Believe it or not, we live in the safest time in U.S. history.
While violent crime nearly quadrupled between 1960 to 1991, and property crime more than doubled over the same period; since the 1990’s crime in the United States has declined steeply.
With the way that the American media reports the news, it may seem as though the violent crime rates are surging. However, as serious and tragic these violent events are, looking at the bigger picture reveals a far less dystopian reality.
Despite the stories of the mass-shootings, terrorist attacks, and police brutality, the overall violent crime rate in America has declined since the 1970’s. In a 2015 report to Congress, crime policy analyst Nathan James revealed that the rates of homicide and violent crime in 2014 would have to ‘more than double’ to reach what they had been in the early 90’s.
Even with the FBI reporting a 2.6 percent increase from 2012-2017, the 12.3 percent decline from 2007-2017 dwarfs the five-year-rate in comparison.
What is the reason behind this decline? Those who still feel disillusioned with America might suggest the fact that our country has the highest prison population per capita or turn to the general fact that America has become tougher on crime overall.
The truth of the matter is more complicated. Nobody actually knows why crime has declined, despite multiple theories and statistics.
Consider the fact that a 2012 report from the National Academy of Science proved that the prison population has more than quadrupled since 1973. This could tie in with the declining crime rate. However, that same report later stated that higher incarceration had only a minor effect on crime and that handing out harsher prison sentences could actually make crime worse.
So perhaps the innovations in police tactics during the 90’s had an effect on the crime rate?
A report from the Brenan Center stated that hiring more police officers did indeed cause a modest decline in crime, but not enough to explain the whole trend. While it also mentions the use of a new police technology known as Compstat, not enough data existed to prove its full effectiveness.
Other theories as to the reason for the crime decline consider more positive trends. The Brenan Center report goes on to examine the declining rate of unemployment and the decrease in alcohol consumption as possible causes of decreased crime. Each of these factors has a history of rising and declining with crime rates, but neither of them could fully account for the decline overall.
What matters most, however, is the fact that most Americans don’t even realize that the decline in crime exists. A 2018 poll suggested that 51% of Americans were worried about crime and violence, when in truth; they have much less to worry about than people 20 years ago.