FBI claims that crime dropped in 2023. Is there truth in that?

Originally published on Crime In America. Republished with permission.
 

An overview of the third quarter report on violent and property crimes reported to law enforcement for 2023 from the FBI. 

The great majority of violent and property crimes are not reported to law enforcement so what you read below is a vast undercount.

It’s important to recognize that there are dozens of cities reporting increases in major categories of violent crime in 2023 with many reporting increases in homicides, some with considerable gains.

After a 50 percent increase in homicides and a 36 percent increase in aggravated assaults (2019-2022) based on city crime data offered by the Major Cities Chiefs Association, it’s more than possible that crime decreases for 2023 are a regression to the mean (or average). Nothing stays that high forever. Per research, decreases beyond proactive policing may have nothing to do with new initiatives. Federal data shows increased arrests and incarceration.

The most recent 2022 numbers from the USDOJ (issued in December 2023) are available at Violent and Property Crime Rates In The U.S. Per The National Crime Victimization Survey, violence grew by 44 percent, the largest increase in the nation’s history. 

The FBI offered new third-quarter (January through September 2023) crime statistics for cities, metro, and nonmetropolitan areas in 2023. Observations:

Decreases are across the board for all crimes except for increases in Motor Vehicle Theft.

11,806 law enforcement agencies out of 19,000 participated.

Violent crime fell by 8.2 percent.

Murder fell by 15.6 percent

Rape fell by 14.8 percent

Robbery fell by 9.4 percent

Aggravated Assault fell by 6.8 percent

Property crime fell by 6.3 percent

Burglary fell by 11.7 percent

Larceny-Theft fell by 8.5 percent

Arson fell by 11.8 percent

Motor Vehicle Theft increased by 10.1 percent

The largest decreases are for 9 cities of one million or more except for a 35.1 percent increase in Motor Vehicle Theft.

The second largest decreases are for 45 cities of 250,000 to 499,000 except for a 14.3 percent increase in Motor Vehicle Theft.

The remaining cities recorded decreases in the 4-10 percent range.

Metropolitan areas had a 5.8 percent decrease in violent crime.

Nonmetropolitan areas had an 8.3 percent decrease in violent crime



Warnings About Crimes Reported To Law Enforcement

These are third-quarter statistics. Full-year data may be different. When I did an article on months for crime using FBI numbers several years ago, December had the highest month for every crime category. That’s obviously incorrect. The FBI stated that many law enforcement agencies submit most of their crime data in December. The numbers above could change when the FBI calculates fourth-quarter numbers.

Per the FBI and the National Crime Victimization Survey from the Bureau of Justice Statistics, there are approximately 18,000-19,000 police agencies in the US. The data above includes 11,806 agencies. Traditionally, not all police agencies participate in national crime statistics.

The FBI’s new National Incident-Based Reporting System collects more crime incidents (per event) than the old Summary Reporting System. The increases range from 1 to 4.5 percent. While the great majority of reported crimes are counted as single events, some may be recorded as multiple events thus raising crime numbers. This could impact lower percentage decreases above.

Not all police agencies are participating in the National Incident-Based Reporting System, some are still using the Summary Reporting System. The old Summary Reporting System data were included in the 2022 data released by the FBI. I’m unaware of the percentage mix for this data.

An Earlier Release Date For Full 2023 Crime Data?

The FBI and the National Crime Victimization Survey are usually released in late fall; both were released in December 2023 for yearly 2022 numbers.

With third-quarter FBI data being released now (and not December) does that mean the FBI will offer full-year crime data for 2023 much sooner than before? 

Three Groups Are Using City Dashboard Data As A Substitute For FBI Data

Traditionally, the FBI releases full-year crime data for the proceeding year in December (i.e., 2022 data was released in December of 2023). To speed up that analysis, criminologist Jeff Asher, the Major Cities Chiefs Association, and the Council on Criminal Justice collect city crime dashboard data. All predicted (or recorded) drops in violent and property crime with some variations. See Violent and Property Crime Rates In The U.S. for an explanation and an overview of current numbers.

Unreported Crime Is A Huge Factor To Consider

What are the biggest stumbling blocks to using city crime dashboard data or numbers from the FBI? The vast majority of crime is not reported to law enforcement. Per the Bureau of Justice Statistics of the USDOJ, 42 percent of violent crimes are reported. 32 percent of property crimes are reported.

When we discuss overall crime in the US, we acknowledge that up to 80 percent are property crimes. If 32 percent of property crimes are reported, that means that city crime dashboards (as well as national FBI data) are vast undercounts. It’s the same for violent crime. It’s more than possible that claimed decreases in crime are actually increases. There are additional reasons for accuracy concerns below.

The National Crime Victimization Survey

Do you want a count crime that doesn’t rely on crimes reported to law enforcement? See the National Crime Victimization Survey from the Bureau of Justice Statistics. Is their data different? Considering that the National Crime Victimization Survey is a count of total crime (with some exceptions) the numbers are much larger than those of reported crime.

The Survey stated that there was a 44 percent increase (the largest increase ever reported) in violence for 2022 (latest report). There are huge increases in violence for groups. The FBI for 2022 (latest report) stated that there was a slight increase in violence.

An Explanation For Reported Crime Decreases

Per one measure of big city crime dashboards from The Major Cities Chiefs Association (includes US and Canadian cities), from 2019-2022, homicides increased by 50 percent and aggravated assaults went up by by 36 percent.

Are the declines in FBI data or big city crime what methodologists call a regression to the mean (average) or an acknowledgment that big spikes (or decreases) in crime are not forever? Crime goes up and down for reasons we can’t fully identify. It’s been that way since the beginning of crime statistics.

Cities, police chiefs, and advocates are taking credit for decreases when reductions may have nothing to do with their initiatives.

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 18,000-19,000 police agencies in the US. Getting all to define and report crime accurately is a daunting task. For example, there are 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. If there’s no arrest, was the crime counted in official statistics? Crimes solved have also declined considerably.

It’s also important to recognize that there are dozens of cities reporting increases in major categories of violent crime in 2023 with many reporting increases in homicides, some with considerable gains.

Conclusions

There are issues with every effort to measure crime. The biggest is the fact that the great majority of crime is not reported to law enforcement per the Bureau of Justice Statistics. Increases or decreases in reported crime could be off substantially.

The issue gets muddier with the FBI’s new National Incident-Based Reporting System and who’s participating fully. Per the chart above, there are over 6,000 police agencies not participating in third-quarter statistics.

But when all is said and done, the data offered by the FBI remains the only national game in town besides numbers offered by the National Crime Victimization Survey from the Bureau of Justice Statistics and their 44 percent increase (the nation’s largest crime increase) in violent crime for the latest reporting period in 2022.

That said, regardless of all the cumbersome realities of collecting crime data, it looks probable that reported crime decreased in 2023. We need to examine crime and its impact on American citizens. Regardless of the complexities, the FBI is offering reasonable data and is trying to improve based on its new National Incident-Based Reporting System. 

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