Crime in the United States is characterized by relatively high levels of gun violence and homicide, compared to other developed countries. Some authors attribute both trends to the fact that criminals in America are more likely to have firearms. Crime statistics are published annually by the Federal Bureau of Investigation in the Uniform Crime Reports which represents crimes reported to the police. The Bureau of Justice Statistics conducts the annual National Crime Victimization Survey which captures crimes not reported to the police.
The country's overall crime rate is displayed in two indices. The violent crime index comprises homicide, forcible rape, robbery and assault. The property crime index consists of burglary, larceny/theft, motor vehicle theft, and arson. Statistics for index offenses are generally available for the country as a whole, all fifty states and all communities within the United States with 10,000 or more residents. The crime rate is measured by the number of crimes being reported per 100,000 people. While the crime rate had risen sharply in the late 1960s and early 1970s, bringing it to a constant all-time high during much of the 1970s and 1980s, it has drastically declined ever since 1991. One hypothesis suggests there is a causal relationship between legalized abortion and the drop in crime during the 1990s. In 2004 America's crime rate is roughly the same as in 1970, with the homicide rate being at its lowest level since 1965. Overall, the national crime rate was 3982 crimes per 100,000 residents, down from 4852 crimes per 100,000 residents thirty years earlier in 1974 (-17.6%). The severity of crime in international comparison depends on the nature of the crimes considered in such comparison. For example, while the homicide and violent crime rates of the United States were much higher than those of Canada, property crime rates in the US were considerably lower. The overall crime rate in the United States is lower than that of Canada. Additionally there tend to be great regional differences within the U.S. with New England having a violent crime and homicide rate comparable to that of most other developed nations, while southern states were among the most violent.
The likelihood of committing and falling victim to crime also depends on several demographic characteristics, as well as location of the population. Overall, minorities, the young, and those in financially less favorable positions are more likely to be victimized by, as well as commit, crimes. Crime in the US is also concentrated to certain areas. It is quite common for crime in American cities to be highly concentrated in a few, often economically disadvantaged areas. For example, San Mateo County, California had a population of approximately 624,000 and 17 homicides in 2001. 6 of these 17 homicides took place in relatively poor, largely African and Hispanic American East Palo Alto, which had a population of roughly 30,000. So, while East Palo Alto accounted for 4.8% of the population, about one-third of the homicides took place there.
Crime has been a long-standing concern in the United States, with relatively high rates at the beginning of the 20th century when compared to parts of Western Europe. In 1916, 198 homicides were recorded in Chicago, a city of slightly over 2 million at the time. This level of crime was not exceptional when compared to other American cities such as New York City, but was much higher relative to European cities, such as London, which then had three times the population but recorded only 45 homicides in the same year.
Crime in the United States has fluctuated considerably over the course of the last half-century, rising significantly in the late 1960s and 1970s, peaking in the 1980s and then decreasing considerably in the 1990s. Over the past thirty years, the crime rate rose throughout the 1980s, reached its peak in 1991 and then began to decrease throughout the 1990s and 2000s. Recent statistics indicate that crime could again be increasing. The year 2005 was overall the safest year in the past thirty years. The recent overall decrease has reflected upon all significant types of crime, with all violent and property crimes having decreased and reached an all-time low. The homicide rate in particular has decreased over 42% between its record high point in 1991 and 2005.
Recently, however, the homicide rate has stagnated. While the homicide rate decreased continuously between 1991 and 2000 from 9.8 homicides per 100,000 persons to 5.5 per 100,000, it has remained level through 2005. In the years between 2000 and 2005 the homicide rate has remained at an all-time low between 5.5 and 5.7 homicides per 100,000 individuals. Despite the recent stagnation of the homicide rate, however, property and violent crimes overall have continued to decrease, though at a considerably slower pace than in the 1990s. Overall, the crime rate in the U.S. was the same in 2004 as in 1969, with the homicide rate being roughly the same as in 1966. Violent crime overall, however, is still at the same level as in 1974, despite having decreased steadily since 1991.
