The Crime Stats Are Juked

AP Photo/Michael Dwyer

You already know that the economic numbers are distorted--Americans have direct experience with the economy, so no matter what the "official" government numbers say, the facts on the ground dominate our perceptions. 

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Tell people all you want that they are better off, and if their money runs out before their month does, they know it. 

To a certain extent, the same thing is true with crime, although thankfully, fewer of us have direct experience with being assaulted. 

Nearly 80% of Americans say they worry about crime because, well, crime is out of control, although not yet at 1970s levels. We see the disorder in our cities, feel the anxiety that this causes, and can't help but notice that New York City had to call out the National Guard despite the Mayor of New York insisting that everything is fine and everybody's safe. 

The crime deniers are relying on statistics that back up their claims--statistics from the FBI meant to assure us that everything is fine, there is nothing to see here, move along, move along. 

Those statistics are juked. They are a farce. They have so many caveats that all emptors should beware. People are rejecting the statistics because they are not reflecting what they are experiencing every day. 

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The FBI will happily tell you that crime has dropped from 2020 levels—which, given how obscene the levels were in 2020 with the riots, is plausible. But they won't tell you that the statistics are measured differently today than in the past unless you look into the footnotes. 

For instance, major cities with lots of crime are excluded from the numbers. It's like Chicago saying shootings are down if you exclude gang members. 

Nice. Useless info, but it is nice to know, I guess. Do the bullets fired from gang members do no damage, or are you just gaslighting me?

Kennedy said that, particularly in the aftermath of the 2020 George Floyd riots, several police departments redefined the classifications for certain violent crimes and transitioned away from a decades-old recording system. 

"If you classify something as an aggravated assault, it's a violent crime or a felony, but if you classify it as a simple assault, it's then a misdemeanor and a non-violent crime," Kennedy said. "That is a world of difference when it comes to how the media is going to portray whether or not your department is fighting violent crime."

However, the police are not the only ones appearing to under-report. Businesses and individuals who are victims of violent crimes have also shown a pattern of reluctance when it comes to calling the police. The Loss Prevention Research Council’s survey of retailers sheds light on the reasons behind the lack of reporting. The study shows that typically, business owners tend to harbor the belief that police will not respond promptly or investigate crimes, and prosecutors will not pursue charges against the perpetrators.

"It is difficult to measure how much crime is underreported, often ‘downcharged,’ by law enforcement since the number of reported crimes reflects the categorizations of police agencies themselves," the researchers wrote. 

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If you don't charge somebody for a crime, it doesn't mean it didn't happen. Not charging people makes things worse, even though the statistics look better. Better statistics may make a politician smile, but they do nothing for the little girl who has to walk home through a city that is looking like it has been taken over by zombies. 

Of course, bureaucrats and politicians care for little but making the numbers look good. 

Who are you going to believe? Me or your lying eyes?

In 2019, 89% of municipal police departments – spanning about 97% of the population – submitted crime data to the FBI. To compensate for incomplete data, the FBI will fill in gaps using "inferred" statistics, the report notes. 

However, by 2021, less than 63% of departments spanning across 65% of the population submitted crime data. Several big cities – Los Angeles, New York City, and Chicago – did not submit crime data at all to the FBI last year. 

It's like measuring inflation by taking out most of the items that increased in price. The official numbers might look good, but the reality on the ground is something else again. 

A few months ago, we saw this phenomenon with shoplifting. Gangs were stripping stores of goods, and the statistics looked pretty good. Stories in the media claimed that shoplifting wasn't a real problem—look at the stats. 

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Of course, the statistics were an artifact of non-prosecution, which led to non-reporting. Since the police did nothing, store owners quit calling. The media just parroted what the politicians wanted them to. 

How bad is the reality on the ground?

Propaganda works when a problem is abstract to us; we are told about things we have no experience with, so we tend to believe the narrative. 

But when we have direct experience, it is much harder. In the Soviet Union, you couldn't convince people that they were prosperous because their lives actually sucked. 

The same is true for prices and crime in the US. You can cite all the statistics you like, but the facts are obvious. 

I always knew that FBI statistics were of limited use simply because reporting varied by jurisdiction. They gave you a sense of trends and magnitude but couldn't be counted on to be precise. 

But now, as with economic numbers, they are practically made up. The numbers are nearly meaningless. 


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John Stossel 5:30 PM | July 13, 2024
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