crime scene tape

U.S. Crime Rates 1960-2010: The Facts Might Surprise You

Human Interest, Sensible Gun Safety 22 2316

Original article appears below foreword.

FOREWORD

In the aftermath of recent violent mass-shooting events in the United States along with increased traffic to this particular article, I feel compelled to preface it by saying that this article’s purpose is to put the state of crime in America in proper context.

By many measures we are safer now than we were two and three decades ago, but less so compared to four and five decades ago. While the murder rate is at or near a 50-year low, some of the deadliest and most violent mass-shooting events have happened within the past five years. The point is, when we read or watch news stories about random violent acts, we should always be mindful not to overplay singular events against a mountain of statistical evidence showing we are better off now compared to 20 and 30 years ago.

At the same time, if new trends begin to emerge, like increased frequency or scale of mass-shooting events, we should embrace freedom of speech and have a national conversation about the proper steps to reduce such occurrences. And yes, all options should be on the table, including a conversation about sensible gun safety legislation.

As it relates to the original intent of this article, the national media’s coverage of these mass shooting events combined with the local media’s fixation on robberies, assaults and murder, has a collective desensitizing effect on the citizenry. I don’t think it’s likely that violence in TV and movies makes someone violent, but a constant barrage of violence from all things media likely results in a warped perception of reality for all of us. We are so accustomed to hearing about violent acts that we have decoupled the violent act from reality. It’s like it’s not real. That murder reported on TV happens in the same alternate universe that violent video games exist in, forever safe from affecting our lives. That is, until the day some of us find we awoke in that alternate universe. That happened to the citizens of Newtown, CT last week.

- David K. Sutton — Foreword dated 12/14/2012 and revised on 12/17/2012

 

Original article:

If you watch the news you might be under the impression that the United States is in bad shape when it comes to crime. Every night on the local news you hear about murders and other violent crimes. It could lead anybody to believe that society is in free-fall. But is this really the case?

It turns out all major crimes are trending down from their 50-year highs in the 70s, 80s and 90s. In fact, one crime was near a 50-year low in 2010 when indexed per 100,000 people. More on that in a moment. Whether we are talking about assault, vehicle theft, burglary, rape or murder, all indicators are down from their highs.

Combined into two major classifications, violent crimes and property crimes, we can get a snapshot of crime trends over the past 50 years compared to population growth. Violent crimes include rape, murder, assault and robbery. Property crimes include burglary, larceny-theft and vehicle theft. The chart below shows violent crimes and property crimes indexed per 100,000 people combined with population.

U.S. Crime Index Rates Per 100,000 People 1960 - 2010

Even as population grows from under 200 million to over 300 million the crime rate (violent and property) per 100,000 people climbs and then falls during the past 50 years. When you watch the news and listen to people talk about society, a common theme is that America is heading in the wrong direction. This chart says otherwise.

Let’s pull some raw numbers from the FBI Uniform Crime Reports and display them by Worst Year, Best Year, 2010.

Murder
1991 – 24,700
1962 – 8,530
2010 – 14,748

Rape
1992 – 109,060
1960 – 17,190
2010 – 84,767

Assault
1993 – 1,135,610
1960 – 154,320
2010 – 778,901

Burglary
1980 – 3,795,200
1960 – 912,100
2010 – 2,159,878

Vehicle Theft
1991 – 1,661,700
1960 – 328,200
2010 – 737,142

For each of these crimes, 2010 was much improved compared to the worst years on record but still higher than the 1960s lows. You might be wondering what the crime index rates per 100,000 look like. For every crime except one the per 100,000 rates are still higher in 2010 compared to the 1960s lows. The one exception is murder.

U.S. Murders Per 100,000 People 1960 - 2010While the 50-year low for murder per 100,000 was in 1962 and 1963 with 4.6 per 100,000, those years were actually down a bit from the rest of the 1960s which ranged from 4.8 to 7.3. What was the 2010 number? – 4.8 per 100,000 – That’s a tie with 1961. Yes, you read that correctly. The murder rate, indexed to population was at a near 50-year low in 2010. Compare that to the worst year, 1980, when the rate was 10.2 per 100,000.

So what are we to make of these stats? Does it make you feel any differently about the direction we are heading? Personally I blame the news media. The corporations that own the “news” have increasingly applied their entertainment business model to the news division. This has been the case with the national news but in many cases the local news is just as guilty. It means more emphasis on the sensational stories that include crime and violence.

