to criminologist Jeff Asher, who analyzed the FBI data.
Murder plummeted in the United States in 2023 at one of the fastest rates of decline ever recorded, Asher found, and every category of major crime except auto theft declined.
“I think we’ve been conditioned, and we have no way of countering the idea” that crime is rising . . . It’s just an overwhelming number of news media stories and viral videos — I have to believe that social media is playing a role.” ~Criminologist Jeff Asher
The FBI’s quarterly numbers cover about 78% of the U.S. population and don’t give as full a picture as the more comprehensive annual report the FBI puts out once a year. But Asher said the quarterly reports in the past have hewed fairly close to the annual ones.
The most recent annual report, released in October, covered 94% of the country and found that violent crime in 2022 fell back to pre-pandemic levels, with murder dropping 6.1%. Asher maintains a separate database of murder in big cities which found that murder is down 12.7 percent this year, after rising during the pandemic.
FBI data doesn’t have a separate category for retail theft. It falls under “larceny,” which declined overall last year, according to the latest numbers. Retail theft is widely believed to have skyrocketed in some cities, and the industry says it is at “unprecedented” levels. But the data doesn’t necessarily support that thesis.
FBI numbers are not the only measure of crime. The annual Justice Department survey of criminal victimization in 2022 found that a lot of crime goes unreported, and that more people reported being victims of violent crime in 2022 than in 2021. But Asher has documented questions about that survey’s methodology.
WHY DO PEOPLE BELIEVE CRIME HAS INCREASED?
Asher believes there is a measure of partisanship at work. Republicans seem more ready to believe crime is increasing while Democrats hold the White House.
Asher and other analysts say the natural tendency of the news media to highlight disturbing crime stories — and the tendency of those stories to go viral on social media — presents a false but persuasive picture. Videos of flash mobs on shop lifting sprees or carjackings in broad day light are more ubiquitous, even if those crimes are not.
Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member are charged with a crime. Hiring an effective and competent defense attorney is the first and best step toward justice.