|Violent crime rate||160.9||158.1||168.2||200.2||253.2||328.7||396.0||417.4||487.8||475.9||548.9||594.3||537.7||556.6||609.7||663.1||758.1||746.8||684.6||610.8||523.0||504.4||475.8||469.2|
|Property crime rate||1,726||1,747||2,012||2,249||2,736||3,351||3,769||3,737||4,811||4,602||5,017||5,264||4,637||4,650||4,940||5,078||5,140||4,738||4,591||4,312||3,744||3,656||3,591||3,430|
SOURCES: US Bureau of Justice Statistics (2004), Federal Bureau of Investigation, (2005)
A subsequent United States Department of Justice report which surveyed homicide statistics between 1974 and 2004 stated that of the crimes surveyed for which the identity of the offender could be determined, 52.1% of the offenders were Black, 45.9% were White, and 2% were Other Races. Of the victims in those same crimes, 51% were White, 46.9% were Black, and 2.1% were Other Races. The report further noted that, "most murders are intraracial", with 86% of White murders committed by Whites, and 94% of Black murders committed by Blacks. It should be noted that the document does not provide any details concerning what races or ethnicities are included in the designations "White", "Black", or "Other Races".
A February 1997 report on rape and sexual-based crime published by the United States Department of Justice stated that of the crimes surveyed, 56% of arrestees were White, 42% were Black, and 2% were of other races; though it should be noted that "Hispanic" was not recognized as a racial category, with Hispanics predominantly being grouped together with Non-Hispanic Whites. The report additionally noted that "victims of rape were about evenly divided between whites and blacks; in about 88% of forcible rapes, the victim and offender were of the same race. For both 2004 and 2005, the percentage of incidents of rape or sexual assault with a white perpetrator and a black victim was 0.0, an estimate based on 10 or fewer sample cases. In contrast, in 2005, in cases where the victim was white, 33.6% of the perpetrators were black. In 2004, only 8.3% of the perpetrators were black.
In 1998, nearly one out of three Black men between the ages of 20-29 were in prison or jail, on probation or parole on any given day. Approximately 70% of prisoners in the United States are non-Whites.
Compared with other countries, the United States has among the highest incarceration rates in the world. As of 2006, a record 7 million people were behind bars, on probation or on parole, of which 2.2 million were incarcerated. The People's Republic of China ranks second with 1.5 million. The United States has 5% of the world's population and 25% of the world's incarcerated population.
In terms of federal prison, 57% of those incarcerated were sentenced for drug offenses. However, it should be noted that the federal prison population is a very small percentage of the massive state prison population, which also holds numerous people convicted of drug offenses. Currently, considering local jails as well, almost a million of those incarcerated are in prison for non-violent crime. In 2002, roughly 93.2 % of prisoners were male. About 10.4 % of all black males in the United States between the ages of 25 and 29 were sentenced and in prison by year end, compared to 2.4 % of Hispanic males and 1.2 % of white males.
Reporting at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association (August 3, 2008), sociologists at Bowling Green State University found that men who attend college are more likely to commit property crimes during their college years than their non-college-attending peers. The research draws from three waves of data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health and examines education, crime levels, substance abuse and socializing among adolescents and young adults.
Overall the financially disadvantaged, males, those younger than 25 and non European-Americans were more likely to fall victim to crime. Income, sex and age had the most dramatic effect on the chances of a person being victimized by crime, while the characteristic of race depended on the crime. In 2005, 27 out of 1,000 African Americans became the victim of a violent crime, compared to 20 out of every 1,000 White Americans. This means that African Americans were overall 35% more likely to sustain a violent crime. The likelihood of being murdered was drastically higher for African Americans. In 2004 African Americans constituted roughly 13.4% of the general population, yet, nearly half, 49%, of all murder victims in 2005 were African American. Sexual assault and rape rates, however, were roughly the same for all races, while Whites and African Americans had approximately the same chances of falling victim to simple assaults. In terms of sex, males were more likely to become crime victims than were females with 79% percent of all murder victims being male. Males were also twice as likely to be carjacked as were females. In terms of income all households had roughly the same chance of becoming victims of property theft. Yet, households with an annual income of less than $7,500 were far more likely to be assaulted, robbed and have their homes burglarized. Concerning age, those younger than twenty-five were more likely to fall victim to crime, especially violent crime. The chances of being victimized by violent crime decreased far more substantially with age than the chances of becoming the victim of property crime. For example, 1 out of every 33 crimes committed against a young person was theft, while 1 out of every 5 crimes committed against an elderly person was theft. Thus one can conclude that the probability of becoming a crime victim decreases as income and age increase, in addition to being lower for European Americans and females.
