The Chronicle

Crime Rate Comparisons

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I could use some guidance. I just graduated from college with a degree in justice studies. At first, I planned to apply to law school, but I decided earlier this year that I’d rather get some relevant work experience in law enforcement first.

 

I found some government jobs that relate to criminal profiling research, but I’m curious what that might entail. My former roommate said I could be doing things like crime rate comparisons, but I’m still unsure what that would look like in practice.

 

Are there resources available that would help me learn more? Any insights would be much appreciated.

 

Your question is an important one. While criminal activity often makes the headlines, very few people make concerted efforts to cultivate a deeper understanding of it. Crime rate comparisons can be valuable for the wider society, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. John Gramlich at Pew Research Center just published a report highlighting five facts about crime in America. That’s apt to be the best place to begin your research.

 

John opens by citing the fact that violent crime has fallen hard in the US since the early 1990s. His declaration relies on two key public resources: (1) the FBI’s annual report and (2) the National Crime Victimization Survey. Combining data from both sources allows experts to identify trends and extrapolate a variety of important insights. Lucky for you, you can learn more about the two crime measures thanks to the US Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics.

 

The other findings that John uncovers are remarkable. Property crime also experienced a drastic decline between 1993 and 2016. That’s excellent news for a society that cherishes its private property. However, public perceptions don’t often align with the data published by credible authorities. John asserts that national opinion surveys reveal most people are under the false impression that crime rates are climbing. Skeptics like Neil Strauss at The Rolling Stone point to the fear-mongering mass media. Regardless of where you stand on the matter, almost everyone can agree that public perception shouldn’t contradict factual data.

 

The final two takeaways from John’s report are perhaps the most striking. He explains that geography plays a critical role in the dispersion of crime. That shouldn’t be all that surprising given that the crime rates across cities tend to vary. New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice corroborated that fact while describing how violent crimes have increased in a select few cities, while the top 30 across the nation have seen precipitous declines.

 

You can validate this on your own by comparing cities yourself. Take Long Beach, California and West Palm Beach, Florida. Both of them are iconic American cities with a lot to offer residents and tourists alike. Government officials at Long Beach have made it easy for anyone to track local crime rates. The online resource contains data collected since 2011 and it’s quite possible that earlier data is accessible through archives. No such consolidated resource exists for West Palm Beach. That means you should tap into other credible resources. You could try the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report from 2012. Obtaining more recent data on crime rates and outcomes might require you to be more proactive. For instance, you could try reaching out to a firm like Brickell Key Court Reporting which is a court reporting agency that provides court reporters in West Palm Beach, Florida.

 

While that idea might not sound too glamorous, court reporters offer a rare glimpse into the proceedings and the outcomes of both civil and criminal trials. They’re not only eyewitnesses to everything inside the courtroom, they are also charged with the responsibility of recording what unfolds. These professionals, or “stenographers,” are proficient with “a six-pound stenotype machine, which features 22 keys to capture, verbatim, the court record.” Unfortunately, it would seem that some places across the US are experiencing a shortage of available talent. That dilemma is forcing more courtrooms to turn to digital solutions, which have advantages and drawbacks of their own.

 

Either way, professionals operating inside the courtroom are as close as you can get to the original source of information, which is why you shouldn’t stop at national or even local statistics. Data can only tell you so much. And when it comes to the criminal justice system and democratized jurisprudence, you really have to appreciate the nuances, too. Individual stories are too often lost in the torrent of information. That inevitably means people begin to forget how the data translates into everyday life. Such a reality is especially important when you consider the final takeaway below.

 

John ultimately concludes by reminding his readers that the majority of crimes are unreported and, worse still, that most reported crimes go unsolved. The 2012 National Crime Victimization Survey tries to characterize why so many crimes are unreported and/or underreported. There are no definitive answers without talking to the victims themselves, but that could be one area that you focus your career path in criminal justice. Returning to all of these resources should give you an advantage when it comes to understanding what you can do to impact criminal justice.

 

“Alcohol didn’t cause the high crime rates of the 20’s and 30’s, prohibition did. And drugs do not cause today’s alarming crime rates, but drug prohibition does.” – James Carriger Paine

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