Survey on What Americans Fear

Interesting data:

Turning to the crime section of the Chapman Survey on American Fears, the team discovered findings that not only surprised them, but also those who work in fields pertaining to crime.

"What we found when we asked a series of questions pertaining to fears of various crimes is that a majority of Americans not only fear crimes such as, child abduction, gang violence, sexual assaults and others; but they also believe these crimes (and others) have increased over the past 20 years," said Dr. Edward Day who led this portion of the research and analysis. "When we looked at statistical data from police and FBI records, it showed crime has actually decreased in America in the past 20 years. Criminologists often get angry responses when we try to tell people the crime rate has gone down."

Despite evidence to the contrary, Americans do not feel like the United States is becoming a safer place. The Chapman Survey on American Fears asked how they think prevalence of several crimes today compare with 20 years ago. In all cases, the clear majority of respondents were pessimistic; and in all cases Americans believe crime has at least remained steady. Crimes specifically asked about were: child abduction, gang violence, human trafficking, mass riots, pedophilia, school shootings, serial killing and sexual assault.

EDITED TO ADD (11/13): Direct link to the data as well as the survey methodology.

Posted on October 28, 2014 at 1:03 PM • 73 Comments

Comments

Mace MonetaOctober 28, 2014 1:38 PM

My fear of abuse by law enforcement has increased as fear of criminal action has decreased. I wonder if that was factored into the result?

DanielOctober 28, 2014 2:03 PM

"Through their analysis two key factors emerged: having a lower level of education and also high frequency of television viewing were the most consistent predictors of fear."

Shocking, I tell you, shocking.

AlexOctober 28, 2014 2:08 PM

It is not fear of Americans, it is fear of American security business and politicians translated into people's minds.

stineOctober 28, 2014 2:20 PM

There is no more good news on TV because good news doesn't draw an audience.

Bread and Circuses, for everyone.

AnuraOctober 28, 2014 2:42 PM

@Daniel

It's like the song says:

"Fear on the television always the same
Terrorists everywhere including my brain
I was never frightened of Saddam Hussein
The US government's the one to blame

Fear is big business."

Mr. VoteThirdPartyOctober 28, 2014 3:08 PM

Imagine how stupefyingly dangerous the bewildered heard of philistines — the majority that votes for their own enslavement and demise — will become when Cops is replaced by live 24/7 crimes-in-progress fed from the endlessly expanding; inevitably monetized; surveillance apparatus that is now engulfing our societies.

These fools think the suburbs are "safe." Bullshit; it's a sickening, cookie-cutter, nightmare cultural-vacuum that produces more spree-shooters; addicts; D/R partisans; uncultured halfwits; foolish terrified-of-terrorism suckers, bigots, and mental health patients than rural and urban areas combined.

AnonOctober 28, 2014 3:13 PM

This news just in--most of our fellow human beings are nuts.
Politics, religion, drugs, race...they'll pay to know what they really think.

Bauke Jan DoumaOctober 28, 2014 3:21 PM

Apparently, 'safety and security' are not measured in numbers or statistics.
Dimwit politicians of the nefarious kind have been told this very fact by
less challenged consultants for ages.
Tearing down the intellectual lives of the lower and middle classes (the
'vast mass') does the rest.
The next 'strong man' is already handwringingly waiting in the wings.

RobSOctober 28, 2014 3:43 PM

I think that the most interesting difference is that the academics show that the crime rate has fallen and then treat responses that say that crime has increased or remains steady as irrational. Crime is not crime rate. The US population appears to have increased steadily over the last 20 years. I haven't run the numbers but it seems plausible that both sides are correct but not listening to each other. I can't think of a compelling reason that the probability of a crime happening to me is more closely correlated with the rate per capita than the total number of crimes.

SJOctober 28, 2014 3:57 PM

@whoami

One caveat about the FBI's Uniform Crime Reports. The FBI collates reports sent in by ~20000 law enforcement agencies across the United States. I think if any particular agency is doing some sort of "hide-the-crime" statistical games, it is likely that other agencies are playing different games. While the data may not be perfectly precise, trends in the reported data should follow trends in real crimes.

Another thought: for certain kinds of crimes, it is very hard to juke the stats. Homicide is the hardest to hide.

The FBI's UCR and the CDC's statistics about causes-of-death both show a similar curve for homicide. For most years that I've compared the two reports, the hard values were close (within ~0.5%) and the trends were close. Both trends show a peak in homicide in 1994, and both show a decline since that time.

(It is theoretically possible to use newspaper archives from major cities to double-check the homicide numbers for most years. This would provide yet another stream of data to check the narrow field of reports of homicides. I've seen limited attempts to do this for certain cities in certain years, but I don't know of anyone who has done an accross-the-U.S. attempt to do this.)

I think there's also some sort of nationwide survey about crime victimization, separate from the sources used by the FBI's UCR, which shows similar stats for all crimes.

I'm pretty sure that most crimes reported show the same trend as homicide.

Which leads me to believe that crime has actually decreased.

I'm not saying that Police Department don't juke the stats when they see a benefit for doing so.

I'm saying that this noise isn't masking the general trend in the data.

not_not_knotOctober 28, 2014 4:37 PM

The Fear comes from they don't trust each other. Interesting how the mistrust is not aimed at the right target.