The United States Department of Justice compiles statistics on crime by race, but only between and among people categorized as black or white. According to U.S. Department of Justice document Criminal Victimization in the United States, there were overall 3,201,320 white and 507,210 black victims of violent crimes reported in 2005. Out of the 3,201,320 cases involving white victims, 63.6% (2,358,625) had white offenders and 17.2% (550,627) had black offenders, while the 507,210 black victims had a figure of 73.3% (371,785) black offenders and 10.4% (52,750) white offenders. There were 111,490 white and 36,620 black victims of rape or sexual assault reported in 2005. Out of the 111,490 cases involving white victims, 44.5% (49,613) had white offenders and 33.6% (37,461) had black offenders, while the 36,620 black victims had a figure of 100% black offenders, with a 0.0% estimation for any other race based on ten or fewer sample cases.
The manner in which America's crime rate compared to other countries of similar wealth and development depends on the nature of the crime used in the comparison. Overall crime statistic comparisons are difficult to conduct, as the definition of crimes significant enough to be published in annual reports varies across countries. Thus an agency in a foreign country may include crimes in its annual reports which the United States omits. Some countries such as Canada, however, have similar definitions of what constitutes a violent crime, and nearly all countries had the same definition of the characteristics that constitutes a homicide. Overall the total crime rate of the United States is similar to that of other highly developed countries. Reported property crime in the U.S. is actually lower than in Germany or Canada, yet the homicide rate in the United States is substantially higher. There were 17,034 murders in the United States in 2006 (666,160 murders from 1960 to 1996). Interestingly enough, the overall violent crime rate in the United States was roughly half that of Canada, despite its homicide rate being 189.5% higher; note from the references, however, that the US violent crime rate includes only Aggravated Assault, whereas the Canadian violent crime rate includes all categories of assault, including the much-more-numerous Assault level 1 (i.e., assault not using a weapon and not resulting in serious bodily harm). According to a recent study by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, where crime figures were adjusted for international comparison, the United States had a lower overall burglary rate than Scotland, England, Canada, the Netherlands, and Australia. The other two countries included in the study, Sweden and Switzerland, had only slightly lower burglary rates.
Despite the overall crime rate of the United States being seemingly in line with that of other industrialized countries, its homicide rate, which has declined substantially since 1991, is still among the highest in the industrialized world. Comparing just homicide rates by themselves, however, may not be representative of the overall crime rate of a country. Only the homicide rate of Northern Ireland in the early 1990s compares to that of the United States today. In 2004, there were 5.5 homicides for every 100,000 persons, compared to 1.9 in Canada and 1.0 in Germany. This means that the homicide rate in the United States was nearly three times as high as in Canada and slightly more than five times as high as in Germany. Most industrialized countries had homicide rates below the 2.5 mark. Overall the homicide rate in the United States was similar to that of some lesser developed Eastern European countries.
|Country||Ireland||Norway||Germany||United Kingdom||France||Canada||Scotland||United States||Russia||Venezuela||Jamaica||South Africa||Colombia|
SOURCES: US Bureau of Justice Statistics (2004), Bundeskriminalamt, BKA (2004), Canada Statistics (2004), Seventh United Nations Survey of Crime Trends and Operations of Criminal Justice Systems (2000)
Location has a very significant impact on crime in the United States. While some responding jurisdictions are nearly free of serious crime, others are plagued by some of the highest serious crime rates in the industrialized world. The homicide rate exemplifies the stark differences between communities. In 2004, the Baltimore police departments reported more homicides per 100,000 residents than any other jurisdiction. The rate of homicide per 100,000 was 43.5, nearly eight times the national average. In 2005, Forbes magazine listed Long Island, one of the suburban areas of New York City, which is also one of the wealthiest and most expensive communities in the United States, as having 2,042 crimes per 100,000 residents; the lowest crime rate and less than half the US average Fairfax County, Virginia, a very affluent suburban enclave of the nation's capital with 1,041,200 residents, had the lowest homicide rate of any jurisdiction. In 2004, Fairfax County's homicide rate was reported at 0.3 homicides per 100,000 persons, 94.5% below the national average and 1/145 of Baltimore's homicide rate. It is therefore important to remember that the risk of being victimized by crime in the United States varies greatly from locale to locale.
