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Victim Poll Shows 15% Drop 
In Violent Crime


Published On: June 14, 2001          Updated On: August 07, 2001
© Terence T. Gorski, 2001

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The Justice Department announced yesterday that violent crime fell 15 percent last year, the largest drop on record, a finding that puzzled some criminologists because it came only two weeks after the Federal Bureau of Investigation reported that serious crime remained stable in 2000, ending an eight-year period of significant declines in crime.

The new report, based on a survey of 160,000 crime victims nationwide, also found that rates of violent and property crime were at their lowest levels since the Justice Department started keeping the figures in 1973.

Criminologists expressed confusion yesterday at the discrepancy between the two reports, both released by the Justice Department, although they said the differences could be partly explained by how the reports measure crime. The new report, called the National Crime Victimization Survey, uses a sampling technique to measure how many Americans are victims of crime in a year. The F.B.I. report, known as the Uniform Crime Report, is compiled from crimes reported to police departments across the nation.

The F.B.I. report measures only the most serious crimes, including homicide, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, car theft and larceny. The Crime Victimization Survey does not count homicide, because it questions crime victims, but it does include simple assaults, like pushing and shoving matches, which are more numerous than aggravated assaults or robberies and therefore tend to statistically dominate the report.

Simple assaults accounted for 61.5 percent of all violent crime in the new survey, and because they declined by 14.4 percent in 2000 compared with 1999, they accounted for most of the large drop in violent crime, said James Alan Fox, the Lipman family professor of criminal justice at Northeastern University and an adviser to the Justice Department on crime data.

In the F.B.I. report, published on May 30, violent crime was said to have increased by 0.1 percent in 2000 compared with 1999.

A factor adding to the experts' uncertainty over the new report is that for most of the 1990's as crime fell, the F.B.I.'s statistics and those of the victimization survey closely mirrored each other. That provided confidence that the crime drop was real. But the divergence in the latest two reports raises a question of whether one of them has gone askew.

Lawrence Greenfeld, the acting director of the Bureau of Justice Statistics, said yesterday that the differences between the two estimates were not as great as they might appear. Part of the reason, Mr. Greenfeld said, is that simple assaults, including domestic violence, make up a large part of the victims' survey but are not counted by the F.B.I.

Another factor, he said, is that the largest part of the decrease in violent crimes in the victims' survey came from crimes not reported to the police.

So which report more accurately measures crime? It depends on what a person considers important, Professor Fox said. For most Americans, who worry about homicide, rape and robbery when they think about crime, the F.B.I. report provides a more meaningful portrait of what is happening, he said, and it showed that after dropping since 1992, crime leveled off last year.

"I wouldn't emphasize the victimization report too much because it measures more the less serious crimes," he added.

But Alfred Blumstein, a leading criminologist at Carnegie Mellon University, said the real story behind the difference in the two reports is, "They are telling us that crime is very difficult to measure."

Both reports have their strengths and weaknesses, Professor Blumstein said. "It's like the Florida election results," he said. "These are issues that are difficult to sort out. I wouldn't just accept one and reject the other. We have to live with this cloud of uncertainty."

The F.B.I. report can be misleading because it depends on reports of crimes to the police and then on police forces turning in their data to the bureau. Generally, only 80 percent of the nation's police forces provide their figures, Professor Blumstein said. The victimization survey was started in 1973, at the suggestion of criminologists, to provide a check on the police figures.

One of its benefits is that it provides much more information on the circumstances of a crime than the F.B.I. figures. For example, the victimization survey includes information on the location of the crime, the weapon used and what the relationship was, if any, between the victim and the criminal.

"I think that crime did level off last year," Professor Blumstein said. "But the victimization report raises questions about that." To be sure that crime did stop falling, he said, experts must wait for more than one year's figures.

To compile the victimization report for the Justice Department, the Census Bureau interviewed 160,000 people 12 years and older in a nationally representative sample.

Over all, the victimization report found that violent crime fell 15 percent last year, while property crime dropped 10 percent.

Almost every group in the population experienced less violent crime last year, the report said, including men, women, whites, blacks and 12- to 24-year-olds.

Terry Gorski and other member of the GORSKI-CENAPS Team are Available To Train & Consult On Areas Related To Addiction & Mental health
Gorski - CENAPS, 17900 Dixie Hwy, Homewood, IL 60430, 708-799-5000,,


Terry Gorski and Other Members of the GORSKI-CENAPS Team Are Available To Train & Consult On Areas Related To Addiction & Criminality
Gorski - CENAPS, 17900 Dixie Hwy, Homewood, IL 60430, 708-799-5000,,

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