They can't seem to figure out that the guns everywhere, no social safety net, and accepting corporate hegemony has spawned their fears.

RoboticusOctober 28, 2014 4:43 PM

I think people perceive the crime rate as increasing in part because we live in a safer time. The fact that everything is safer now than 20 years ago means it is more of a shock when something happens. Shocking means news. News means stories and humans are story telling animals. Always have been.

Anonymous Coward the YoungerOctober 28, 2014 4:43 PM

...The number of crimes are way down as well...

The number of reported crimes are down.

Several years ago I was talking to a retail loss prevention department and they were implementing a policy of reporting thefts only when it exceeded certain thresholds. The key thing was this was not their idea: other retailers were already doing this! The objective was to avoid penalties from cities that were enacting laws requiring certain measures for high theft stores, which included limiting hours of operation and minimum staffing.

And for those who think insurance reimburses: insurance only reimburses with a police report number. So the retailers are just 'eating' the losses.

bitstrongOctober 28, 2014 5:01 PM

@Anonymous Coward the Younger - you're right. I just saw a homeowner in San Jose had a burglar on recorded CCTV breaking into his house but the cops wouldn't even respond because no one was hurt.

Years ago I was asked in a survey conducted by an ad firm what was my number one fear. I said it was that my family was hurting but I was unable to help them.

AnuraOctober 28, 2014 5:04 PM

@Anonymous Coward the Younger

Given that violent crimes are down, car thefts are down, and burglaries are down, I think it's safe to say that the reduction in larceny is most likely due to a general reduction in crime. To suggest that the numbers are due to a lack of reporting, you have to show evidence that people are less likely to report crime across the board today, or that police departments are more likely to forge the numbers, than they were 20 years ago.

AlanSOctober 28, 2014 5:27 PM

Pols have been pushing fear of crime and a law and order agenda for decades.

The statistics on incarceration are equally eye-popping.

"More than 10.2 million people are held in penal institutions throughout the world, mostly as pre-trial detainees/remand prisoners or as sentenced prisoners. Almost half of these are in the United States (2.24m), Russia (0.68m) or China (1.64m sentenced prisoners). In addition at least 650,000 are reported to be in pre-trial or ‘administrative’ detention in China and 150,000 in North Korea (D.P.R.K.); if these were included the world total would be more than 11 million. The United States has the highest prison population rate in the world, 716 per 100,000 of the national population..." (ICPS World Prison Population List, 10th Edition, Oct. 2013)

By my rough calculations the US has less than 5% of the World's population but heading up towards 25% of the world's prison population.

AnuraOctober 28, 2014 5:32 PM

@AlanS

That's a direct result of the media pushing fear for ratings and other political goals. If people are afraid of crime, you end up with a wave of politician after politician running on "tough on crime" no matter what.

Acrimonious CowardOctober 28, 2014 6:25 PM

One logical explanation for a decrease in crime rate is that criminals are catching up to the rate at which our big brothers improve their investigative methods. There is also a growing awareness of government false flag operations, entrapments, and COINTELPro, making less low hanging fruits for law enforcers.

AnuraOctober 28, 2014 7:06 PM

@Acrimonious Coward

I think you are assuming that nothing's really changed since then. There is strong evidence that lead concetrations in the air were a major contributing factor, and I also think that societal changes have made a huge difference, especially taking into account the changes as a result of the rise of the internet. I suspect that electronic crimes have displaced some in-person crimes to some extent as well, and aren't being taken into account in those statistics.

I also think it's plausible that gaming itself has provided younger people with a way to cure boredom, meaning kids are less likely to go out and get drunk and maybe do something stupid. Remember, despite what the media says, teens are doing fewer drugs, drinking less, drunk driving less, and getting pregnant less - kids these days are boring.

BuckOctober 28, 2014 7:22 PM

@Anura

Is there any evidence to suggest that larceny rates are in fact directly correlated to the rate of violent crimes? Obviously, sometimes they go hand-in-hand, but I would suspect that motive/means/opportunity usually vary significantly between petty theft and the more heinous of crimes...

JaimeOctober 28, 2014 7:37 PM

Study: Evidence shows that crime is going down, but many people get angry when informed that the crime rate is going down.

Half the posters here: That study is fake!! The data is bogus!! The methods were flawed!!

Yup, the study is dead on.

AnuraOctober 28, 2014 7:40 PM

@Buck

There's a storng correlation. When I get home I'll find where I looked up the data before and upload a graph; they track very closely with an exception of a large jump in violent crime in the late 80s to mid 90s, which is probably the result of escalating gang violence/crack epidemic. But mostly, my conclusion is that the major underlying causes for the majority of both violent and nonviolent crime are the same.

BuckOctober 28, 2014 8:08 PM

@Anura

I'm inclined to believe you because I have yet to see any data about the topic, and you seem to know what you're talking about... Though I am very curious, so any citations would be greatly appreciated!

Jello PuddingOctober 28, 2014 8:35 PM

>"Through a complex series of analyses, we were able to determine what types of people tend to fear certain things, and what personal characteristics tend to be associated with most types of fear," said Dr. Christopher Bader, who performed the analysis.

