If you’ve gotten a sense from recent news cycles that violent crime was becoming more of an issue than we’ve become accustomed to over the past couple of decades, recent data shows that it’s not just your imagination. The Free Beacon has the 27th and latest edition of the National Crime Victimization Survey and results are not encouraging. Published by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the survey tracks the number of American citizens who fall victim to a variety of categories of violent crime. After decades of steady decline, the numbers seem to have reached a plateau in the past several years and are showing disturbing signs of heading back in the wrong direction.
The two-decade-long crime decline appears to have conclusively plateaued, a new report released Monday shows, as the share of Americans who faced a violent crime remained between 0.9 and 0.6 percent for the 12th year running.
Data from the latest National Crime Victimization Survey, a nationwide survey conducted annually since 1993 by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, show that roughly 1.2 million Americans, or 7.3 per 1,000 adults, report having been violently victimized in the past year. That’s down from 8.6 per 1,000 in 2018, the first year to see a significant uptick in decades.
But the bigger picture the new data paint is of a stalled-out crime decline. After falling precipitously from 1993 through the mid-2000s, the violent victimization rate has hovered around 8 per 1,000.
If you click through the link above to view the chart, the trend being discussed is immediately apparent. The crime rates we experienced in the early nineties when the survey began are probably unimaginable to younger people who grew up in the 21st century. And those rates were a holdover from the late seventies and into the eighties, which were even worse. That period is referred to as “the great crime wave,” and an average of 3% of Americans were victims of some form of violent crime every year.
But starting in 1994, the violent crime rate began to drop precipitously through the year 2000. Beyond that, it continued to slowly decline until around 2009. At that point, the curve flattened out (with a couple of dips and upticks) and only roughly .8% of Americans were similarly victimized. That period lasted until 2018 when we began to see what appeared to be sustained increases. It’s too early to say what the final numbers will be for 2020, of course, but if the rates of shootings and murders in many of our larger cities are anything to go by, we’re going to be back well above the one percent level again.
So what’s changed? We can’t simply write this off to criminals suddenly becoming more intelligent, crafty or particularly motivated. There’s no real effort put into studying why criminals do the things they do. But we can probably draw some conclusions from the societal trends and governmental practices we see all around us.
For one thing, the whole idea of having elected officials and law enforcement leaders who are “tough on crime” has definitely come into disfavor in some quarters, primarily on the left. We saw that idea on full display during the Democratic Primary when one of the chief knocks against Kamala Harris’ candidacy was her experience as a prosecutor and, later, District Attorney in California. She locked up a lot of criminals and was part of the process that drove crime rates down during that era. But in today’s partisan environment, too many on the left view her records a sign that she “locked up too many minorities,” without pausing to wonder if most (if not all) of them actually merited being incarcerated.
At the same time, the public’s attitude toward the police, primarily in larger urban settings, has shifted dramatically. Not all that long ago, the law-abiding among us respected and admired law enforcement officers for keeping us safe and maintaining order. Criminals not only shied away from the police, but they actually feared them. (As they should in a functional society.) But today, we see far too many otherwise lawful “protesters” bashing the police right and left. And out on the streets, lawless individuals boldly berate or even physically assault cops who are out on patrol. Meanwhile, liberal municipal elected officials undercut their own police forces and institute soft-on-crime policies to fight a perceived “incarceration nation.”
What did we expect was going to happen under such conditions? The number of potential criminals never really decreased all that much. They were just waiting for conditions on the ground to be more favorable for the commission of crimes. And perhaps now their time has arrived.