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Americans fear crime despite downward trends

With crime down, why do many Americans believe it's going up? Researchers say there are many reasons for the disconnect.
Lights from a police vehicle are displayed outside the Portland Police Bureau
Posted at 9:07 PM, May 13, 2024

Crime: It's one of those subjects that always seems to be a top priority for Americans and the candidates who want their votes.

"We've invested a record amount in public safety, violence interruption, and we've also done much work to make communities safer," said President Joe Biden earlier this month in Wilmington, North Carolina.

Crime stories often play big in the news, and a growing number of Americans — 58% — say reducing crime should be a top priority for the president and Congress, according to the Pew Research Center.

But what is actually happening in America when it comes to crime? According to a Pew analysis of FBI data, violent crimes, including robbery, assault and murder are down by 49% from 1993 to 2022.

"Of course, that's not to say that there isn't still a lot of violent crime, or that people aren't concerned about violent crime," said John Gramlich, an associate director at Pew Research Center.

While some crime stats can rise and fall, overall property crimes are down too, a 59% drop since 1993, according to Pew and the FBI.

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"The decrease has even been bigger for property crime than it has been for violent crime — and these are the crimes like theft and larceny, burglary, motor vehicle theft. So we know that there are a lot less of these types of crime than there used to be," said Gramlich.

With crime down, why do many Americans believe it's going up? Researchers say there are many reasons for the disconnect, from high-profile news stories, politicians who make crime a constant talking point on the campaign trail and even social media keeping track of what we read.

"Algorithms are such that if you've clicked on a few crime stories, you may see more crime stories in your feed," said Gramlich. "And so that could be some reason why people think there's more crime."

Researchers also caution that many crimes are not reflected in the numbers. Fewer than half of violent crimes are reported to police, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

"There's this whole universe of things that are happening that never even get brought to the police in the first place," Gramlich said.