Do you trust the numbers? FBI claims crime decreased in 2023 - after a report released in record time

Originally written for Crime in America. Republished with permission.

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Except for homicides and rapes, most of the decreases in metropolitan areas (where the vast majority of Americans live) are rather small. Robberies increased a bit. Motor vehicle theft increased substantially. Aggravated assaults (the vast majority of measured violent crimes) decreased by 1.7 percent which influenced a small decrease in overall violence at 3.1 percent.

It’s important to recognize that there are dozens of cities reporting increases in major categories of violent crime in 2023 via the Major Cities Chiefs Association report with some reporting increases in homicides, some with considerable gains.

One could state that overall violence was flat for metropolitan areas in 2023 (like overall violence stats in 2022) considering the small decreases, an observation used by the National Crime Victimization Survey of the USDOJ when decreases or increases were small.

The Major Cities Chiefs Association stated that there was a 50 percent increase in homicides and a 36 percent increase in aggravated assaults (2019-2022) in the cities measured.

But the bottom line is that the “preliminary” decrease for “reported” crime in 2023 is good news for the country.

Overview Of Crime Data

There is a comprehensive overview of crime data from this site, see Violent and Property Crime Rates In The U.S.

The FBI just released a preliminary full-year crime report for 2023 in record time. Throughout decades of FBI crime data, the release of full-year data has never happened this early. Ordinarily, we would have to wait for late fall for a full-year crime report.

Overall:

Violent crime fell by 5.7 percent

Murder decreased by 13.2 percent

Rape decreased by 12.5 percent

Robbery decreased by 4.7 percent

Aggravated Assaults went down by 4.8 percent

Property crime is down by 4.3 percent

Burglary decreased by 9.8 percent

Larcery declined by 6.2 percent

Motor Vehicle Theft increased by 10.7 percent.

Arson declined by 8.2 percent.

The Main Difference Are Metropolitan Areas Compared To Nonmetropolitan Areas

For metropolitan areas:

Violent crime decreased by 3.1 percent

Murder decreased by 14.2 percent

Rape went down by 13.3 percent

Robbery increased by 1.3 percent

Aggravated assault decreased by 1.7 percent

Property crime decreased by 4.0 percent

Burglary declined by 8.7 percent

Larceny went down by 6.1 percent

Motor vehicle theft increased by 13.1 percent

Arson fell by 7.1 percent

For nonmetropolitan areas, the decreases were substantially higher.



Context-Understanding What The Statistics Mean

Major media coverage is offering the decreases without explanation as to what they mean. There is little to no context offered which may be a disservice to our understanding of crime. CNN seemed to criticize the data on fear of crime which seems dismissive of the feelings of tens of millions of Americans who suffer violent and property crimes, identity theft, and cybercrime yearly.

Most Crimes Are Not Reported To Law Enforcement

The numbers are based on crimes” reported” to law enforcement and the overwhelming number of crimes are not reported.

The FBI’s website states that the numbers are not an account of all crimes.

The FBI’s figures are based on “reported” crimes. The National Crime Victimization Survey is a count of all crimes with a couple of exceptions.

Per the USDOJ, forty-two percent of violent crime is reported along with 32 percent of property crimes which means that the vast majority of what we call crime is not brought to the attention of the police.

74 percent of violent victimizations against juveniles were not reported to the police and juvenile crime seems to be growing in some cities.

So What Does This Mean?

So what does this mean in terms of understanding the data? In my opinion, anything less than a ten percent increase or decrease is suspect based on the rather small percentage of crimes reported.

4,000 Police Agencies Not Participating

The FBI Quarterly Uniform Crime Report data release for Quarter 4, inclusive of January through December 2023, was made available on March 18, 2024. This report is based on data received from 15,199 of 19,152 law enforcement agencies in the country. In the past, major law enforcement agencies were still not fully participating in the FBI’s new (2015) National Incident-Based Reporting System.

Preliminary Report

From analyist Jeff Asher: First, the FBI data is preliminary, so take the information with the proper grain of salt (crime data should always be served with a grain of salt). Agencies still have some time to report 2023 data to the FBI, so these numbers are by no means final and will undoubtedly change a bit between now and October.

The FBI confirms via an email that these are preliminary statistics. But why rush out 2023 full-year data if it’s preliminary?  There’s no mention of the data being preliminary on the FBI’s website and announcement.

The National Crime Victimization Survey

The National Crime Victimization Survey from the Bureau of Justice Statistics from the US Department of Justice offered the latest full-year report for 2022 suggesting the largest increase in violence in the nation’s history.

The latest crime data shows huge increases in violent crime (44 percent in 2022) via the National Crime Victimization Survey per analyst Jeff Asher and The Marshall Project. There was a huge increase in violence among groups.

The Survey was demanded by the criminological community more than 50 years ago stating that “reported” crime data was insufficient for understanding America’s crime problems.

