Friday, May 22, 2009

Exploring Texas crime data

Having posted an initial reaction to press coverage of the new Uniform Crime Reporting data (which showed so-called "index crimes" declining by 3% overall in Texas), let's adumbrate a few more details from this new dataset out of the Department of Public Safety:

Despite declining crime last year and for most of the decade, according to the UCR, the number of adult Texans arrested increased by 2% in 2008, just as it increased in six of the last seven years. So Texas arrest trends appear disconnected from crime rates, to judge by these metrics. The number of juveniles arrested, by contrast, declined for the fourth year running.

Among countervailing trends to the overall downward tendency, reported arson offenses increased 6%; one wonders whether that's in any way related to the economic downturn as homeowners look to their insurance company for an easy way out of a difficult financial problem?

The value of stolen property recovered in 2008 was $552 million compared to $2 billion stolen.

One eye-catching statistic buried beneath the headlines: "There were 5,184 officers assaulted during 2008 compared to 4,396 in 2007. This represents an increase of 17.9 percent." That's an enormous increase! I wonder what explains it? An increase that large almost makes me wonder if somebody began reporting who wasn't doing so before or if some other technical glitch explains the numbers. Otherwise, that seems like an incredibly alarming trend. Nine Texas law enforcement officers were killed in the line of duty in 2008, according to the report.

Law enforcement in 2008 began to prioritize drunkenness over drug possession, to judge by a chart on page 2: Arrests for the former increased 6.6% while arrests for the latter declined 4.1% and DWI arrests remained steady. In 2007, the number of arrests for drunkenness and drug possession were nearly equal, with 136,201 for drunkenness and 134,692 for drug possession, but in 2008, arrests for drunkenness topped 145,000 while those for drug possession declined below 130,000. It'll be interesting to see over the next few years if that trend continues.

Grabbing most of the MSM headlines, rates per 100,00 for murder, rape, and robbery declined 5.1%, 6.8%, and 4.3% respectively, while aggravated assaults rose 2.1%. But since aggravated assaults make up the majority of violent crimes - 76,487 out of 123,621 total - the overall number of violent crimes declined just 0.6%.

Some but not all of the increase in agg assaults can be explained by a 3.2% increase in the number of family violence victims; 14.9% of Texas' 208,071 family-violence offenses in 2008 were aggravated assaults, according to DPS. That puts the number of family-violence related agg assaults at around 31,000 out of 76,487, or 40.5% of the total and growing.

For property crimes the most eye popping reduction was motor vehicle thefts, which were stolen (at a rate per 100,000) 10.8% less frequently in 2008 than the year before. The number of arrests for vehicle theft also declined by more than 10%, says DPS, so the reason for the decline must be external, not because they caught more people.

Unfortunately, vehicles are the smallest category of property thefts, so the effect on the overall numbers was mitigated by a 0.9% increase in the total number of burglaries and just a 3% decline in the largest category, "larceny-theft" (about 2/3 of the total).

A 3% total reduction? Perhaps. But overall this data presents quite a mixed bag of good and bad news.


Anonymous said...

A person who uses the word "adumbrate" in the opening paragraph (sending legions to their Webesters) loses all cred in my book. Sounds like a New York or Austin liberal.) Newspapers tend to write their stories at an 8th grade level and you should follow their lead. Now back to the charts and statistics.


Anonymous said...

What does this have to do with us having a monstrous prison-industrial complex, one of the biggest in the world. Of course crime is declining, everyone is in prison or on the way!

David C said...

"Despite declining crime last year and for most of the decade, according to the UCR, the number of adult Texans arrested increased by 2% in 2008, just as it increased in six of the last seven years. So Texas arrest trends appear disconnected from crime rates, to judge by these metrics."

You don't understand why increased arrest rates might lead to lower crime rates? Really?

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Plato, I realize I might need to dumb it down to appeal to the crowd from Lubbock. ;) Adumbrate, though, following Edward Gibbon, has actually been one of my favorite words for more than 20 years. I think I'll keep it and let those with 8th grade vocabularies scurry to the dictionaries.

David C, you posit an incredibly facile connection between arrests and crime that IMO simply doesn't withstand scrutiny. Too many other variables at play, the biggest being what happens to somebody after they're arrested.

Anonymous said...

"I'll keep it and let those with 8th grade vocabularies scurry to the dictionaries."

Grits - Scurry is a county in Texas. Between Abilene and Lubbock :-) LOL

Anonymous said...

Adumbrate I got. It appears that I am older than 14 and have the education to prove it.

Unfortunately, I'm ALOT older than 14 soooo things like IMO and ROFLMAO send me scurrying for my Wiktionary!

I must admit that I did figure out rather quickly Michael's OMFG comment when Perkins got the boot from the senate.

My grandkids would be so proud!

As always, keep up the good work Grits. (:

jimbino said...

How can a person get away with saying, "...this data presents... ?

Anonymous said...

At the end of any day, the number of arrests matches the hard work or lack thereof by the Police, Sheriffs and others that make arrests.

Since I doubt these folks are working harder, it must mean we are spending more money to pay more Police to make more arrests so we can keep all the prisons full.

The decline in crime statistics has nothing to do with arrests because most folks are charged with more than one crime when arrested. I too wonder how many arrests result in a plea bargain where many of the criminal charges are dropped.

Also remember, most "crimes" do not result in an arrest. A lot of criminals get lucky!

These statistics are good for very little more than justification of more money for more Police, Sheriffs and others.

