BJS releases 2021 victimization statistics

The Bureau of Justice Statistics recently released information on 2021 victimization rates derived from the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS). There were no statistically significant changes in violent victimization or property victimization rates from 2020 to 2021. However, the violent victimization rate increased in urban areas, from 19.4 to 24.5 per 1,000. The percentage of violent victimizations reported to police increased (+6%), as did the percentage of violent crime victims who sought assistance from victim service providers (+3%). The percentage of property victimizations reported to police decreased (-2%), which was mostly due to a decrease in reporting for “other theft” (-3%). This post outlines the major findings from the report, while more detailed information can be found via the NCVS’ interactive data dashboard.

Violent victimization

Violent crimes included in the NCVS include rape/sexual assault, robbery, aggravated assault, and simple assault. Data were collected through interviews conducted with a sample of people age 12 and older. Results showed that 2.7 million people age 12 or older experienced at least one violent crime in 2021, with an overall rate of 7.5 violent victimizations per 1,000 people. From 2020 to 2021, overall estimates of violent crime remained unchanged, but the rate in urban areas increased from 19.0 to 24.5 victimizations per 1,000. About 7.1% of the violent victimizations in 2021 victimizations involved a firearm, down slightly from 7.7% in 2020. There were no differences regarding victimization rates across type of crime, sex, race, age, or ethnicity.

In the last 30 years, violent victimization rates have declined overall. This isn’t entirely surprising, considering that the 1990s was one of the worst decades for crime in American history. In 1993, the violent victimization rate was 79.8 per 1,000. It then declined steadily for the next 17 years, reaching a rate of 19.3 per 1,000 in 2010. Since then, the prevalence of violent crime has fluctuated. From 2010 to 2012, rates increased again (reaching 26.1 in 2012), before eventually declining to a low of 18.6 in 2015. By 2018, violent victimizations increased again but remained below 2012 levels at a rate of 23.2 per 1,000. Since then, violent victimization rates have fallen steadily, reaching a rate of 16.4 in 2020, which remained stable through 2021.

Declines across types of violent crime followed a similar pattern, declining over the long term with brief upticks here and there, with no significant change from 2020 to 2021. Over the long term, the percentage of violent victimizations involving a firearm have ebbed and flowed with no real discernable trend, comprising between 5.4% and 9.1% of overall violent crime. To see detailed estimates across type of crime, see the “Quick Graphics” section of the NCVS data dashboard and navigate to the “violent crime” tab.

The percentage of violent crime victims who received assistance from a victim service provider increased in the last year, from 6% in 2020 to 9% in 2021. The increase in victim service utilization was evident across all four violent crime types. Over the long term though, there are no discernable trends in victim service provider utilization, with random spikes and declines across years. For more information, see the “Quick Graphics” section of the NCVS data dashboard and navigate to the “victim service use” tab.

From 2020 to 2021, the percentage of violent crimes reported to the police increased from 40.2% to 45.6%, but this increase was not statistically significant. Of those who didn’t report, more than 25% of respondents said they didn’t report because they would “deal with it another way,” while more than 20% believed the police “could not or would not do anything to help.” Not surprisingly though, the reporting rate is higher for firearm crimes, 73% of which were reported to the police in 2021.

Over the last 30 years, the percentage of violent crimes that were reported to police fluctuated between 40% and 52%, with a high of 51.1% in 2010 and a low of 40.2% in 2020. There were no clear discernable trends across years. For more information on reporting across crime type, as well as the reasons for not reporting, see the “Quick Graphics” section of the NCVS data dashboard and navigate to the “reporting to police” tab.