As I’ve shown, crime is not worse now compared to 20 and 30 years ago. In fact, it’s much improved. But these facts appear to contradict what we are fed by the news media. Ask yourself, how does your local news decide what to report on? If you live in or around a major city like I do (Philadelphia) then in the first 10 minutes of the 11pm news you’ve probably heard about 1 or 2 murders (or worse), possibly a rape, and several car accidents and fires. For as many of these events that they do report on there might be many more that they didn’t report. How do they decide? What makes one car accident more important than another? If you start thinking about it like this, the first 10 minutes of the local news broadcast seems arbitrary at best.

Let me take it one step further.

I believe all news, local and national, should be a public service. With all due respect for the victims of violent crimes, does it serve the public to report about a random murder if for no other purpose than to report something sensational? I ask the same about a house fire or even a car accident, although reporting car accidents for traffic purposes is definitely a public service. If reporting a crime to the public can help solve that crime then I believe it is a public service. If not, I believe we can find many more stories that would better serve the public.

A random violent crime, as terrible as it is for those involved, only affects a few people in the viewing area at most. Maybe I sound callous, but isn’t it worse that we all take part in this gruesome experience every day?

Is the common wisdom that things are getting worse based on facts and evidence? -or- Do we all need a collective perception adjustment?

Are we all victims of the news media’s fixation on sensational stories for high ratings?

Of course, if they get the ratings, then we only have ourselves to blame.

dks

photo by Brandon Anderson via Flickr


Get The Left Call Delivered To Your Inbox:

About the author / 

David K. Sutton

Chief Writer and Editor of The Left Call - I'm a full-time IT engineer, part-time political blogger. I founded The Left Call in 2011 because I believe in social justice, economic equality, and the idea of forming a more perfect union. In addition to written content, I also host the LEFT CALL RADIO Podcast.

Related Posts

  • Steve Schuler

    “If it bleeds it leads!” Good article.
    But my only argument would be if you’re friends with, or a neighbor of, one of those random people the news reports on getting shot, etc., then it’s big news to you, so I can see why it’s newsworthy in that sense. But it’s true that unless they have a camera crew there or can get some kind of footage, the incident has to be pretty major to get mentioned. On the other hand, even small stupid things regularly get covered if they happen to have good video of it…

    As for as crime statistics, before we pat ourselves on the back too much for lowering crime rates, we should compare our rates to those of the rest of the developed world… Last I checked our “low” rates are still insanely high for most other countries.

  • http://leftcall.com David K. Sutton

    Absolutely, it would be a huge story in anybody’s world if one of those lead stories involved a family or friend. But that isn’t the criteria used to determine the lead stories is it? The criteria is exactly what you said, “if it bleeds it leads” combined with where they showed up. If they didn’t get a reporter and/or camera to the scene then it’s not getting reported unless it is an event that affects a larger portion of the population. And that’s why I view it as reporting on random acts of violence which serves no public good.

    I agree, we definitely shouldn’t pat ourselves on the back. The point of my article is to debunk the common notion that things are worse now than ever. The crime statistics say otherwise. As for comparing American crime statistics to other developed nations, that would need it’s own article. Stay tuned.

  • Steve Schuler

    What’s funny is how you said “I believe” that news should be a public service. Unless I’m mistaken, it’s not just your belief – it’s the law. That’s why the major networks began broadcasting news decades ago and why they still do. It’s part of their contract with the FCC to do so many hours a day for the public good. Unfortunately, they’ve recently realized that the standards for what constitutes public good and useful information isn’t black and white.

  • http://leftcall.com David K. Sutton

    I “believe” you are correct. :) But people may differ on what is a public service. I just think more time should be spent on such things as informing the public about the details of important legislation instead of a brief mention (if at all). But that would be a snoozefest I guess. Hence the the last sentence of my article. :)

  • Pingback: Supreme Court Rules 5-4 That Officials Can Strip-Search For Any Offense

  • Pingback: The One-Way Street Of Gun Laws In America

  • Eddie Buchanan

    We are NOT safer than we have been in the past and it’s not even close. Looking at the murder rate is misleading since that has been tremendously influenced by modern medical care, paramedics/EMTs, trauma centers, 911 service, etc. Overall, the total amount of violent crime in 2010 was twice what it was in 1965. The number of aggravated assaults, where a person tried to kill another person, gives us an idea just how violent our society has become. In 1960 there were 86.1 aggravated assaults for every 100,000 people. In 1965 that number was 111.3 per 100,000 people. In 1995 it had risen to 418.3 per 100,000. In 2010 it had dropped to 252.3 which is still almost three times higher than in 1960. And this is in spite of the ever increasing amounts of video surveillance, armed guards, gated communities, CCW permits, an extremely high incarceration rate and the fact that people avoid certain high crime areas.