Anonymous said...

"Despite declining crime last year and for most of the decade, the number of adult Texans arrested increased by 2% in 2008, just as it increased in six of the last seven years. So Texas arrest trends appear disconnected from crime rates, to judge by these metrics."

Your statement or belief that the number of arrests has no correlation with the crime rate is tremendously facile--the fact that you can't even recognize the legitimacy of the argument (even though you may disagree with it)and apparently are unaware of a huge amount of data and studies to support it (as well as common freakin' sense) shows that you are truly detached from reality.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

8:22 - Positing a connection is not the same as proving it, and I notice you don't link to any of those studies, the best of which (e.g., by Bill Spelman) say incarceration fails to account for 3/4 of the crime drop.

Proponents of incarceration use EVERY circumstance to reach the same conclusion: If crime is high, the solution is more arrests and more incarceration. If crime is low, it's because incarceration "worked" and we should do more of it. These arguments may rely on "common sense," as you say, but they are mutually exclusive and not at all evidence based.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

One more thing for 8:22: A theory of incarceration's benefits must fit ALL historic data, not just one time period. It's one thing to attribute recent crime reductions to increased arrests and incarceration, e.g, but that theory doesn't explain why crime increased in the late '80s and early '90s when arrests and incarceration also went up every year. Nor does it explain why crime was historically lower in earlier eras when arrest and incarceration rates were much lower. So it's fine to posit a simplistic relationship, but the historical reality is more complex.

Anonymous said...

"Proponents of incarceration use EVERY circumstance to reach the same conclusion"

Maybe you should have said "some" proponents. You paint with too broad a brush.

There are numerous factors that can account for the late 80's early 90's rates (which, interestingly, happens to be right before the state built more prisons and was therefore able to keep repeat offenders and violent offenders incarcerated longer): insane mandatory release parole laws and the increase in the population of young males are just a couple.

I'm not saying those are the only reasons and I'm not saying that more arrests automatically results in a lower crime rate. But it is a factor. I'm disappointed that you dismiss the argument as "facile."

Anonymous said...

Arrests do not "prevent" crime. Arrests are the result of some crimes.
The vast majority of crimes are never detected, never reported or never punished by incarceration.

I'll say it again, these statistics are only useful as a reason to increase Government spending

David C said...

I don't have a problem with your belief that arrest rates are disconnected from crime rates. My problem is with your using contradictory evidence to posit your theory, and not bothering to link to any other posts containing evidence that supports your theory. I couldn't find any posts on the subject using a quick search of your archives, the only relevant data is from your response to 8:22. I disagree with your equating theories on arrest rates with theories on penalty hikes. The two are separate issues. I am surprised that someone who has repeatedly argued the effectiveness of more police officers (more "boots on the ground" as you put it) thinks that increased arrest rates are not in any way connected to lowered crime. And finally, I am not arguing that there is a 1 to 1 correlation between arrest rates and crime rates, but just because there are other variables at play does not exclude the possibility that the two are connected.

Anonymous said...

Of course arrests in fact DO prevent crimes--it's like Lays potato chips, you can't just commit one.

Don said...

Interestingly, I can only totally agree with one post on this thread. That is anon 10:48 and 11:04. Well, two posts, one poster. The statistics are not good for anything because of the wide discrepancy in reporting. Seems it's a crap shoot as to whether a crime gets reported or not. Then Anonymous messes it up by using "at the end of the day", which is one of the trite phrases that should earn anyone who uses it 40 lashes. :-)

Anonymous said...

If you put a flower blanket over a dung heap, it’s still a dung heap. The only possible explanation for the flower blanket that covers the Texas crime data is the money and Texas is not the Lone Ranger gathering useful statistics; it’s a big blanket.

Wouldn’t it be nice if all crime data reported a drastic decrees in all areas of crime because a black market enterprise with revenues that would make any fortune 500 company look like a penny waiting for change disappeared.

They could use the majority of prisons for health and educational purposes, all services would be free of charge and the attorney’s could go back to school to learn something useful. We could tell china its ok to cash that one big check at my bank, and there would still be plenty left over for energy research and development.

“Of course if that were to take place the poor and the rapidly fading middle class might prosper and we sure don’t want that to happen”.

“How’s your lobster?”

“Mines a little tough, but this wine is wonderful”.

Anonymous said...

I wouldn't read too much into the increased assaults on police officers in 2008. I know of at least two municipalities around Dallas that are known for roughing up arrestees and then covering themselves by throwing in resisting arrest and assault on peace officer charges. I would like to know what the per capita rate is of arrestees "assaulting" cops in Addison and Garland compared to the rest of the state.

Anonymous said...

Oh YAY!!! Don agrees, Don agrees, YAY YAY YAY! LOL

Anonymous said...

"One more thing for 8:22: A theory of incarceration's benefits must fit ALL historic data"

There is plenty of historic data that individuals act in a purposeful manner to maximize their own happiness.

All else being equal, raising the price of crime(with harsher sentences) will lead to less crime, just as raising the price of hamburgers will lead to a lower consumption of hamburgers.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Except all else is not equal. You're applying economic pricing theory where it doesn't belong, 5:18. What you've described is more akin to a religious belief than behavior that can be observed vis a vis incarceration.

To the extent that exonomic theory may be applied to all, I'd argue we're witnessing a "bubble," as opposed to some natural equilibrium, that has led to high incarceration irregardless of the rate of crime.

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