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Amid Confusing Statistics, Public Views Crime As Serious Problem

Crime has been generating contradictory headlines. In October, the FBI said violent crime reports in 2022 fell to their relatively low, prepandemic level. In November, Gallup reported that a record-high 63% of U.S. adults said the “crime situation in the U.S. is extremely or very serious.” This suggests that either the crime data are wrong or people are unrealistically negative. There is another possibility: More people are experiencing crime, but it isn’t captured in FBI measures, reports the Wall Street Journal. “There has long been a mismatch between public perception and reality on crime,” said Ames Grawert of the Brennan Center for Justice, a liberal-leaning think tank. “But it’s understandable that people would be worried about crime today and we have to take them seriously.”

When you look at how crime statistics come together, violent crime can fall and people can simultaneously experience more crime. The FBI’s crime-statistics system originated in 1930. Its most reported figure, the rate of violent crime, combines the most serious offenses: homicide, rape, aggravated assault and robbery. This rate is back to its prepandemic level, which itself came near the end of a multidecade decline. Fo 2021, the FBI used data from police departments covering only 52% of the U.S. and extrapolated the rest, making it difficult to know whether violent crime actually rose or fell compared with 2020. For 2022, the FBI has data from departments covering 94% of the IU.S. The National Crime Victimization Survey, which asks people whether they have been the victims of crime and whether they reported it to the police, found that only about 40% of violent crimes were reported in 2022. The number of people who said they were a victim of violent crime rose 42% from 2021, but only 29% more reported crimes to the police. The survey, traditionally conducted in person, temporarily switched to phone interviews in 2020 and its data that year was at odds with other sources. That means 2021’s data isn’t easy to compare with the previous year, leaving the exact crime trend over the past three years unclear. Several high-profile types of crime also seem to be on the rise. Carjackings climbed in 2022, the FBI says.

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A daily report co-sponsored by Arizona State University, Criminal Justice Journalists, and the National Criminal Justice Association

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