Is there an option for fear of being profiled by fears?

John RidleyOctober 28, 2014 8:52 PM

Basically, Americans fear what the media tells them to fear. The media makes its coin on selling fear and telling Americans that they'd better keep watching or they won't know where the next bogeyman is coming from.

AnuraOctober 28, 2014 9:39 PM

@Buck

http://www.ucrdatatool.gov/Search/Crime/State/StatebyState.cfm

This is where I got the data from, it's basically the same as I posted earlier but goes back to 1960. I did some graphs on the crime rates, using indexes to their 2000 crime rates, and here are three charts:

Total Violent vs Total Property:

https://i.imgur.com/VfblvLr.png

Specific Crimes (interesting to note how quickly car theft has dropped in recent years, likely due to security systems):

https://i.imgur.com/8ERonN5.png

And since that's a bit cluttered, Murder vs Robbery vs Aggravated Assault vs Theft:

https://i.imgur.com/to6FSdr.png

The takeaway from that last one is that more than anything else, homicide rate tracks closest with robberies, not so much aggravated assault. The motivation for theft and the motivation for robbery are the same, and the trends tend to be the same (although theft is more stable, probably just because there's a lot more of them), and murder most likely happens a lot more often not as the crime of passion/drunkenness that you would expect with assaults, but in the commission of another crime, especially robbery.

AnuraOctober 28, 2014 9:44 PM

I should correct this statement from my previous post:

"But mostly, my conclusion is that the major underlying causes for the majority of both violent and nonviolent crime are the same."

The major underlying causes for the changes in the rates of both violent and nonviolent crime are the same.

ThothOctober 28, 2014 10:26 PM

Since the time of Han dynasty or earlier in Ancient China, the use of the carrot and stick was already well documented. A strategist with a stylized name of Gui Gu Zi wrote in his own book using his stylized name that, to defeat the enemy, you attack the perception. Use his innate most fear and his innate most greed to tempt him and subdue him. We see similar tactics in relationships whether knowingly or not.

The vast and widespread adoption of mass media have polarized people's views. Despite supposed statistic showing that crime rates are dropping, the sensationalization of particular events.. all leads to certain perceptions.

BuckOctober 29, 2014 2:22 AM

@Anura

Nice graphs, bro!

For the purposes of this post, I will only address your "Specific Crimes" graphic, because I believe it to be much more comprehensive than the rest...

At an initial visual glance, I would suspect the most significant p value to fall for the relationship between 'Forcible rape' & 'Aggravated assault' (likely because rape usually involves an assault)...
Follow that observation with the possible correlation of 'Murder and nonnegligent Manslaughter' to 'Robbery' (perhaps with 'Burglary' falling closely behind), and I would expect (again, solely by visual inspection) that all other suggested potential relationships are statistically insignificant.

While I will certainly admit; it is interesting to note how quickly 'Motor vehicle theft' has dropped (relative to y2k-rates) in recent years (2007-2012), I think it's quite likely to regain ground in the very near future...
Car Thieves Love GM's Cadillac Escalade
GM looks to combat high theft rates on SUVs with added tech
Cops: Atlanta car thief used new technology, was 'joker'

It's also interesting to me - how some of these 'crime groups' have been lumped together: "UCR Offense Definitions" (where did your 'Arson' go)..?

At least by the time we've absorbed 2013 numbers, the definition of so-called 'forcible rape' will have expanded to include cases beyond:

The carnal knowledge of a female forcibly and against her will.

:-( I really was hoping for some real academia in lieu of raw speculation here... As we all (should) well know, correlation does not equate to causation (ever heard of confounding factors, anyone), and one should always be reminded to never blindly trust the 'factual' statements of 'anonymous' others.

Amazing, isn't it..? How we can all see the same data and come to such far off & wildly varied assumptions!?

AnuraOctober 29, 2014 3:31 AM

Causes are still being debated in the academic community, I don't think you can expect a definitive answer. I think there's a stronger correlation between larceny and violent crime (although not necessarily murder) than you are acknowledging. In the late 80s/early 90s you see homicide, assault, and robbery all take about the same bump; that's where it deviates from theft in general. On average over the entire time frame, there is around one violent crime for every five thefts, it does fluctuate, of course, so I've made this graph of violent crimes and theft, adjusted for scale. Again, they track pretty strongly except for a stint in the late 80s/early 90s and a slight bump in violent crime in the mid 2000s.


https://i.imgur.com/Mod9olc.png


Obviously, there are multiple causative factors involved affecting the violent crime rates, but I'm comfortable saying that the major cause(s) of the increase in violent crime throughout the 60s, 70s, and 80s, and the decrease in the late 90s through 2000s is likely the same thing that caused the increases in thefts. Something changed in the late 80s through early 90s that caused a bump in violent crime that did not affect property crime, and a similar situation happened in the mid-2000s. The most obvious possibility for the 80s/90s is the crack epidemic and gang wars; I have no idea about the bump in the 2000s.

As for Arson, well, that's not in the database I linked to.

