The U.S. may have run out of criminals, and crimes of passion must have nearly disappeared. The FBI reports that violent crime dropped again in the first half of 2011. The decline has continued for four years. At some point, the figures will get close enough to zero that violent crime numbers can fall no further. The FBI is still cautious enough about the numbers that its says they should not be used to track local trends. That is unrealistic, since all the data are local.
The new Preliminary Semiannual Uniform Crime Report demonstrates that compared with the first quarter of 2010:
The occurrence of all four offense types in the violent crime category decreased — murder was down 5.7 percent; rape dropped 5.1 percent, robbery fell 7.7 percent, and aggravated assault declined 5.9 percent. And it didn’t matter what region of the country you lived in — decreases in each category were seen in the Northeast, Midwest, South, and West.
In other words, crime has gone into hiding everywhere.
None of the theories about why the drop has continued is entirely persuasive. One notion is that law enforcement has become more effective in a world in which criminals often can be tracked electronically. Another is that the demographic changes in the U.S. are so profound that the younger people most likely to participate in criminal activity make up a smaller part of the population.
Along with the report, the FBI offers suggestions for how the data should and should not be used. The two sets of rules contradict one another. Local law enforcement budgets can be set based on the data, but any analysis of local crime trends should not be. It is impossible to divide the two, but the FBI says otherwise.
First the FBI says its data should be used:
To provide law enforcement with data that can help with budget formulation, planning, resource allocation, assessment of police operations, etc., to help address crime problems at various levels.
But budgets are, by their nature, local. Somehow, the bureau says they are only local to a certain extent. FBI data should not be used:
To compile rankings of individual jurisdictions and institutions of higher learning and/or to evaluate the effectiveness of individual law enforcement agencies
Either the information should be used to determine local crime patterns and needs or it should not.
The FBI wants to avoid its data being used to show where crime is still high and where it is not. The data are entirely local, though, and that makes the FBI’s suggestions unrealistic.
Douglas A. McIntyre