Category: Studies and Statistics

FBI 2020 Crime Data Shows Increase in Homicides and Aggravated Assaults

Today the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) released preliminary findings of their soon to be released annual report, Crime in the United States: 2020. While the final publication has not yet been released, the data can be accessed through the Crime Data Explorer. Additionally, publications from prior years are accessible online.

The preliminary data revealed that violent crime is up for the first time in four years, with 1,277,696 violent crimes reported to United States law enforcement in 2020. The violent crime rate (which accounts for population size) was 387.8 per 100,000 — a 5.2% increase when compared with 2019 rates (380.8 per 100,000). The violent crime increase appears to be a result of increases in aggravated assaults (+12.0%) and murders (+29.4%). However, not all types of violent crime increased from 2019 to 2020 — robbery decreased 9.3% and rape (revised definition) decreased 12.0%. Conversely, property crime is down, with 6,452,038 property crimes reported to law enforcement in 2020. The property crime rate (again, accounting for population size) was 1958.2 per 100,000, which decreased 8.1% when compared with 2019 rates (2130.6 per 100,000). The decrease in property crime appears to be driven by decreases in burglary (-7.4%) and larceny-theft (-10.6%). In contrast, auto thefts increased (+11.8%). It is important to note that crimes of arson are not included in property crime estimates, due to disparities in the agencies that submitted data for arson.

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Dubious CJCJ Report Claims that Republican Counties Suffer from More Violent Crime

California, like the rest of the country, suffered a major increase in homicide in 2020. The Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice (CJCJ) has released a report by Mike Males that presents differences between Republican- and Democratic-voting counties (identified by majority voting Democrat in 2020) in terms of homicide rates. He argues that Republican counties tend to have higher homicide rates, stating that: “the clearest difference between areas that have cut crime substantially and those suffering the worst crime trends and rates is not geographic nor demographic, but how they vote – Republican versus Democratic.” However, this report ignores a number of important variables that could be obscuring this finding. Namely, Republican-voting counties tend to be more rural, suburban, and overall have a lower median income when compared with Democratic-voting counterparts, all of which could also impact homicide rates. The classic phrase to remember here is: “correlation does not equal causation.”

It is perplexing why a researcher would compare two groups that are vastly different from each other without attempting to control for outside factors that might differ between groups, such as geography or population size. As a result, the groups are not entirely comparable because they are not similar enough; in this situation researchers would need to apply adequate statistical controls to account for these differences, something that is missing from this analysis. Ideally, a well-conducted study would attempt to control for all factors that differ between counties, except for the political affiliation, i.e., the main variable of interest. Continue reading . . .

Recent BJS Report Examines 10-year Recidivism Rates of State Prisoners

As stated in a recent Bill Otis’s post on Wednesday, the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) recently released a report that examines 10-year recidivism patterns of prisoners released in 2008 from 24 states. The study has a lengthy follow-up period of ten years, which is useful in tracking recidivism rates over time. A similar report was released on the topic in July 2021 that included data from 34 states, but the follow-up period was only five years (2012-2017). Similarly, BJS also released a report in May 2018 that examined recidivism rates of offenders from 30 states with a nine-year follow-up period. Extending the follow-up period allows researchers to examine recidivism patterns over longer periods of time, which is one of the main benefits of the current study.

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What Do Inmates Do After They’re Released?

That’s one of the most important questions any sensible person would ask in considering whether criminals are sentenced too harshly, or (relatedly) whether their existing sentences should be shortened by mass clemency or other expedients such as First Step Act re-sentencing.  After all, we should be guided by “facts” and “data,” not emotion, right?  Emotion is, after all, the province of revenge-driven right-wing kooks, while reliance on criminal justice “data” is the specialty of the more tempered among us.

Well OK then, let’s look at the data.  What do they tell us?

In brief, they tell us that, in overwhelming numbers, after they’re released, criminals get back in the crime business.  Most of them return fast, and over time, close to all of them return to harming us, our property, and our right to live in peace and safety.

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Early Releases, Crime, and Evidence

In May, the California Dept. of Corrections and Rehabilitation put into effect regulations that greatly increased the credits that violent criminals can earn to shorten their sentences. Sam Stanton of the Sacramento Bee has this article on a lawsuit by 45 district attorneys (out of 58 in the state) to invalidate these regulations.

I will have more to say about this suit later, but right now I want to focus on a statement by a supporter of the regulations that illustrates the kind of pseudoscientific posturing that is rampant in policy debates today. Continue reading . . .

CompStat360: A Data-Driven Policing Approach for Gun Crime

On July 26, 2021, the National Police Foundation (NPF) announced a partnership with the Manchester, NH Police Department (MPD) to implement a data-driven policing approach known as CompStat360 (CS360) to target rising gun crime. The approach allows agencies to be more data-driven in their police strategy, particularly through the use of crime mapping, which shows ‘hot spots’ or clusters of crime in an area. This information greatly helps police officials, city leaders, and community activists decide which markets and places to target. The approach relies on geographic information systems (GIS) technology which uses GPS coordinates to track crime.

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A Promising Option for Increasing Homicide Clearance Rates

Clearance rates for criminal investigations, particularly for homicides, are a reflection of police performance and a prominent component of offense deterrence. When offenders are not apprehended, the potential deterrent effect of sanctions is diminished and police legitimacy undermined. Clearance rates for serious crimes in the United States have remained essentially unchanged over the last four decades despite decreases in the index crime rate (and more recently, increases in the homicide rate specifically). Moreover, this is surprising considering how technology has advanced during this time. Data from the Uniform Crime Report shows that the nationwide homicide clearance rate decreased from approximately 83% in 1965 to 61% in 2007. It has stabilized in the last decade, with most recent estimates showing 62% in 2018. Hypothesized reasons for declines in clearance rates include an increase in the proportion of homicides involving strangers (e.g. gang- and drug-related violence as opposed to intimate relationship violence), declining societal support for police efforts, and increased regulation of police practices.

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Crime in the Era of COVID-19

The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic had an enormous impact on nearly every aspect of our day-to-day lives, ranging from economic distress, to disrupted schooling, and public health impacts. Relatedly, the pandemic has impacted crime in different ways, but there is still a lot of confusion and disagreement regarding this relationship. On its face, the onset of the pandemic was initially correlated with large drops in many types of crime. However, this finding comes with a caveat: while overall crime rates are lower than they have been in previous years, homicides and shootings are higher than normal, and this trend appears to be continuing into 2021. Continue reading . . .

San Francisco Risk Assessment Accurately Predicts Public Safety Risk for Pretrial Release Decisions

A recently published San Francisco-based study conducted by the California Policy Lab at UC Berkeley/Los Angeles has shed some insight on the accuracy of the city’s Public Safety Assessment (PSA), an algorithmic tool that is used to inform pretrial release decisions for adult offenders. The tool scores defendants on how likely they are to show up for future court dates, their probability of committing a crime during the pretrial phase, and whether that crime might be violent. Overall, the researchers concluded that the tool met the threshold required for it to be considered “sufficiently predictive” (p. 27) of risk. The study examined 9,800 individuals released pending trial between May 2016 (when the tool was adopted) and December 2019. Of those people released, 51% failed to appear in court and 55% were arrested for new crimes during the pretrial release period (18% of which were for violent offenses).

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