WinterOctober 29, 2014 3:58 AM

@Anura
"Something changed in the late 80s through early 90s that caused a bump in violent crime that did not affect property crime, and a similar situation happened in the mid-2000s. The most obvious possibility for the 80s/90s is the crack epidemic and gang wars; I have no idea about the bump in the 2000s."

As we find this pattern worldwide (all Western countries), your explanation is almost certainly "incomplete" (i.e., wrong).

Steven Pinker explains it by the "breakdown" of traditional upbringing in the late 1960s/early 1970s. Those kids came into the criminal age (15-25) in 1980s and moved out of it during the 1990s. After the early 1970s, the ways kids were raised had stabilized again.

We would like to see more definite evidence. But as an explanation of a trend found in the whole Western world, it beats local USA gang wars.

Clive RobinsonOctober 29, 2014 4:09 AM

@ Buck,

Crime rate changes have been discussed on this blog before and one interesting bit of research compares the use of the "anti-pinking" agent Tetra Ethyl Lead (TEL) used in petrol and the changes in crime rates approximately twenty years later,

http://m.motherjones.com/environment/2013/01/lead-crime-link-gasoline

However there is another reason posited by Frank Serpico, which is corrupt and out of control police officers having effectivly no constraint on them, can and do what they like without fear of sanction. Basically citizens who see this at an early age become normallised to state violence and grow up with the view that violance is the way to power and wealth that brings the respect of those who are corrupt... It is this coupled with the inability for those convicted of even very minor crimes to find work that has been posited as the reason for "drug areas".

Whilst the removal of TEL has been accomplished fairly well police corruption appears to be alive and well and thriving nicely. It is further posited that this is particularly bad in the US because of the odd way those who's job it would to deal with it are reliant on the votes of police officers and those close to them...

Hopefully the proliferation of mobile phones with low light cameras and audio recording and alternative media will start to eat through the "blue wall" and weed out the more obvious corruption.

Further showing the citizens the kick backs by those involved with profiting from prisons to those who are responsible for convicting and sentancing and just how much of their tax it costs might encorage them to vote with their money clips. Further it would help to portray these profiteers as the "real wealfare mummers sucking on the teat of taxes". Especially as the likes of "super-max" have shown absolutly no ability to rehabilitate those in their custody, in fact the very opposite.

As I've said before there needs to be two types of prison one for first time offenders the other for repeat offenders. Hopefully by keeping first offenders away from experienced criminals and by offering them usefull education as opposed to criminal education society can improve their life chances rather than significantly diminish them.

AnuraOctober 29, 2014 4:42 AM

@Winter

I know most western countries saw a peak in crime in the 90s followed by a drop in crime since then, but do you have data comparing the violent vs property crime rates for European countries (of course, they might not use the same definition). I've typically found it a real PITA to get historical data for any country other than the US.

Clive RobinsonOctober 29, 2014 5:22 AM

@ Winter,

There have been many suggestions such as the first generation not to have had a world war, and the contraceptive pill. Likewise changes in traditional employment and changes in education.

None seem to fit that well, thus from your "i.e., wrong" perspective we are unlikely to find the cause. Which suggests it's not one but a number of causes.

However the argument of delinquent parenting also does not work for the bump in the "naughties" unless you can show that parenting had destabalised again and with an identifiable cause.

One thing that can be seen however is not delinquency as such but an economic down turn in a childs formative years. The late 60's and early 70's were as I remember them quite dire, likewise though not as bad the 80's and early 90's were not good for those on the lower end of the economic spectrum especialy towards the end of Thatcher and Regan era, where manufacturing was "exported" to other non western countries.

It was then that the build up to the "banking crisis" began with the likes of the Thatcherites saying that the UK did not need manufacturing it would flourish on service industries. Well as history shows "service industries" aided by low cost communications go where ever the labour is cheapest. In the UK contrary to what the "conservaties" claim twice as much is earned by UK manufacturing than via the banking sector, and manufacturing unlike service industries tend to pay their taxes not off shore them where no tax is paid.

It will be interesting to see what happens in the next ten to fifteen years.

WinterOctober 29, 2014 5:27 AM

@Anura
Pinker's book contains most of the statistics.


The easiest is homicide rates:
http://www.researchgate.net/publication/249284795_Modernization_Self-Control_and_Lethal_Violence._The_Long-term_Dynamics_of_European_Homicide_Rates_in_Theoretical_Perspective/file/60b7d52cbfa9aec78c.pdf

Other definitions will always be "hopeless", as the laws will be radically different. But in every country, all crime rates are (strongly) correlated to homicide rates.

Here are German crime statistics:
http://www.nationmaster.com/country-info/profiles/Germany/Crime

RichOctober 29, 2014 5:36 AM

I suspect a correlation between crime rate and age distribution. The US population is ageing as post-WW2 baby boomers turn into geezers. Crawling through windows and beating people up gets to be just too much work when you're over 50. A year-over-year graph of crimes per million 16-30 year olds might be closer to a flat line.

WinterOctober 29, 2014 5:38 AM

@Clive
"None seem to fit that well, thus from your "i.e., wrong" perspective we are unlikely to find the cause. Which suggests it's not one but a number of causes."

Indeed, we really do not know what the causes were.