The Official Position Of The US Department of Justice

So if the FBI chart above is preliminary, it means that, per the US Department of Justice, the 44 percent increase in violent crime “and” violent crime being essentially flat in 2022 (small decrease) per the latest full-year report from the FBI,  are the latest official full-year crime statistics. When I worked as the senior specialist for the US Department of Justice’s clearinghouse, the National Criminal Justice Reference Service, they emphasized that full-year, non-preliminary data is the official position. 

The FBI’s crime full-year statistics for 2022 show that national violent crime decreased an estimated 1.7% (essentially flat) in 2022 compared to 2021 estimates. Murder and non-negligent manslaughter recorded a 2022 estimated nationwide decrease of 6.1% compared to the previous year.

A Regression To The Mean (Average)?

Crime rose considerably from 2019-2022 per the Major Cities Chiefs Association with a 50 percent increase in homicides and a 36 percent increase in aggravated assaults based on crime data from US and Canadian cities. Statistically speaking, it would be almost impossible for crime in cities to continue rising at that rate. It’s what researchers call a regression to the mean (or average). Throughout the history of counting crime, it goes up and down for reasons we find hard to articulate.

So even though we have more police agencies participating in the FBI’s National Incident-Based Reporting System, and the NIBRS is collecting more crimes than previous efforts, a reduction of “reported” crime was probably inevitable, regardless of interventions.

Crimes Reported To Law Enforcement Have Additional Issues With Reliability and Accuracy

Beyond being a small subset of total crime, there are other issues to consider with reported crimes:

There is a long history of manipulating data (including homicides) downward at the local level for endless reasons. In Washington, D.C., there are disputes over what counts as a homicide.

There is well-documented mistrust among some minority communities and law enforcement leading to a reluctance to report crimes.

The majority of violent crimes involve someone the victim knows (including family members) making crime reporting difficult. Many of these events are seen by the victim as a private matter and are not reported to law enforcement.

The wait times for police officers to arrive at a crime scene can be considerable, well over an hour is common. We have lost thousands of police officers due to resignations and retirement. If there’s no report because people were tired of waiting for officers to arrive, there’s no crime counted.

Major law enforcement organizations are still having issues transitioning to the FBI’s National Incident-Based Reporting System (although the percentage has greatly improved). Some suggest that it’s having an impact on crime reporting.

There are close to 19,000 police agencies in the US. Getting all to define and report crime accurately is a daunting task. For example, there were thousands of law enforcement agencies stating that there were no hate crimes in their jurisdiction for the latest reporting period.

Some states and cities promote “crime-free” housing meaning that occupants could lose their homes if a crime (i.e., domestic violence) is reported.

Note that arrests have plummeted over the last two decades and arrests declined sharply since the beginning of the police use of force protests (2014) and COVID-19 (2020) thus there is evidence that events affect numbers. It’s possible that declining arrests and increasing unsolved crimes could have an impact on crime counts.

It’s also important to recognize that there are dozens of cities reporting increases in major categories of violent crime in 2023 via the Major Cities Chiefs Association third quarter report with some reporting increases in homicides, some with considerable gains.

With so many cities reporting increases in juvenile violence, and with 74 percent of violent victimizations against juveniles not reported to the police it’s more than possible that the data for decreased violence may be impacted.

Fear of crime is at record levels in the US per Gallup.

Conclusions

First, it’s great news that FBI preliminary crime statistics for 2023 show substantial decreases for all crime categories except vehicle thefts.

Second, the three groups using city crime dashboard data to estimate crime statistics seem to be accurate as to projected overall decreases, but not necessarily the percentages predicted for metropolitan areas.

Third, the differences in metropolitan (a geographical region with a relatively high population density at its core and close economic ties throughout the area) compared to nonmetropolitan areas (not metropolitan; rural or semi-rural) are considerable which indicates that cities and their surrounding counties are still struggling with crime.

Except for homicides and rapes, (tiny numbers compared to other violent crimes) most of the decreases in metropolitan areas (where the vast majority of Americans live) are rather small. Robberies increased a bit. Motor vehicle theft increased substantially. Aggravated assaults (the vast majority of measured violent crimes) only decreased by 1.7 percent which influenced a small decrease in overall violence at 3.1 percent.

One could state that overall violence was flat in metropolitan areas for 2023 (like overall violence statistics in 2022) considering the small decreases, an observation used in the USDOJ’s National Crime Victimization Survey when decreases are small.

But the bottom line is that decreases (however preliminary) for 2023 are good news for the country.

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The opinions reflected in this article are not necessarily the opinions of LET
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Comments

Richard

Our Government occasionally tells most of the truth on a given subject. Most of what they say is simply made up to make them or the subject look good to the public. They lie by omission first other than that they have formulas that skews the results. Seldom will you EVER hear or read anything our government says that has the facts for anyone to make a close decision of the truth.

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