    BTW, the tremendous increase in crime is due directly to increased rates of illegitimacy and divorce that started in the 1960′s. Children who grow up in stable two parent families tend to grow up to be law abiding citizens.

    • http://leftcall.com/ David K. Sutton

      The purpose of this article and the charts is not to say we are the safest we have ever been The purpose is to illustrate that crime trends are going in the opposite direction of public perception. Public perception is that violence and crime is worse now than it has ever been and that is simply not true and it has major implications for what civil liberties people are willing to give up in order to feel safer. So the importance of this misaligned perception cannot be overstated. You are correct we are not as safe as we were in the 1960s but we are much safer than we were in the 1980s and early 90s. And this isn’t just the murder rate. Mass media, cable news and the local news mentality of “if it bleeds it leads” is a contributing factor, to what degree I am unable to say.

      I find the closing paragraph of your comment a bit curious. I’d like to see the evidence that backs up your assertion. First of all, there is not a tremendous increase in crime today compared to 20 or 30 years ago, it’s the exact opposite. It’s certainly a valid point of argument whether there is a tremendous increase in crime today compared to the 1960s, but I’ll concede that point for the sake of responding to your reasoning. What evidence are you citing that says divorce rates and one-parent families are responsible for increased crime? I’m not even saying you are wrong, but you haven’t made the connection to assert that causality.

      But I can also play the same game (without proof of causality). I posit that the increase in divorce rate is at least partially attributable to growing empowerment of women to leave abusive relationships over the last 50 years. Women are increasingly rejecting the idea of being submissive to their husbands, and it’s about time. Of course I have no proof that empowered women leaving abusive relationships is part of the reason for the increased divorce rate but it’s at least as valid an assertion as yours.

    • 1olfokker

      And the sky is falling too. Eddie knows; he heard it from Chicken Little.

      • shinjots

        Numbers don’t lie, despite what fokker the ostrich says.

    • william

      one interesting angle on the increase in rapes, could be a more aware, and publicly accepting attitude towards rape victims that come forward

      • http://leftcall.com/ David K. Sutton

        That is an excellent point. Awareness and willingness to come forward could be playing a significant role in skewing the stats.

    • Ian

      The decrease in crime rates is actually tied into the increase in abortion. Less unwanted social deviants in society. A sad fact that can’t be overlooked

      • http://leftcall.com/ David K. Sutton

        The world is getting safer (on the whole), so you can’t just go by American law changes. And if there’s a connection, it’s likely more casually correlational than direct causation.

  • Bill

    It’s funny how murder skyrocketed in the 1970′s when the states repealed death penalties.

  • Pingback: 1929 - Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians, Conservatives, Liberals, Third Parties, Left-Wing, Right-Wing, Congress, President - Page 13 - City-Data Forum

  • Pingback: The more the gun nuts fight the assualt weapons ban, the more attention it gets - Page 25 (politics)

  • http://www.facebook.com/henry.flores.1614460 Henny Flores

    We are clearly safer now then we were 30, 20 or even 15 years ago. I grew up in one of these major cities where it seemed like a lawless town. Whoever thinks we are worse now then we were in the 70′s, 80′s or 90′s is a person that just believes and overreacts to whatever is on the news. You can blame divorce or women leaving abusive relationship or whatever you want, but the bottom line on why the crime rate was so high back then, potent drugs, plain and simple. The 70′s had heroin , the 80′s had crack. When you are addicted to those two drugs , you constantly need it in your system and will stop at nothing to constantly have your next fix. As the drugs got flushed out , crime decreased.

  • Pingback: The Danger of Stranger DangerLoving Arms Counseling

  • Pingback: NRA, ALEC, Want You To Stand Your Ground, Wild West Style

  • deepblue

    When the Progressive Democrats *- LOST -* the Civil Rights struggle – in 1964 -, they (Dems) fixed their black voter problem with their old stand by. The plantation system. What year? 1964.

    1964 – The same year that Progressive Democrats – *LOST* – their final filibuster of Civil Rights – failing their 100% Democrat attempt to filibuster and nullify the 1964 CRA bill as they had the 1957, 1960, and 1963 REPUBLICAN Civil Rights Acts, plus the fateful 1964 Act, Democrats had to go to plan B.

    1964,The “Great Society” welfare plantation = public housing, government healthcare (aka Medicaid/Medicare), welfare, cash assistance, food stamps, etc), were all created in the very same year the Progressives (Notice the origin of this term here in the small print of Darwin’s book on the 2nd page: http://tinyurl.com/mnxbrqv). The exact same people using fire hoses and dogs to stop desegregation – 1964, – and who unilaterally – without a single Republican vote – filibustered the 1957, 1960, 1963 Republican Civil Rights bill, AND the 1964 bill – in 1964 – propose the very system through which they controlled, enslaved, and managed Black slavery for 400 years. What year? 1964.