But "gang wars" and "crack epidemic" are both increases of crime rates, and as such constitute circular logic when used to explain an increase in crime rates. Moreover, any explanation that focuses on a local glitch will most certainly be unable to explain why the same effect was seen at the same time in various other parts of the world that never saw this glitch. I know of neither an increase of gang wars nor of any crack epidemic in Western Europe during the eighties/nineties.

@Clive
"However the argument of delinquent parenting also does not work for the bump in the "naughties" unless you can show that parenting had destabalised again and with an identifiable cause."

The bump around 1990 is of a different dimension than that of the naughties. So I seriously doubt that they had the same causes. But economic dire times are always good for messing up people's lives. Which again is a recipe for blowing up crime rates.

AlanSOctober 29, 2014 8:13 AM

What is also interesting is what type of behavior is perceived and classified as a crime and likely to be recorded as such and prosecuted.

Selling untaxed cigarettes is the sort of crime that will attract the attention of the NYPD. Fraudulent behavior on Wall Street, CIA torture, and security bureaucrats lying to courts and congress are all technically crimes but they are unlikely to show up in crime statistics and either rarely or never prosecuted. And these are the sort of crimes one should fear. As Justice Brandeis wrote on government crime: "Decency, security, and liberty alike demand that government officials shall be subjected to the same rules of conduct that are commands to the citizen. In a government of laws, existence of the government will be imperilled if it fails to observe the law scrupulously. Our government is the potent, the omnipresent teacher. For good or for ill, it teaches the whole people by its example. Crime is contagious. If the government becomes a lawbreaker, it breeds contempt for law; it invites every man to become a law unto himself; it invites anarchy."

wumpusOctober 29, 2014 8:43 AM

One other thing when considering long-term crime rates is what exactly was considered a crime.

Domestic Violence became illegal sometime in the 1970s (probably 1990s for places like Ohio. I'm not sure when a wife [or husband] could testify against a spouse, but it took forever). I'm pretty sure this is why there used to be the strange phenomenon that murderers had mostly empty rap sheets and didn't commit crimes after getting out: all those times they put their wife and kids in the hospital wasn't a "crime").

Drunk Driving became a serious crime sometime in the 1980s. Before that it was considered pretty minor.

Conversely, some things then were crimes that aren't now. Sodomy being the most obvious, and if you go back far enough there is always prohibition.

I've heard that back when we had similar crime rates as now (roughly 1970), people usually didn't lock the door. Perhaps that was because it wouldn't stop drunk drivers, gays were unlikely to barge through it to commit sodomy, and you needed the door unlocked to run from an angry father.

BJPOctober 29, 2014 8:52 AM

"US incarceration rate climbing"

"US crime rate declining"

Surely, locking up more criminals for longer can't have anything to do with the second statement.

AngelMeOctober 29, 2014 9:35 AM

"1) Walking alone at night
2) Becoming the victim of identity theft
3) Safety on the internet
4) Being the victim of a mass/random shooting
5) Public speaking"

&

"1) Having identity stolen on the internet
2) Corporate surveillance of internet activity
3) Running out of money in the future
4) Government surveillance of internet activity
5) Becoming ill/sick"

4 on the first list is completely unlikely and not reasonable. 5 on that list is also unreasonable, but common, and I can surely understand.

It might be noted 4 on the second list is above terrorism and countless other matters. Which ultimately bodes ill for the US Surveillance State.

It also bodes ill for the nation, in general.

Likely, that is tied to people's reliance on porn, and on far more intimate matters online, such as sexting and video sex, and the like. Which is normal for this generation and actually has become pretty normal for older folks.

Are the "free" nations looking at these things? We know they are. For enjoyment, too. Are they using these things for extortion, to get money or control people? Probably.

But the threat is probably overblown at this time. Over time, however, they are unlikely not to abuse such capabilities.

This is like a cheat in a video game. If there is a glitch people will use it, and they will be complete sociopathic assholes about it. If you put money in front of people and there are no repercussions no chance for them getting caught, they will take it. In fact, much of government intel and law enforcement takes **exactly this attitude of trust no one if means and opportunity are there**.

Their hypocrisy on the matter is not comforting, either.


What can be done about it? What will come of it?

They make money from the fear mongering, they keep their jobs and build even more jobs. The inherent power of recording and archiving everyone's sexual exploits online or via their phone communication is too sweet for the government to pass on. So, what does the future hold?


AngelMeOctober 29, 2014 9:40 AM

@BJP

BJP • October 29, 2014 8:52 AM "US incarceration rate climbing"

"US crime rate declining"

Surely, locking up more criminals for longer can't have anything to do with the second statement.

Exactly. We should look to totalitarian empires as the way to less crime. Higher level of people incarcerated means less crime for everyone else. Rule them by fear, not by love.

Saudi Arabia, China, we outpace in terms of people incarcerated.

Let us not consider more forward thinking nordic states and euro nations as a better model against crime....

Because reasoning has nothing to do with it! It isn't our butts on the chopping block, it is all those free thinkers!


There is some sarcasm in my exposition.

