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Inside Criminal Justice

Rise In Simple Assaults Drives U.S. Crime Rate Up

October 17, 2012 09:00:00 am

By Ted Gest

Photo by HeatherHeatherHeather, via Flickr

The nation's estimated rate of both violent and property crime shot up last year after several years of decline, the Justice Department's National Crime Victimization Survey said today.

The survey unexpectedly reported a 17 percent increase in the violent crime rate and an 11 percent rise in the property crime rate in 2011 compared with 2010. The rate of violent crime victimization rate had dropped or remained steady since at least 1993.

The surge in violent crime was not across the board, however.

The survey showed that it was entirely due to an increase in assaults, particularly simple assaults in which there was no bodily harm or weapon used. The estimated rates of the bellwether crime of robbery and also sexual assault remained the same from one year to the next.

The crime victimization survey differs from the FBI's Uniform Crime Report because the survey is based on interviews with a representative sample of U.S. households on whether their members 12 or older were victimized in the previous year. Nearly 80,000 households and more than 143,000 individuals were interviewed.

The FBI's report is a compilation of reports submitted voluntarily by law enforcement agencies.

In terms of estimated crime-incident totals rather than rates per 1,000 population, there were about 5.8 million violent victimizations last year around the nation compared with about 4.9 million in 2010, the survey found.

This is still far below the 7.4 million reported for 2002. In contrast, the FBI compilation for 2010 showed about 1.25 million violent crimes, far below that registered in the victimization survey because it included only offenses reported to police.

Because the victimization survey estimates national totals based on its sample, its numbers are much higher than crimes reported to police. The new survey said that only 49 percent of violent crimes and 37 percent of property crimes were reported to law enforcement.

'Reason for Concern'

Richard Rosenfeld, a criminologist at the University of Missouri-St. Louis and former president of the American Society of Criminology, called the new report "a reason for some concern," but he cautioned against jumping to a conclusion, based on one year's estimate, that the longstanding decline in U.S. crime rates has ended.

The increase in property crime was driven partly by a rise in estimated household burglaries, which the survey said rose 14 percent.

The Justice Department's Bureau of Justice Statistics, which manages the survey, said that one reason last year's crime rate increase seems so large is that crime had gone down so far in the last two decades.

"The low rates make the percentage change large, but crime remains at historically low levels," the bureau said.

Among other findings in the survey:

* Domestic violence victimizations increased slightly last year.

* Most of the increase in violent victimizations were reported by whites, Hispanics, young people, and men. The rates for black non-Hispanics was stable.

* Residents of urban areas had the highest rates of total violent victimization, 27.4 per 1,000 population, while residents of suburban areas reported an increase from 16.8  incidents per 1,000 in 2011 to 20.2 per 1,000 in 2010.

Read the full report HERE.

Ted Gest is president of Criminal Justice Journalists and a Washington-based contributing editor of The Crime Report.  He welcomes comments from readers.

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