Although violent crime declined to an average rate of 386.3 offenses per 100,000 population, there were certain subcategories that showed increases. For example, the homicide rate in towns with 10,000 or fewer residents rose 18 percent in 2011; however, this was after a 23 percent drop the previous year.
There were 14,612 homicides in 2011, a slight decline from 14,722 in 2010 but the lowest number of murders in the past two decades. Firearms were used in homicides more than two-thirds of the time.
With respect to property crimes, larceny and vehicle thefts decreased while the number of burglaries rose slightly; on average, property offenses dropped .5 percent nationwide. There were approximately 9 million property crimes in 2011, or an average rate of 2,908.7 per 100,000 population. Estimated annual losses from property offenses were $15.6 billion.
Although the reasons for the decline in violent and property crime are unknown, experts cited a variety of possible factors, including improved policing strategies, more people in prisons and jails, an aging population and technological improvements in crime prevention. At a time of high unemployment and economic instability, conventional wisdom would expect levels of crime to increase, not drop.
According to the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS), also released in October 2012 by the Bureau of Justice Statistics of the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), violent crime has in fact increased.
During the last decade researchers have found that only about half of all violent crimes and around 40 percent of property offenses are reported to the police. The NCVS, however, counts both reported and unreported crimes, gathering information about offenses against people age 12 and older from self-reported data obtained during a national survey of almost 80,000 U.S. households.
The NCVS indicated that violent crime soared 17 percent in 2011 – the first year-to-year increase since 1993. The increase was primarily driven by an upward trend in the number of aggravated and simple assaults. The NCVS data also showed an increase in total property crime, including a 14 percent rise in burglaries.
Despite the increase in violent offenses reported by the NCVS, the survey noted that “crime still remains at historical low levels.”
“A 17 percent increase is a pretty small rate relatively to where we were 20 years ago. That’s important to remember,” observed Prof. William Pridemore, who teaches criminal justice at Indiana University in Bloomington.
The NCVS does not include homicide-related data, while the FBI Uniform Crime Reports do not track simple assaults or arsons. The reports are used in conjunction with each other to determine trends in crime rates nationwide.
Sources: Associated Press, New York Times, www.csmonitor.com, CNN, www.fbi.gov
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