(Warning note made for those incapable of realizing their best thoughts are other people's comedy.)

wumpusOctober 29, 2014 9:59 AM

@BJP

BJP • October 29, 2014 8:52 AM "US incarceration rate climbing"
"US crime rate declining"

Surely, locking up more criminals for longer can't have anything to do with the second statement

Of course, this also means that at some point we have to let out nearly all the criminals convicted in the early War on Drugs (and other mass incarceration drives). Now that they are out, long immersed in criminal culture, and effectively barred from nearly all employment we can "enjoy" the ever increasing crime wave from these guys. Two solutions would be:

1. An exponential increase in incarceration. More numerate citizens would recognise that this means complete incarceration of all [fleshling] citizens by 2100 (presumably put there by our [first class citizen] corporate overlords). Political analysts understand that such numerate voters are in the noise. Present course of the US.

2. Permanent incarceration of all criminals. Also the present course of the US. Thanks to [California vs. Wallace?] SCOTUS, life sentences can be handed out for stealing a pizza (while only Scalia expressed explicit approval for such a sentence, the court went along with the sentence). Deals with the above problem without waiting to catch a second criminal act. Obviously also the current course for the US.

Of course the parallel question becomes: will there really be a difference (at least to the anyone not extremely rich and powerful) between being in prison and merely being in the police state our current trajectory leads to?

AnuraOctober 29, 2014 10:27 AM

There is no evidence of a causal link between high incarceration and crime drop because, as has been pointed out, the drop in crime occurred across all western countries, not just the US. The link also does not hold up on even a state by state basis.

BJPOctober 29, 2014 10:38 AM

@AngelMe, @wumpus

My statement was not advocating for increased incarceration.

Efforts to explain reduction in crime in the US must take into account recent changes such as "three strikes" laws and mandatory minimum sentences on recidivists' ability to commit future crimes and on non-criminals' and not-yet-caught-criminals' consideration of their game-theoretical risk if caught.

That even mentioning this link leads at least two people to assume I'm advocating for "lock 'em all up" neatly expresses the difficulty of this kind of data analysis.

@Anura

I do not believe that rate-of-change deltas in individual Western countries are necessarily generalizable to each Western country. Culture matters, local law matters. That an overall decline in crime has occurred just as we all get wired and move more money and IP to accessible-via-fraud online locations versus accessible-via-breaking-and-entering physical locations, makes perfect sense, and the complex part of this equation (to me) is picking out the local influences that aren't attributable to technological change and economic growth.

Clive RobinsonOctober 29, 2014 10:55 AM

@ wumpus,

More numerate citizens would recognise that this means complete incarceration of all [fleshling] citizens by 2100 (presumably put there by our[first class citizen] corporate overlords).

There is another aspect you missed...

Because the supposed ethos is that prisoners "must work for the good of their soul" but any kind of skilled labour is not going to happen. Therefor the prison companies not having to pay wages health comp pensions etc can undercut the free labour market, and thus take away jobs from others, and make them more likely to commit crime.

Back in Nazi Germany they did this with concentration camp inmates, and to be put in one all you had to be was without means for more than a short period of time. Thus employers used this to threaten workers and depress their wages to poverty levels.

It's funny what history can teach you about "nice sounding" but thoroughly evil "Government Policy" that rewards the politicos or their generous backers...

What you must remember is for the elite money is no more desirable than a nail or any other method of "fixing" things, what they crave is power to increase their ultimate goal of "status".

Thus they would quite happily bankrupt the country and enslave nearly all the citizens no mater how much it cost them in monetary terms, providing it would increase their status in the eyes of their peers and politicians...

percentxOctober 29, 2014 11:07 AM

I'm afraid of americans, but I'm more afraid of America. How much longer until we literally have thought police? Oh wait, that's what the department of Google is for.

AnuraOctober 29, 2014 11:28 AM

@BJP

The fact that all Western countries saw the same drop doesn't prove that there is one underlying cause, but it does mean you have to work a lot harder to show that the drop in crime in the US was caused by an increasing incarceration rate.

@Winter

Unfortunately, I've dug through your links and also went through the UK data and tossed it out because it's horrible (they have several categories changing definitions throughout the years, and also it seems obvious that ridiculously fast increases in crime were a result of better tracking the data), and I just can't find anything either confirming or denying that other Western countries saw the same jump in violent crime specifically in the late 80s-mid 90s, that didn't correlate with an overall increase in crime. Until I see something to indicate otherwise, I'm going to still say that the crack epidemic/gang wars in the US is a likely cause of only violent crime going up, while other crimes basically remained steady.

SJOctober 29, 2014 1:09 PM

@Anura, @Clive,

I think there's an American researcher who claimed that he saw a decrease in criminal behavior approximately 16-to-18 years after loosening of abortion laws.

This is probably impossible to disentangle from the research into Tetra-Ethyl-Lead in gasoline. These events happened fairly closely together in the timeline.

I think it's worth a thought...though I strongly suspect that the size of the 18-to-25-year-old age cohort (relative to the entire population) is also a big factor in the decline of crime rates.

BJPOctober 29, 2014 1:21 PM

@Anura

Influenced by, as one principal component of the change vector, not "caused by". I don't think anybody will find a single underlying cause, rather than a mosaic of trends with varying effect sizes.

EricOctober 29, 2014 1:25 PM

Dropping crime rates don't draw viewers. This is a symptom of the sensationalism that has permeated the media.

