More than 40 years ago, President Lyndon Johnson’s crime commission said that half of American men would be arrested at some point in their lives. Today, says Carl Bialik in the Wall Street Journal, crime data remain consistent with that figure. Researchers who announced the stunning arrest rates in 1967 were stumped by data deficiencies, such as their inability to tell whether the same person was being counted more than once. Today, data problems in crime measurement persist. Reporting by local law-enforcement agencies is incomplete, and local data aren’t calculated in a uniform way across the U.S.
To mitigate gaps and inconsistencies in the numbers, the Federal Bureau of Investigation extrapolates from the numbers it does have to get a nationwide total. Criminologist Alfred Blumstein of Carnegie-Mellon University says the proportion of American men arrested may have risen to 60 percent over a man's lifetime as drug arrests rose, though he calls this speculation. Other researchers point to sharply declining violent-crime rates in the last 15 years, and lower arrests per capita, to suggest that the lifetime arrest rate might be lower than it was decades ago.