Drop in Crime Continues in the U.S.

Reductions are seen in arrests for drug abuse violations as well as property and violent crimes

This week’s release of the Uniform Crime Report (UCR) by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) shows a continuing nationwide drop in crime, according to analysis by the Justice Policy Institute (JPI).  Violent offenses known to law enforcement decreased 3.8 percent over 2010; in the past decade, the violent crime rate has fallen from 494.4 per 100,000 people in 2002 to its current (2011) level of 386.3, a 21.9 percent drop.  Property offenses known to law enforcement fell more modestly (.5%) in the past year; the rate of property crimes per 100,000 has dropped 13.3 percent in the past decade. Since 1992, violent crime has fallen 49 percent and property crime has fallen 40.7 percent per 100,000 inhabitants.

“The lesson for policymakers is that crime can continue to fall, even as states move away from mass incarceration,” said Tracy Velázquez, executive director of JPI.  She pointed out that last year marked the first time the number of people in prison in the U.S. has dropped. In addition to violent and property crimes known to law enforcement, the UCR also reports on arrests for various offenses.  Last year saw drops in arrests for violent crime (-3.15%), property crime (-.25%) and drug abuse violations (-6.57%).  Despite the large drop in drug-related arrests, these still comprise the highest number of arrests in the U.S. at 1.5 million.

JPI researcher Spike Bradford, who analyzed the UCR data, noted that translates to almost three drug-related arrests every minute. “It’s hard to know what accounted for the drop in drug related arrests, although it doesn’t appear related to drug use, which for years has held steady at about 22.5 million people using illicit drugs during the past month,” noted Bradford.  “Hopefully, it reflects a growth in understanding of drug abuse as a problem better addressed through the public health systems.  It may also reflect shrinking federal funding for police, so law enforcement departments are focusing more on protecting public safety and less on meeting arrest quotas to get drug task force funding.”

The UCR statistics show there were some variances in crime regionally.  While all regions of the country saw drops in violent crime, the Northeast saw a small (.3%) increase in the number of property crimes between 2010 and 2011, while continuing to see its rate of property crime per 100,000 residents decline.  The disproportionality in arrests of white as compared to black residents also rose slightly during the past year.  While the overall U.S. population is 78.1 percent white and 13.1 percent black people, white people made up 69.2 percent and African-Americans 28.4 percent of arrests in 2011 (up from 69.4 percent whites and 28.0 percent blacks in 2010). The arrest rate is almost 2 ½ times greater for blacks: there were 3,525 arrests per 100,000 residents for white residents in 2011, as compared to 8,618 per 100,000 for African Americans.

“It’s encouraging to see that crime continues to fall, even during tough economic times,” added Velázquez.  “We believe that the type of reforms we’ve been advocating for at JPI for the past fifteen years are having an impact.  But we still have a long way to go, both to increase the safety and well-being of communities and to create a fairer justice system.”

To read JPI’s fact sheet on the FBI’s 2011 Uniform Crime Report, CLICK HERE. For additional information, please contact Adwoa Masozi at (202) 558-7974 x306 or [email protected]. For more on JPI’s research, please visit our website at www.justicepolicy.org

The Justice Policy Institute, based in Washington, DC, is working to reduce the use of incarceration and the justice system and promote policies that improve the well-being of all people and communities.