Property victimization

Property crimes included in the NCVS are burglary, trespassing, motor vehicle theft, and other types of household theft. Data were collected from a sample of households, and estimates represent rates per household rather than per person. According to the NCVS estimates, there were 11.7 million property victimizations in 2021. The 2021 property victimization rate was 90.3 victimizations per 1,000 households, down slightly from 94.5 per 1,000 in 2020, but this drop was not statistically significant. There were some differences across type of crime, though. Rates of trespassing increased from 4.1 to 5.1 per 1,000 households, while other household theft declined from 76.6 to 72.1 per 1,000 households. There were no differences regarding victimization rates across sex, race, age, or ethnicity.

Over the last 30 years, property crime victimization rates have declined overall. In 1993, the property victimization rate was 351.8 per 1,000. It declined steadily over the years, reaching a rate of 125.4 per 1,000 in 2010. This was followed by a small uptick in 2012, when property crime rates were back up to 155.8 per 1,000 households. Since 2012 though, rates have fallen steadily, reaching 108.4 in 2017, and eventually falling below a rate of 100 per 1,000 for the first time in 2020. As stated above, in the last year, rates declined even further — from 94.5 to 90.3 per 1,000, but this change was not statistically significant. Long term trends varied slightly across type of crime, though. Since 1993, declines in “other theft” followed the overall pattern — declining over the long term, with a brief spike in 2012. But for motor vehicle theft, burglary, and trespassing, victimization rates have steadily declined over the long term without any real upticks. To see detailed estimates across type of crime, see the “Quick Graphics” section of the NCVS data dashboard and navigate to the “property crime” tab.

The percentage of property crimes reported to the police decreased from 2020 to 2021, from 33.0% to 30.8%, but this change was not statistically significant. Researchers postulate that the decline is largely due to a decline in reporting for “overall theft,” for which reporting rates decreased by 3% from 2020 to 2021 (29% vs. 26%). Among those who didn’t report to the police in 2021, nearly 40% didn’t report because they believed police “could not or would not do anything to help,” while more than 30% indicated the crime “wasn’t important enough” to them to report.

In the last 30 years, the percentage of property crimes reported to the police has fluctuated between 30% and 41%. For some reason, people were more likely to report property crimes between 2002 and 2010. During this period, the percentage of crimes reported to police was consistently above 38%, with an all-time high of 40.2% in 2008. There was a dip in 2012, when with 33.5% of property crime victimizations being reported to police. This is interesting, considering that victimizations were up that year. Reporting of property crime increased again by 2014, when 37.0% of property victimizations were reported, but this has since declined to new a low of 30.8% in 2021. For more information on the percentage of property crimes reported across crime type, as well as the reasons for not reporting, see the “Quick Graphics” section of the NCVS data dashboard and navigate to the “reporting to police” tab.

Limitations of NCVS Data

Due to constraints in the NCVS data, we are unable to examine the differences between states. This leaves a major gap in our understanding, because we believe that victimization rates as well as reporting rates would differ across states. Unfortunately, obtaining state-level estimates is very difficult, as the BJS considers this information to be “sensitive,” and therefore access is restricted. To gain access, one must submit multiple project proposals, pay an amount of $20,000 per year, and must be willing to travel to the nearest Federal Statistical Research Data Center. While restricting public access to some types of data is understandable, the arduous process that one must go through to obtain the data is disheartening, and the expensive price tag is downright shameful.

Conclusion

Violent crime victimization rates remained unchanged from 2020 to 2021, and this was true for all crime types. However, the rate in urban areas increased, from 19.4 to 24.5 per 1,000, while non-urban areas saw no change. The percentage of violent victimizations reported to police increased slightly (+6%), as did the percentage of violent crime victims who sought assistance from victim service providers (+3%).

Overall property crime victimization rates declined slightly from 2020 to 2021 (from 94.5 to 90.3 per 1,000), but this decline was not statistically significant. This wasn’t true for all types of property crimes, though, as rates of trespassing increased slightly (from 4.1 to 5.1 per 1,000). The percentage of property crimes reported to the police decreased though (-2%), which was mostly due to a decrease in reporting for “other theft” (-3%).

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