“The infectiousness of crime is like that of the plague” – Napoleon
“The infectiousness of crime reporting is like that of the plague” – Me
Crime or rather the perception of crime is of importance to all homebuyers and tenants. Earlier this week, I wrote about crime and security in high-rises. To ensure the rest of you don’t feel left out, here’s the bigger picture … and if surveys are right, the majority of you are about to be surprised.
In an August 2016 poll conducted by YouGov and the Huffington Post, 61 percent believe crime has increased over the past decade in the United States. If you’re over 65 or a woman of any age, that jumps to 73 and 72 percent respectively. You’re wrong. Nineteen percent think crime over the decade has remained the same. You’re also wrong. Just 15 percent correctly believe that nationwide crime has actually declined (women 6 percent, men 23 percent).
Politically, Democrats and Republicans were about equal thinking crime was serious locally ― 15 and 14 percent, respectively. However, when asked whether crime was a serious nationwide problem, Republicans thought crime was seriouser by 14 points over Democrats … and 19 points more likely to think the problem was growing.
The likely culprit? Over-reporting by the media and instantaneousness of social media to stir up emotions and viewership. Fear builds audience engagement regardless of the reality. Unfortunately, those susceptible to fear mongering are unable to self-diagnose.
At last year’s Republican National Convention, a Texan was quoted as believing crime was up, but that it was reporting of crimes was was down. U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX) was also quoted at the convention as saying, “If you want to know, you look at the FBI statistics, and the ones I’ve seen are spiking.” Like Where’s Waldo, try to find the “spike” in the chart below. That tiny uptick at the end of the line is what Gohmert is calling a “spike” in crime. I wouldn’t ride a train whose tracks were held in place by spikes like that, would you?
The National Truth?
A new report from the Brennan Center for Justice shows that according to FBI crime statistics, the US is safer than it has been for 50 years. In the past two years there have been slight increases in crime of just under 1 percent. Researchers do not think this is indicative of a national crime wave but merely the natural ebb and flow of time.
Note: As a researcher, raw numbers tell a more nuanced story than simple percentages. If I have one and I get a second one, I’ve had 100 percent growth. But a penny becoming two pennies is quite different than 50 murders growing to 100.
- From 2015 to today, the national crime rate is expected to rise less than 1 percent.
- Overall crime, violent crime, and murders are essentially half of what they were a decade ago.
- Overall crime peaked in 1980 and again in 1991 when there were 5,856 crimes per 100,000 people. In 2016 it’s expected to be 2,857 per 100,000 … a level not seen since the mid-1960s.
- Violent crime peaked in 1991 at 716 crimes per 100,000, it’s now 366 … a level not seen since 1970.
- In 2015 and 2016, the murder rate has increased slightly to 5.3 murders per 100,000 people but compare that the to 9.8 murders per 100,000 people in 1991. The last time the US saw a rate this low was again, the mid-1960s. Of note, half of the 2014-2016 increases came from Chicago (29 percent), Baltimore (10 percent) and Houston (10 percent).
- Within the time frame of overall declines, there were years of rises before declines continued. Researchers believe the rises in 2015 and 2016 are part of this pattern.
The researchers conclude, “Americans today are safer than they have been at almost any time in the past 25 years. Since 2014, some cities have seen increases in murder, causing increases in national rates of murder and violence. These spikes in urban violence are a serious cause for concern. But history shows these trends do not necessarily signal the start of a new nationwide crime wave, and even with these increases, crime and murder rates remain near historic lows. There is no evidence of a national crime wave.”
How’d Dallas Do?
First, before you freak out, urban areas have higher crime rates than the national averages. That said, the trend in Dallas is even more pronounced than the national declines in overall crime. Instead of the 50 percent declines seen nationally since 1990, Dallas had reached the halfway point by 2008 before steaming onward to today’s nearly 75 percent drop. Over in Fort Worth, the crime rate peaked at 17,000 per 100,000 in 1991 but rests at about 4,000 today, less than a quarter of its 1991 high.
The FBI defines violent crime as “aggravated assault, murder, and robbery; and burglary, larceny, and motor vehicle theft as “property crime’.” In 1992, Dallas was scraping 2,500 violent crimes per 100,000 people. By 2006, the rate had dropped in half and by 2016 was a shadow of its 1992 heights. Sure there’s been an increase since 2014, but is it much different than the 1996-2002 wobbling? And still, today’s small uptick is from near record lows. In Fort Worth, the violent crime rate is a hair below 500 per 100,000 people, not far off Dallas.
Dallas is killin’ its murder rate (irresistible 🙂 ). Approaching 50 murders per 100,000 people in 1992, by 2014 it had dropped below 10 before bouncing slightly to the 13 we see today (a 30 percent increase … see what I mean about percentages?). Still incredibly small. Our murder rate would need to double before it approached the 27 murders per 100,000 committed in Chicago which would also have to nearly double again to reach the 47 rate for Detroit. Again, in Fort Worth, the murder rate in 1992 was 43 and today rests at a minimal 6 murders per 100,000 people.
Stop freaking out about crime. Stop internalizing every shallow sensationalist headline or sound bite. Stop thinking every national or international story is happening next door. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been worriedly asked by foreign colleagues about events that took place hundreds or thousands of miles away. No, the smoke from the Hawaiian volcano has not impacted Texas yet nor has the latest Chicago murder made me less safe 802 miles away.
And while a typical sound bite, zero crime is not a realistic goal. The only town with zero crime is a ghost town.
Remember: High-rises, HOAs and renovation are my beat. But I also appreciate modern and historical architecture balanced against the YIMBY movement. If you’re interested in hosting a Candysdirt.com Staff Meeting event, I’m your guy. In 2016, my writing was recognized with Bronze and Silver awards from the National Association of Real Estate Editors. Have a story to tell or a marriage proposal to make? Shoot me an email firstname.lastname@example.org.