Violent crime levels did not rise last year in the United States, an annual federal survey on victimization reported today.
The National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) administered by the Justice Department said that last year’s violent crime rate was 18.6 victimizations per 1,000 people age 12 or older, sharply lower than the 79.8 per 1,000 rate of the modern-day high point of crime in the nation, 1993.
NCVS includes rape or sexual assault, robbery, aggravated assault, and simple assault in its violent crime category, but it does not include homicide because it is based on asking a sample of U.S. households if their members have been crime victims in the past year.
A significant exception to the overall flat crime rate reflected in NCVS came in the categories of intimate partner violence (offenses by current or former spouses, boyfriends or girlfriends), which rose from 634,610 to 806,050 last year, and rape, which jumped from 234,350 to 431,840.
The victim survey differs from the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting Program (UCR), which is based on reports from local law enforcement agencies.
Last month, the FBI reported that violent crime totals last year rose 3.9 percent, including a homicide increase of 10.8 percent.
Criminologists say that the two reports are not necessarily contradictory, because Americans report crimes to local law enforcement at varying rates.
NCVS is considered a more complete report because it includes the many offenses that are not reported to police. NCVS estimates a violent crime total of a little over 5 million last year (not including homicides). The FBI report gives the total as 1,197,704.
James Alan Fox, a criminologist at Northeastern University, cautioned that firm conclusions cannot be reached based on comparing one year’s crime data with another. Fox urged a look at several years’ worth of figures to give a better indication of trends.
Of two major NCVS violent crime categories, the estimated national robbery total has dropped over four consecutive years; aggravated assaults increased in 2014 after a year of decline, and then dropped last year.
The overall property crime rate, including household burglaries, theft and motor vehicle theft), dropped last year from 118.1 victimizations per 1,000 households to 110.7 per 1,000, NCVS reported today. A decline in theft accounted for most of the decrease.
Last year, 47 percent of violent victimizations overall and 55 percent of serious violent victimizations (rape or sexual assault, robbery, and aggravated assault) were reported to police. Property victimizations reported to police declined from 37 to 35 percent, and the percentage of household burglaries and vehicle thefts reported to police also declined last year.
NCVS reported no statistically significant differences last year compared with previous years in the rates of violent or serious violent crime by victims’ race or Hispanic origin, marital status, or household income.
Katie Ray-Jones, CEO of the National Domestic Violence Hotline, told The Crime Report that, “The increase in cases of intimate partner violence and rape/sexual assault between 2014 and 2015 illustrates, in part, that the public at large acknowledges that these acts are no longer to be viewed as ‘just part of a relationship’ but rather, indicative of abusive behavior.”
She added: “Further, increased coverage of these issues – both in quantity and quality – may be a contributing factor in getting many to think about what is happening to them in a very different way and, as a result, more often take action to report incidents.”
Experts believe the data largely do not mean there has been an actual increase in these offenses but rather that victims, mostly women, have become more aware that such violence are crimes and are not a normal part of relationships.
Today’s report may reduce the prominence of crime as a political debating point nationally, but the homicide problem will remain a major issue in big cities like Chicago, where murder totals have gone up sharply after years of decline.
Ted Gest is president of Criminal Justice Journalists and Washington bureau chief of The Crime Report.