    How curious that in the middle of the 1960′s,, the very same Progressive Democrat Klan single handedly filibustering EVERY previous Civil Rights Bills mysteriously organizes the “Occupy Wall Street” movement of the era (the so called “hippies”) and starts pushing drug abuse (Google “MKULTRA”) into the inner cities, and starts promoting “free love” (aka – fatherless children), the destruction of religious faith, and the philosophy of “you don’t need a man”.and “if it feels good do it” in order to destroy and re-enslave Black families. In fact, the percentage of Black families with two married parents went from 80% in 1963 to less than the 20% today, and In the very heart of the Devilcrat Klan plantation – public housing – that figure is almost zero percent.

    Suddenly crime goes up by over two and a half times the 1963 rate in under 10 years, and everybody in the world knows why, but who dares step up to the Klan to say it? You see, to the Klan “Democracy” isn’t about “race” – and even in the 1960′s they weren’t trying to exterminate Blacks. The only thing Democracy which is really just the name for a lawless “99%” majority raping a “minority” (a so called “1%” – so who cares) has ever been about is POWER and lawlessness domination of whatever “1%” aka “minority” they can create..

    Want proof? Find a single court, judge, jury, process,appeal, or protection of personal or minority rights under “social” (a.k.a. – “majority”) “justice”. “Social” aka “Majority” Justice” is exactly the reason slavery ever existed in the first place. But back to crime…

    Fast forward to the 1990′s when Reagan uses RICO to lock up the Democrat crack dealers bringing violent crime to it’s peak, Simultaneously along comes Google, Amazon, Youtube, etc and this lifts the economy and draws people off welfare. Boom. Crime begins to fall. Flash ahead to 1996 – and the rise of the FIRST Republican control of Congress in over 50 years – which FORCES welfare reform through two Clinton vetoes, and the failed 3rd Clinton “No work requirement” veto which would have been overturned in the middle of the Lewinsky scandal, and voila! Clinton caves, reverses HIS position 180 degrees, and welfare finally gets reformed with a work requirement.

    Crime rates plummet at the fastest rate in modern history.

    It’s all right there in the crime stats. Welfare creates crime. For DEmoncrats, it also creates POWER. And this is exactly why welfare reform’s “re-reform” from hand up to hand out is right in the middle of Obama’s agenda.

    http://thehill.com/blogs/floor-action/house/288003-house-votes-to-block-obamas-welfare-work-waiver

    When Obama repeals welfare reform in his late 2nd term, crime is going to come back like no one’s ever seen.

    • http://leftcall.com/ David K. Sutton

      Your comment is laden in conspiracy theory talk, trying to connect things which are mostly if not entirely disconnected. And it’s laughable that you try to pin slavery, and filibustering the civil rights movement to progressive Democrats. No, it was white southern conservative Democrats who were against civil rights, the same kind of white racist conservatives who were defending slavery a century earlier. When the Democratic Party adopted civil rights as part of it’s platform, those white racist conservatives fled from the party. That’s what led President Johnson to say we’ve lost the South for a generation.

      I simply love it when conservatives try to claim the liberal advances through history as their own. It’s almost comical. And in contemporary times, we liberals continue to push for greater social acceptance and inclusion and conservatives push back, always wanting to maintain the status quo, as if we as a society have reached some kind of magic plateau. Well, that’s because conservatives have done exactly that throughout history. At every turn, conservatives defend the “new” status quo brought about by liberals.

Get LEFT CALL In Your Inbox

Add To The Discussion

See What’s Hot

Check Out This Meme

lewis-black-me-of-little-faith-pat-robertson
View All Memes

David K. Sutton Photography

Take Your Light With You
Tributaries of Crimson

Get Daily Email Alerts

THE LEFT CALL LEDGER: Get the latest stories delivered daily to your inbox, with all the hard-hitting liberal commentary you've come to expect.

About

We Don't Break The News;
It's Already Broken.

Founded in 2011, LeftCall.com is an independent news and politics blog, adding a much needed liberal voice with hard-hitting editorial content.

We believe in social justice and economic equality. We believe freedom is not achieved until all persons are treated equally under the law. We believe in challenging voices of bigotry and intolerance. And we believe in speaking truth to the political and economic power establishment.

If you share these beliefs, please help us by posting Left Call articles on Facebook, Twitter and other social media websites.