I stopped looking at news programs for news, and I am better informed for it.

AngelMeOctober 29, 2014 4:23 PM

@BJP

Thank you for clarifying, I have talked to you before and found you a very reasonable person, even if playing the devil's advocate so I did not think so. However, I am glad to have been able to stumble across that line about sarcasm.

I apologize for using you as a punching bag on that, as I knew you were more perceptive then that. If it is any consolation, I did feel guilty.

You actually typically say things I think, or would think in certain roles, so I was not very happy with that statement.

Unfortunately, I do, however, believe the situation of the US grossly over incarcerating people is such a situation that does merit extraordinary attention.

AngelMeOctober 29, 2014 4:48 PM

Anyhoos, make no mistake about it, America in very many ways is as ass backward as the most hick, in-bred place anyone can think of.

Their intel, law enforcement, and political people are really in many ways worse then the more obvious suspects.

Not very much of a difference between China and the US in these ways.

Where you see Americans more forward, more non-spooky hick, is in the everyday people.


But their law enforcement, political, and intel folks are just downright scary. Intelligence level just about that of a squid. They have no idea what they are doing, so why have they been given so much power? To show what a mockery they are. It is a clown show is all.

AngelMeOctober 29, 2014 6:45 PM

@BJP, @All

Efforts to explain reduction in crime in the US must take into account recent changes such as "three strikes" laws and mandatory minimum sentences on recidivists' ability to commit future crimes and on non-criminals' and not-yet-caught-criminals' consideration of their game-theoretical risk if caught.
That even mentioning this link leads at least two people to assume I'm advocating for "lock 'em all up" neatly expresses the difficulty of this kind of data analysis.


Really, the statement was incredibly stupid, and typical of the complete dumb fucks Americans have been showing themselves as. Chimpanzees could have known there were no wmd in or terrorist ties in Iraq.

I am not sure how to explain this to you: your statement was symptomatic of complete fucking idiots who should not be allowed to drive, have kids, or really live past the age of ten?

Okay, so, let us do some research here: the US has a severe problem of locking up people based on race? They have a very bad habit of giving severe sentences to non-violent offenders? What do you want to know?

Just the very fact that the US is up there with Saudi Arabia & China in terms of incarceration of population SHOULD give you some kind of clue.

Is it the "power" the US has that has you confused? The large size of their dick?

That has your mind completely prostituted to the insanity of this sort of stance?

That tells everyone else only you really have low standards as a human being?

You might have better expressed your opinion by stating, "there are low rates of crime, there is a major solar flare happening right now".

What about the crime of the federal government wiretapping every citizen in their domain? That is a pretty big crime and pretty long list of offenses there.

No wonder people are terrorized by the idea of their government surveilling them.

Liberty, folks. That is what they stand for. You know. They are not traitors to the cause of liberty. Or complete fucking morons with the intelligence one might attribute to a dog, chimpanzee, or squid, lol.

Seriously, I think I might have a more interesting conversation with Inbred Jim, or some Pakistani Talibani. Which would be more hick and stupid?

I am not sure whom is more ironic to talk to, Neo-Nazi Americans who do not want to go back to Germany, or ass kissing institution paycheck whores of the current American institution, saying "liberty" while they are married to "tyranny".

No, Iraq did not have WMD, nor ties to terrorism, as is symptomatic of complete idiots behind the wheel. And no, the US government is not much more bright at anything else.

One of my friends points out that ISIS is an elaborate way of them cowarding out over the fact that Russia shot down a civilian plane in the Ukraine. I do not think that is off base, but Saudi Arabia is too much in their pants for them to really think straight on the matter.


AngelMeOctober 29, 2014 6:59 PM

Anyway, more to the point: Americans, like much of the world, are afraid of the American government. I wonder what people would be afraid of globally? Al Qaeda or the US Government?

Now, as for my nick "AngelMe", one might think I have a much more "cosmic" opinion about the matter, which I surely do.

Hence, I find the American Government and their aggressive, immoral actions as clearly what they are, in truth.

Abused power is a truly foul thing. Further, the American Government was founded on some very luminous principles, principles which many in that government have fully prostituted for the most despicable of reasons, but mostly because of cowardice of moral purpose.

There are many cockroaches from this effect, all of them are low level individuals who feel a need to kiss ass in private as much in public, in hopes their zeal might be rewarded by their masters. Which is as obviously despicable as it appears.

That no one is behind the wheel is as clearly obvious as the Iraq war: which was started on the basis that Iraq had WMD and ties to Al Qaeda, neither of which it had. At best, some of these kiss asses try and make it out that this was a bizarre and rare problem entirely at the fault of some obscure group... rather then the truth: it is symptomatic to the entire system, which is true and obvious to any **honest** observer.


What we are all trying to do now is simply keep up the stories on their depravity, in hopes that some might change (repent), and some might come to their senses.


Lucky for them, people like me (angels) do not exist, so where is accountability? They just have their short careers and then retirement to consider.


What power on earth can possibly call them to account? Why... none.


And that, exactly, is what game is being played here and why all these otherwise intelligent people are dropping their pants left and right.


No reasoning to what they are saying, they have just dropped their pants and bent over because **that**?? Is their nature.


