BJS: Bureau of Justice Statistics

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Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS)
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Crime and Justice in the United States
and in England and Wales, 1981-96

Victim surveys versus police records

Is the violent crime rate higher in the United States or England?

  • Crime rates are available from two different sources -- from victim surveys and from police statistics -- and sometimes the answer depends on which source is compared.

    According to the latest comparable figures on violent crime (1995), victim surveys indicated higher violent crime rates in England (including Wales) than in the United States, while police statistics indicated the opposite:

    • According to victim surveys, the 1995 robbery rate was higher in England than in the United States (7.6 versus 5.3) (figure 1), but according to police statistics the robbery rate was higher in the United States than in England (2.2 versus 1.3) (figure 7).
    • According to victim surveys, the 1995 assault rate was much higher in England than in the United States (20.0 versus 8.8) (figure 2), but police statistics showed a slightly higher assault rate in the United States than in England (4.2 versus 3.9) (figure 8).

    Why did 1995 police statistics indicate higher violent crime rates in the United States than in England, while 1995 victim surveys indicated higher violent crime rates in England than in the United States?

  • If robbery were more often reported to police in the United States than in England, that might help to explain why the U.S. rate of robberies from police statistics is higher than England's. But robberies were not more often reported to the U.S. (55% reported) than to the English (57% reported) police (figure 11). However, U.S. police did more often than the English police record robberies that came to their attention. Of all robberies reported to police in the United States in 1995, an estimated 78% were ultimately recorded as robberies in police statistics (figure 15). Of those reported to English police, a much smaller proportion -- 35% -- was officially recorded as robberies.

  • The assault rate from police statistics is higher in the United States than in England for two reasons. One is that assaults in 1995 were more often reported to police in the United States (54%) than in England (40%) (figure 12). The other is that, compared to police in England, police in the United States recorded a higher proportion of assaults that came to their attention in 1995 (virtually all in the United States versus 53% in England) (figure 16).

    In 1996 the rate of robbery recorded by police was higher in the United States (2.0 per 1,000 population) than in England (1.4 per 1,000 population) (figure 7). Is that because American police recorded a greater fraction of the robberies that were reported to them than English police?

    As noted above, in 1995 American police recorded 78% of all robberies reported to them, while English police recorded 35% (figure 15). In other words, American police were about twice as likely as English police to record a robbery coming to their attention in 1995. Assuming the same was true for rates of robbery recorded by police in 1996, the English rate is not directly comparable to the American rate because American police recorded a greater fraction than English police of the robberies reported to them. Had English police recorded the same fraction of robberies that were reported to them as had American police, the English robbery rate would have been 2.8 per 1,000 population, exceeding the American rate of 2.0 robberies per 1,000.

    Is the property crime rate higher in the United States or England?

    Both victim surveys and police statistics for 1995 indicated higher property crime rates in England than in the United States.

  • For the property offense of burglary, the rate from victim surveys was higher in England than in the United States (82.9 per 1,000 households versus 47.5) (figure 3), and the rate from police statistics was also higher in England than in the United States (23.9 per 1,000 population versus 9.9) (figure 9).

  • For the property offense of motor vehicle theft, the rate from victim surveys was higher in England than in the United States (23.6 per 1,000 households versus 10.8) (figure 4), and the rate from police statistics was also higher in England than in the United States (9.8 per 1,000 population versus 5.6) (figure 10).

    Are trends in crime rates derived from victim surveys similar to trends in police-recorded crime rates in both countries?

  • In England (including Wales), 1981-1995 crime trends calculated from police statistics corresponded closely to 1981-1995 crime trends obtained from victim surveys. By contrast, in the United States for the period 1981 to 1996, the correspondence was less close.

    Trends in police-recorded crime rates can be compared to trends in survey rates for robbery, assault, burglary, and motor vehicle theft.

    In England from 1981 to 1995 --

    • the rise in the police-recorded robbery rate corresponded closely to the rise in the robbery rate as estimated from victim surveys (r = + .91) (table 1)
    • the rise in the police-recorded assault rate corresponded closely to the rise in the survey assault rate (r = + .88) (table 1)
    • the rise in the police-recorded burglary rate corresponded closely to the rise in the survey-estimated burglary rate (r = + .95) (table 1)
    • the rise in the police-recorded vehicle theft rate corresponded closely to the rise in the vehicle theft rate as documented in victim surveys (r = + .98) (table 1).

    In the United States from 1981 to 1996 --

    • the rise in the police-recorded robbery rate corresponded fairly well to the rise documented in victim surveys (r = + .56) (table 1)
    • changes in the police-recorded assault rate did not correspond at all to changes in the assault rate as estimated from victim surveys (r = - .15) (table 1)
    • a striking correspondence existed between the drop in the police-recorded burglary rate and the drop in the survey-estimated burglary rate (r = + .97) (table 1)
    • changes in the police-recorded vehicle theft rate corresponded closely to vehicle theft rate changes documented in victim surveys (r = + .86) (table 1).


    Table 1. Correlation between trends in crime rates as measured by data from police records and victim surveys in the United States and England, from 1981 to 1995/96


    Police recorded rate of --

    Victim survey estimated rate of --

       Motor    Motor

       vehicle    vehicle

    Murder Rape Robbery Assault Burglary    theft Robbery Assault Burglary    theft

    Police-recorded rate of --

    Murder X     .565  * .968 ** 0.337    0.352    0.493    .653 ** .539  * 0.246    .770 **
      Rape .725 ** X     .688 ** .849 ** -0.354    .874 ** -0.134     0.083     -.511  * .771 **
      Robbery .687 ** .964 ** X     0.488    0.185    .619  * .558  * 0.414     0.064    .825 **
      Assault .691 ** .988 ** .929 ** X     -.692 ** .916 ** -0.255     -0.145     -.807 ** .705 **
      Burglary .715 ** .829 ** .851 ** .812 ** X      -0.419     .540  * 0.418     .969 ** -0.081   
      Motor vehicle theft .726 ** .828 ** .786 ** .832 ** .955 ** X      -0.183     -0.078     -.588  * .861 **
                           
    Victim survey estimated rate of --
      Robbery 0.624     .811  * .912  * 0.780     0.677   0.536    X     .700 ** .601  * 0.207    
      Assault 0.787     .905   * .952 ** .880   * 0.784    0.708    .953 ** X     0.474     0.249    
      Burglary 0.752     .968 ** .965 ** .967 ** .951 ** .852  * 0.809     .862  * X      -0.227    
      Motor vehicle theft .816   * .944 ** .860   * .955 ** .965 ** .982 ** 0.597     0.771    .899   * X     
    Unshaded = correlations between U.S. crime rate trends
    Shaded = correlations between English crime rate trends
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