While violent crime is a concern all around the globe, the United States has more violence than other first-world countries. America has struggled with murder, rape, robbery, and assault more than other wealthy countries for years. It is a concern for many people that crime is continuing to rise. They worry about a declining American society overrun with drugs and violence. However, the truth about violent crime in the United States is more complex.
American Murder Rates
One of the central ways that people analyze the prevalence of violent crimes in America is through murder rates. In the 1950s and early 1960s, America had a relatively low murder rate. Between 1964 and 1974, however, the murder rate in America doubled, retaining its height through 1980. The country made progress between 1980 and 1985, when the murder rate finally started to decline. The murder rate rose again significantly in the late 1980s.
Basis of Concern
Most people are not basing their concerns about American violence on the murder statistics but on their memories growing up. Many elderly Americans grew up between 1945 and 1965 – at a time when the frequency of violent crimes was extremely low. In comparison, the 2000s have seemed much more violent. However, middle-aged people also feel like the rate of violent crime is increasing. Many middle-class Americans had relatively idyllic childhoods in residential neighborhoods with few threats. The reality of the violence in the United States that they experience as adults makes it seem as if violent crimes have skyrocketed.
Others attribute the growing concerns about violence to media impact. Many journalists live in New York and Washington, D.C. – areas that have struggled with violence more than many other states and cities. Journalists, reporters and violent crimes attorneys based in high-violence areas are more likely to think that violent crimes are a prevalent issue and focus on growing crime as a topic. The media is more likely to report on increases in crime than periods when a crime is down. The lack of media coverage when crime rates down make the public believe that rates are high and still rising.
Police Estimates of Crime
Police information on criminal activity is a central part of analyses about crime rates. The FBI creates an index of violent crime from the data it receives from police around the country. The FBI index includes four components – murder, forcible rape, robbery, and aggravated assault. Generally occurring more often than forcible rape and murder, the higher the number of aggravated assaults and robberies affect the total for all violent crimes.
If a violent crime occurs and no one reports it to the police, or if someone files a complaint but the police do not record it, the FBI will not have the information. The exclusion of crimes that no one records means that the data does not include all violent crimes.
Another factor is how the police record crimes. Police departments are constantly changing the way they record crimes, which changes the number of crimes they report. Departments that start working to improve record-keeping would also work on recording more citizen complaints, increasing the number of reported crimes.
Crime Rates in America
It is difficult to confirm or deny the claim that violent crime is increasing in the United States. Several factors impact crime rates, such as wars, political situations, and population changes. However, the consistent ebb and flow of violent crime indicate that – as opposed to a steady increase in violent crime – the United States experiences cycles of increasing and decreasing criminal activity. It is difficult to say at any point where we are in the cycle.
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