|City||Population||Number of Crimes per 100,000 persons (Crime Rates)|
|Violent Crime Rates||Property Crime Rates|
|Violent Crime||Homicide||Rape||Robbery||Assault||Property Crime||Burglary||Larceny||Motor vehicle theft|
|New York City, New York||8,101,321||2000.4||33.0||70.6||800.9||600.9||4,331.1||3222.2||3,530.8||460.1|
|Los Angeles, California||3,864,018||1,107.3||13.4||29.3||367.0||697.6||3,240.2||599.9||1,864.5||775.7|
|San Antonio, Texas||1,235,128||635.2||7.6||54.8||172.2||400.6||6,578.7||1,191.8||4,928.1||458.8|
|San Diego, California||1,281,366||528.7||4.8||29.1||128.8||365.9||3,546.4||570.1||1,964.2||1,012.2|
|San Jose, California||908,712||371.8||2.6||28.2||86.4||254.6||2,453.8||397.9||1,558.8||497.1|
|San Francisco, California||760,353||757.1||11.6||20.0||399.9||325.6||4,717.4||801.9||2,855.4||1,060.2|
With few exceptions, there also seems to be a strong correlation between median household income and crime rates. In addition to having the country's lowest crime rates, New England states also had the country's highest median household income, while the Southern states have the lowest. Almost all of the nation's wealthiest twenty states, which included northern mid-western and western states such as Wisconsin and California, had crime rates below the national average. The nation's more dangerous states such as Arizona, Arkansas and Texas in turn ranked among those with a household income below the national median. For example, New Hampshire was one of the nation's wealthiest and safest state. New Hampshire's total crime rate was 57.9%; its violent crime rate was 64.1% and its homicide rate 69.1% below the national average. Connecticut, the nation's fourth wealthiest state, had a crime rate 27% and a homicide rate 52.7% below the national average. This contrasts starkly to some of the nation's poorer states such as Georgia, Florida or Louisiana. Louisiana had a crime rate 27% and a homicide rate 130.9% above the national average and ranked as the nation's fourth poorest state with a median household income 20% below the national median. While these trends hold generally true, it should be noted, that several states who fell below the national median for household income such as New York, Maine and Kentucky also had crime rates below the national average, while some wealthier states such as Maryland and Hawaii had crime rates above the national average.
The highest total crime rate of any state, except for the District of Columbia, was found in Arizona, followed by South Carolina. The crime rate in Arizona was 46.82% above the national average and three and half (3.5) times as high as that of New Hampshire, America's safest state. The homicide rate was highest in the District of Columbia and Louisiana, as both states are home to some of the most violent areas in the entire country, namely eastern Washington, D.C. and the city of New Orleans. Overall there were six states with fewer than two homicides per 100,000 residents. Yet there were also eight states with more than seven homicides per 100,000 residents. These findings further illustrate the drastic degree to which crimes rates vary from state to state.
|State||Number of Crimes per 100,000 persons (Crime Rates)|
|Violent Crime Rates||Property Crime Rates||Total||Rank|
|Population||Violent Crime||Homicide||Rape||Robbery||Assault||Property Crime||Burglary||Larceny||Motor vehicle theft|
|District of Columbia||553,523||1,371.2||35.8||40.1||578.5||716.9||4,859.1||712.9||2,627.2||1,519.0||6,230.3||1|
|United States (Total)||293,655,404||465.5||5.5||32.2||136.7||291.1||3,517.1||729.9||2,365.9||421.3||3,980.6||(26)|
SOURCE: US Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2004