U.S. Crime Rate is Stable, Victimization Survey Says

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As reported by crime victims, the national crime rate last year remained about the same as the 2015 total, the U.S. Justice Department’s National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) reported on Thursday.

In 2016, the survey said, residents aged 12 or older experienced 5.7 million violent victimizations, a rate of 21.1 per 1,000 persons.

The previous year, the same survey reported five million violent victimizations, a rate of 18.6 per 1,000 people.

However, the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) which compiled the survey, said the new report did not establish a crime increase because the methodology changed during the year.

The annual victimization survey is based on interviews of Americans on whether they were victimized in the previous year.

It differs from the FBI’s annual crime report, which was issued in late September for 2016, because it includes the many crimes unreported to law enforcement. The FBI report is based on crimes reported to the bureau by local police departments.

In the case of violent crime, the 5.7 million total reported by the NCVS far exceeds the FBI’s figure for the same year: 1,248,185, a four percent increase over 2015. That is because only 42 percent of violent victimizations were reported to police last year.

Because NCVS is based on interviews with victims, it does not include data on homicides. The FBI reported that the murder total rose 8.6 percent last year, a figure that is usually judged to be accurate because most killings are reported.

The NCVS definition of violent crime includes rape or sexual assault, robbery, and aggravated and simple assault.

Even though the estimated 5.7 million violent incidents may seem high, only 1.3 percent of U.S. residents told surveyors that they had experienced one or more violent victimizations during the year.

Among the NCVS violent crime categories, the crimes more likely to be reported to police were aggravated assault (58 percent) and robbery (54 percent.) Only 38 percent of simple assaults and 23 percent of rapes or sexual assaults were reported to law enforcement.

The reason that there can be no precise comparisons between the victimization surveys of 2015 and 2016, explained BJS, was that surveyors included new areas sampled to reflect population changes based on the 2010 Census. The new areas also will help produce state- and local-level victimization estimates, which will be released early next year.

The bureau’s conclusion that “there was no measurable difference in rates of violent or property crime from 2015 to 2016” was based on a comparison of the surveyed areas that did not change between the two years.

Among other conclusions in the new report:

  • Violent crime rates did not differ significantly by a victim’s sex or among white, black and Hispanic victims;
  • The age group 12-34 had higher rates of violent victimization than those 35 and older;
  • Violent victimizations of Hispanics were more likely to be reported to police than those committed against blacks or whites ; and
  • One in 10 victims received assistance from a victim service provider.

About nine percent of U.S. households experienced a total of 15.9 million property victimizations in 2016, including burglary, motor vehicle theft and theft.

The NCVS conclusion that overall crime rates were flat in the nation last year is not likely to be highighted by President Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who have focused on cities that have reported increases in murders.

Early next year, the NCVS will publish local-level victimization estimates for the largest 22 states and specific metropolitan areas within those states.

In past years, the survey has been able to produce only national estimates of crime victimizations.

Overall, victimization rates last year were lower in the northeast and southern United States than in the midwest and west.

Some 134,690 households and 224,520 persons age 12 or older were interviewed for the NCVS.

The estimated total of property crimes last year in the nation was 15.9 million, mostly thefts. Some 14.6 million property crimes were reported by NCVS for 2015, but as in the violent crime category, BJS said it could not be concluded that there was an increase because of the methodology change.

Ted Gest is president of Criminal Justice Journalists and Washington Bureau Chief of The Crime Report. Readers’ comments are welcomed.

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