- The rate of total violent crime victimizations declined by 13% in 2010, which was about three times the average annual decrease observed from 2001 through 2009 (4%).
- The decline in the rate of simple assault accounted for about 82% of the total decrease in the rate of violent victimization in 2010.
- In 2010 the property victimization rate declined by 6%, compared to the average annual decrease of 3% observed from 2001 through 2009.
- Strangers perpetrated 39% of violent victimizations in 2010, down from 44% in 2001.
- About 50% of all violent victimizations and nearly 40% of property crimes were reported to the police in 2010. These percentages have remained stable over the past 10 years.
The number of violent victimizations declined from 4.3 million to 3.8 million from 2009 to 2010, which was a decline of 12%. Simple assault, which accounted for 63% of all violent victimizations, declined by 15%. This decline in simple assault accounted for 83% of the total decrease in violent victimizations. No measurable change occurred in the number of serious violent victimizations from 2009 to 2010.Still, long-term trends on violent crime remain both remarkable, and positive:
Since 1993, the violent crime victimization rate declined steadily from 49.9 per 1,000 persons age 12 or older in 1993 to 14.9 per 1,000 in 2010, a decline of 70% (figure 2). Most of this decline occurred between 1993 and 2001, when the violent crime rate declined by half to reach 25.1 in 2001. The serious violent crime victimization rate followed a similar pattern of decline as the violent crime victimization rate. It declined by 73% since 1993, from 20.5 per 1,000 persons age 12 or older to 5.4 per 1,000. The serious violent crime victimization rate declined by more than half between 1993 and 2000, reaching 10.1 per 1,000 persons age 12 or older in 2000. It declined by almost half again from 2000 to 2010, reaching 5.4 per 1,000 persons age 12 or older.Further, property crime declines in the last two decades are nothing short of remarkable: "property crime victimization rate declined 50% from 318.9 per 1,000 households in 1993 to 159.0 per 1,000 households in 2002. It declined further to 120.2 per 1,000 households in 2010."
The decline in crime during the recession, as Doug Berman noted, flies in the face of common (though empirically false) assumptions that unemployment causes crime. Instead, Berman suggests that reduced crime may actually increase unemployment, arguing that " there are fewer so-called 'career criminals' and that in turn means more people out looking for legitimate work. Add in the reality that, partially due to less crime, in recent years fewer persons are being sent to prison and thus fewer persons are hired to build and work inside prisons, and we may have a (viable?) criminal justice explanation for the modern stubbornness of the US unemployment rate."
I doubt that those elements are a significant factor in boosting unemployment, certainly not here in Texas where we've closed just one prison unit but cut relatively few jobs (mostly in prisoner healthcare). And career criminals would have already been counted in the long-term unemployment data. Plus, crime was declining during periods of economic growth over the last two decades, so Doug's analysis strike me as a prisoner of the moment. It's certainly true, though, that the crime decline appears to have been unrelated to any economic boom, actually accelerating in the face of the economic downturn. That's remarkable news, for sure. The question is "why?" The best research indicates increased incarceration levels explain only a fraction of the reduction.
Neoconservative criminologist James Q. Wilson published an essay recently analyzing possible reasons for crime declining, concluding that it may stem from "a big improvement in the culture," including reduced cocaine use, hot-spot policing, and potential victims who "have become better at protecting themselves." Environmental factors may even be at play: Wilson cites one researcher who estimated that "reduction in gasoline lead produced more than half of the decline in violent crime during the nineties" because of lower lead-levels in the blood. For property crimes, I'd add to that list the expanded use of GPS in so many products, which makes cars, phones, laptops, etc., easier to track when they're stolen. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
As mentioned in the comments at Berman's shop, increasingly I've come to believe that the rise of the internet and video games explain a great deal of crime reduction since the mid-'90s, with young males who commit most crime spending more time in front of computer and TV screens than hanging out on the street corner, getting into trouble, etc.. The timeline certainly fits the crime decline nicely. Berman further has suggested that obesity, marijuana use, and addiction to prescription drugs may be "leading relatively crime-prone individual[s] to get so fat or to self-medicate so that they become relatively less crime-prone." Those factors certainly aren't exclusive to sitting in a chair playing video games or surfing the web.
There would likely be some who would dispute Wilson's suggestion that such factors, even if they lead to crime declines, represent "a big improvement in the culture." But it's hard to argue with results.