The no-growth industry:
Victim survey sees ongoing crime-rate dip

Providing further evidence that the nation’s crime rate is in the midst of a substantial decline, the Bureau of Justice Statistics reported last month that the number of crimes committed in the United States last year fell by 6.6 percent, including a 9-percent drop in violent crimes.

The National Crime Victimization Survey found that violent crimes fell from 10.9 million in 1994 to 9.9 million last year. Overall, BJS estimates there were 39.6 million personal and household crimes of theft and violence last year, compared to 42.4 million in 1994, according to data released Sept. 17.

BJS annually surveys 100,000 people 12 years old and older in 49,000 households who are asked questions about crimes they might have experienced during the previous six months. The NCVS is considered a more reliable indicator of the nation’s crime rate than the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports, which bases its data on crimes reported to police, because the victim survey can also include those crimes that were not reported to police.

In May, the FBI reported its preliminary figures for 1995, which showed that violent crime dropped an estimated 4 percent, the fourth year of decline reported by the bureau.

 “The drop in crime last year is consistent with what we know from the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Uniform Crime Reports,” said BJS Director Jan Chaiken, who noted that 1995 was the second consecutive year the number of crime victimizations had declined in the United States. The decline reversed a rising trend that began in the mid-1980s, he added.

Declines were noted in nearly every crime category. Rape decreased by almost 18 percent, robbery fell by 14 percent, aggravated assault dropped 19 percent, and purse-snatching and pickpocketing were down a combined 18 percent.

BJS estimated that there were 5.5 percent fewer property crimes last year than in 1994 29.3 million in 1995, compared to 31 million in 1994. Property crimes, which include burglary, theft and motor-vehicle theft categories, occurred at the rate of 288 per 1,000 households, which was down from the rate of 308 per 1,000 recorded in 1994.

The survey found that about 14.4 million of the violent and property crimes were reported to police during 1995, down from 15.2 million the previous year. An estimated 63 percent of all crimes were not reported to authorities.

While the overall decrease in crime should be good news for the public and law enforcement alike, the figures on rape rankled representatives of some victim advocacy groups, some of whom said the figure does not take into account that as many as 84 percent of rapes are not reported by victims. “I have to believe that this study is not reflective of what’s going on in this country,” said Diane Alexander, a spokeswoman for the National Victim Center. “We would be seeing rape crisis centers closing left and right  and we certainly aren’t seeing that.”

Linda Vance, a rape counselor in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, told USA Today that the numbers certainly do not reflect her experience in the past year, although she noted that the number of first-time calls to her hot line had fallen from 274 in 1994 to 251 in 1995. “I don’t have any explanation for it. It seems like we are busier than ever with calls. I do know that date rape, acquaintance rape, is an increasing proportion of those numbers.”


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Published in Law Enforcement News
Nov. 15, 1996.
© 1996, LEN Inc.