Violent Crimes Reported to Police Hit Record Lows

There are endless reasons for not reporting violent crimes to law enforcement. When I got my butt kicked in my younger days, the thought of reporting it to police was nonexistent. It was something one goes through; a standard part of growing up in Baltimore. I do not believe that I ever reported a stolen item; what was the point? Not reporting crimes may be a standard part of the American experience.

People don’t report for personal reasons, or because they believe that law enforcement can do little about it, or they fear retribution per the Bureau of Justice Statistics and the documents cited below.

One Perspective From the Washington Post

“First Congregational Church of Oakland shares a neighborhood with many homeless people who often come to the church in times of mental health crises. Sometimes church members feel unequipped to deal with the erratic behavior: The most heart-wrenching scenes, volunteer leader Nichola Torbett says, are the times when the church is closing for the day, and a person with nowhere else to go absolutely refuses to leave the building.

At least once or twice a month, at their wits’ end, the church members call 911.

Now, the church has joined a small handful of like-minded congregations with a radical goal: to stop calling the police. Not for mental health crises, not for graffiti on their buildings, not even for acts of violence. These churches believe the American police system, criticized for its impact especially on people of color, is such a problem that they should wash their hands of it entirely,” Washington Post.

The Complexity of Reporting

Having worked in the criminal justice system for close to fifty years, I interacted with a lot of churches of all faiths and races. Very few ever called the police for any reason short of an ongoing violent crime. I’m not disparaging the Post report, but churches and places of worship are often hesitant to report anything; it may conflict with religious values.

As to race, the percentage of whites (40.1%) and blacks (39.8) reporting violent crime in 2016 was virtually the same. Hispanics (51.6) reported more.

Thus calling the police is a complex undertaking involving more than mere numbers. There is the issue of unreported rapes or domestic violence and the system adequately responding to and respecting the rights of victims. There are neighborhoods where calling the police can result in intimidation or violence. There are issues surrounding immigration or economic status.

The crime victims movement, which I respect immensely, has justifiable issues with the quality of system interaction.

At a bar one night when I was an off-duty cop, a fight broke out, and I was asked to intervene (“damn-can’t have a beer in peace”) and I quickly broke it up. When I asked the victim if he wanted to press charges, he looked at me like I had three heads. “Nope,” was his only response.

Crimes Reported to Police

In 2016, fewer than half (42%) of violent victimizations were reported to police. Aggravated assault (58%) and robbery (54%) were more likely to be reported to police than simple assault (38%). However, rape or sexual assault (23%) was less likely to be reported to police than simple assault (38%). The percentages of stranger violence (45%), domestic violence (49%), and intimate partner violence (47%) that were reported to police were not significantly different.

Household crime types showed some variation in reporting patterns. In 2016, motor vehicle thefts (80%) were the most likely of all household crime types to be reported to police, followed by household burglaries (50%) and thefts (30%), Criminal Victimization-2016.

monitoring device

In 2015, 47% of violent victimizations were reported to police From 2014 to 2015, no statistically significant change was detected in the percentage of violent and serious violent victimizations reported to police. In 2015, a greater percentage of robberies (62%) and aggravated assaults (62%) were reported to police than simple assaults (42%) and rape or sexual assaults (32%). The percentage of stranger violence reported to police (42%) was lower than the percentage of domestic violence (58%) and lower (90% confidence level) than intimate partner violence (54%) reported to police in 2015.

From 2014 to 2015, the percentage of total property victimizations reported to police decreased from 37% to 35%. The percentage of household burglaries reported to police also decreased from 60% in 2014 to 51% in 2015. The percentage of motor vehicle thefts reported to police decreased from 83% to 69% during the same period.

There was no statistically significant change in the percentage of thefts reported to police from 2014 to 2015. Rates of property crime reported to police declined from 2014 to 2015.

Criminal Victimization-2015

Crime Reporting: 1993 to 2015


Fewer than half (42%) of violent victimizations were reported to police in 2016. You can compare this number to previous years. The 2016 numbers are the lowest for violent crimes reported to the police since 1998.

Final Issues

The 42 percent of violent crimes reported in 2016 is the same as those reported in 1993, so there is, generally speaking, more consistency than inconsistency over time. Violent crimes reported to law enforcement rarely exceed 50 percent.

Per the Bureau of Justice Statistics for 2015, “The percentage of violent and serious violent victimizations reported to police was generally stable over the 23 years from 1993 to 2015.”

2016 was a redesign year for the National Crime Survey, but the Bureau of Justice Statistics does not note that the lower numbers of violent crime reported are due to the redesign.

Leonard Adam Sipes, Jr. – Retired federal senior spokesperson. Thirty-five years of public relations for national and state criminal justice agencies. Interviewed multiple times by every national news outlet. Former Senior Specialist for Crime Prevention for the Department of Justice’s clearinghouse. Former Director of Information Services, National Crime Prevention Council. Former Adjunct Associate Professor of criminology and public affairs-University of Maryland, University College. Certificate of Advanced Study-Johns Hopkins University. Contact me at [email protected].