But this is not everyone's nature.

And this difference? This -- is the true show, the true spectacle.


Before men & angels.


Wesley ParishOctober 29, 2014 8:13 PM

@Anura early comment:

I'll raise you one Skyhooks:

It's a horror movie right there on my TV
Horror movie right there on my TV
Horror movie and it's blown a fuse
Horror movie, it's the six-thirty news

AlanSOctober 29, 2014 8:18 PM

'The Land of the Free' (tm) doesn't have much serious competition in the incarceration business. The rate is 716 people per 100K for the US. China is 162, Saudi Arabia 121. The Russian Federation (475) and Cuba (510) have much higher rates than most countries but nowhere close to the US rate. The only real competition is likely to be the DPRK, for which there are no reliable figures. (Source: ICPS World Prison Population List, 10th Edition, link above.)

For more discussion see:

Economist: Rough justice: America locks up too many people, some for acts that should not even be criminal and Too many laws, too many prisoners.

The Sentencing Project on racial disparities. The figures suggest suggest the US has a very long way to go on civil rights.

Locking people up in the US is also an increasingly lucrative business.
See the ACLU's page on private prisons and Mother Jones' explain How Private Prison Companies Make Millions Even When Crime Rates Fall (Hint: contracts with occupancy requirements).


JustinOctober 29, 2014 9:30 PM

@AlanS

Do you really trust the numbers reported by China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, and Cuba?

In China, and probably Russia too, they lock people up in unofficial prisons that don't get counted, or even disappear them.

lolOctober 29, 2014 10:00 PM

the FBI actually changed about 4 months ago how they count crime, it actually made the numbers go up,in areas they wanted to demonize, like detroit

M YudkowskyOctober 30, 2014 6:17 AM

"When we looked at statistical data from police and FBI records, it showed crime has actually decreased in America in the past 20 years."

No, the records showed that crime statistics indicated a decrease. Here in Chicago, for example, police altered reports to reduce the number of homicides in response to pressure from management desperate to report an improvement.

AutolykosOctober 30, 2014 6:30 AM

@Jaime:
I think it makes perfect sense that falling crime rates correlate with increasing fear. When crime is rarer, it becomes, by definition, news. Thus it gets reported more. Events that now get weeks of nation-wide news coverage would in the prohibition era just cause a few people to shrug and say "Yep, another one bites the dust.".
That people get angry at the source of cognitive dissonance (or at least think less of their knowledge and honesty) is also well known (I'd quote Schulz von Thun on this, but there should also be American psychologists who reported similar things).

@Rich
Yup. We now have less people in the age to commit crimes and more in the age to fear being the victim of crimes. No surprise at what this does to the respective numbers. Would be nice to normalize them for this effect.

BJPOctober 30, 2014 7:46 AM

@AngelMe:

Is this the same person posting?

AngelMe 4:23PM to me "Thank you for clarifying, I have talked to you before and found you a very reasonable person, even if playing the devil's advocate so I did not think so. However, I am glad to have been able to stumble across that line about sarcasm. I apologize for using you as a punching bag on that, as I knew you were more perceptive then that. If it is any consolation, I did feel guilty."

AngelMe 6:45PM to me "I am not sure how to explain this to you: your statement was symptomatic of complete fucking idiots who should not be allowed to drive, have kids, or really live past the age of ten? ... Seriously, I think I might have a more interesting conversation with Inbred Jim, or some Pakistani Talibani. Which would be more hick and stupid?"

I think @Autolykos nailed it.

AlanSOctober 30, 2014 8:22 AM

@Justin

I agree that I would treat some of those numbers with some skepticism. But regardless, there has been a massive expansion of incarceration in the US and the rate is very much higher than other liberal democracies e.g. countries in Europe and Japan.

Sancho_POctober 30, 2014 6:17 PM

So crime and violence are going down.

And the cause is we have police more than ever in heavy armor?
- OK, wrap it in a flag and I’ll buy it.

I have an other guess for the cause of decline: Education matters.
Before1980 / 1990 the bean-counters at police were naive (call it honest).
Numbers were skyrocketing.
Then they slowly learned how to get their figures right.

Or did you ever hear them cry “Help, we’re running out of work!”?

It’s coming from “above”: Increasing crime rates don’t draw voters.

SkepticalNovember 4, 2014 3:51 AM


Crimes specifically asked about were: child abduction, gang violence, human trafficking, mass riots, pedophilia, school shootings, serial killing and sexual assault.

This is an odd list to ask about in a survey.

Violent crime in the United States has improved dramatically since its peak in the late 80s/early 90s, but oddly the list does not include murder and armed robbery, which as violent crimes are far more frequent and would be far more likely to be a concern of a person at one point or another than some of the categories asked about.

This Gallup article has some better stats and analysis, imho. Note especially the distinction between perception of local crime versus perception of national crime. The latter seems far more likely to be influenced by sensationalist media reporting than the former. And, to tie this all back to the study cited in the post, the subjects asked about tend to be those one would encounter in major national stories, i.e. these would be categories most affected by media reporting.

Peter MossNovember 20, 2014 11:31 AM

It's a long known sociological principle: when crime goes down, crime hysteria goes up.

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