What the data says (and doesn’t say) about crime in the United States (2023)

From the first day of his presidency to his campaign for reelection, Donald Trump has sounded the alarm about crime in the United States. Trump vowed to end “American carnage” in his inaugural address in 2017. This year, he ran for reelection on a platform of “law and order.”

As Trump’s presidency draws to a close, here is a look at what we know – and don’t know – about crime in the U.S., based on a Pew Research Center analysis of data from the federal government and other sources.

How we did this

Crime is a regular topic of discussion in the United States. We conducted this analysis to learn more about U.S. crime patterns and how those patterns have changed over time.

The analysis relies on statistics published by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), the statistical arm of the U.S. Department of Justice. FBI statistics were accessed through the Crime Data Explorer. BJS statistics were accessed through the National Crime Victimization Survey data analysis tool. Information about the federal government’s transition to the National Incident-Based Reporting System was drawn from the FBI and BJS, as well as from media reports.

To measure public attitudes about crime in the U.S., we relied on survey data from Gallup and Pew Research Center.

How much crime is there in the U.S.?

It’s difficult to say for certain. The two primary sources of government crime statistics – the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) – both paint an incomplete picture, though efforts at improvement are underway.

The FBI publishes annual data on crimes that have been reported to the police, but not those that haven’t been reported. The FBI also looks mainly at a handful of specific violent and property crimes, but not many other types of crime, such as drug crime. And while the FBI’s data is based on information it receives from thousands of federal, state, county, city and other police departments, not all agencies participate every year. In 2019, the most recent full year available, the FBI received data from around eight-in-ten agencies.

BJS, for its part, tracks crime by fielding a large annual survey of Americans ages 12 and older and asking them whether they were the victim of a crime in the past six months. One advantage of this approach is that it captures both reported and unreported crimes. But the BJS survey has limitations of its own. Like the FBI, it focuses mainly on a handful of violent and property crimes while excluding other kinds of crime. And since the BJS data is based on after-the-fact interviews with victims, it cannot provide information about one especially high-profile type of crime: murder.

All those caveats aside, looking at the FBI and BJS statistics side-by-side does give researchers a good picture of U.S. violent and property crime rates and how they have changed over time.

Which kinds of crime are most and least common?

Property crime in the U.S. is much more common than violent crime. In 2019, the FBI reported a total of 2,109.9 property crimes per 100,000 people, compared with 379.4 violent crimes per 100,000 people.

By far the most common form of property crime in 2019 was larceny/theft, followed by burglary and motor vehicle theft. Among violent crimes, aggravated assault was the most common offense, followed by robbery, rape, and murder/non-negligent manslaughter.

BJS tracks a slightly different set of offenses from the FBI, but it finds the same overall patterns, with theft the most common form of property crime in 2019 and assault the most common form of violent crime.

How have crime rates in the U.S. changed over time?

Both the FBI and BJS data show dramatic declines in U.S. violent and property crime rates since the early 1990s, when crime spiked across much of the nation.

Using the FBI data, the violent crime rate fell 49% between 1993 and 2019, with large decreases in the rates of robbery (-68%), murder/non-negligent manslaughter (-47%) and aggravated assault (-43%). (It’s not possible to calculate the change in the rape rate during this period because the FBI revised its definition of the offense in 2013.) Meanwhile, the property crime rate fell 55%, with big declines in the rates of burglary (-69%), motor vehicle theft (-64%) and larceny/theft (-49%).

Using the BJS statistics, the declines in the violent and property crime rates are even steeper than those reported by the FBI. Per BJS, the overall violent crime rate fell 74% between 1993 and 2019, while the property crime rate fell 71%.

How do Americans perceive crime in their country?

Americans tend to believe crime is up, even when the data shows it is down.

In 20 of 24 Gallup surveys conducted since 1993, at least 60% of U.S. adults have said there is more crime nationally than there was the year before, despite the generally downward trend in national violent and property crime rates during most of that period.

While perceptions of rising crime at the national level are common, fewer Americans believe crime is up in their own communities. In all 23 Gallup surveys that have included the question since 1993, no more than about half of Americans have said crime is up in their area compared with the year before.

This year, the gap between the share of Americans who say crime is up nationally and the share who say it is up locally (78% vs. 38%) is the widest Gallup has ever recorded.

Public attitudes about crime also differ by Americans’ partisan affiliation, race and ethnicity and other factors. For example, in a summer Pew Research Center survey, 74% of registered voters who support Trump said violent crime was “very important” to their vote in this year’s presidential election, compared with a far smaller share of Joe Biden supporters (46%).

How does crime in the U.S. differ by demographic characteristics?

There are some demographic differences in both victimization and offending rates, according to BJS.

In its 2019 survey of crime victims, BJS found wide differences by age and income when it comes to being the victim of a violent crime. Younger people and those with lower incomes were far more likely to report being victimized than older and higher-income people. For example, the victimization rate among those with annual incomes of less than $25,000 was more than twice the rate among those with incomes of $50,000 or more.

There were no major differences in victimization rates between male and female respondents or between those who identified as White, Black or Hispanic. But the victimization rate among Asian Americans was substantially lower than among other racial and ethnic groups.

When it comes to those who commit crimes, the same BJS survey asks victims about the perceived demographic characteristics of the offenders in the incidents they experienced. In 2019, those who are male, younger people and those who are Black accounted for considerably larger shares of perceived offenders in violent incidents than their respective shares of the U.S. population. As with all surveys, however, there are several potential sources of error, including the possibility that crime victims’ perceptions are incorrect.

How does crime in the U.S. differ geographically?

There are big differences in violent and property crime rates from state to state and city to city.

In 2019, there were more than 800 violent crimes per 100,000 residents in Alaska and New Mexico, compared with fewer than 200 per 100,000 people in Maine and New Hampshire, according to the FBI.

Even in similarly sized cities within the same state, crime rates can vary widely. Oakland and Long Beach, California, had comparable populations in 2019 (434,036 vs. 467,974), but Oakland’s violent crime rate was more than double the rate in Long Beach. The FBI notes that various factors might influence an area’s crime rate, including its population density and economic conditions.

See also: Despite recent violence, Chicago is far from the U.S. ‘murder capital’

What percentage of crimes are reported to police, and what percentage are solved?

Most violent and property crimes in the U.S. are not reported to police, and most of the crimes that are reported are not solved.

In its annual survey, BJS asks crime victims whether they reported their crime to police or not. In 2019, only 40.9% of violent crimes and 32.5% of household property crimes were reported to authorities. BJS notes that there are a variety of reasons why crime might not be reported, including fear of reprisal or “getting the offender in trouble,” a feeling that police “would not or could not do anything to help,” or a belief that the crime is “a personal issue or too trivial to report.”

Most of the crimes that are reported to police, meanwhile, are not solved, at least based on an FBI measure known as the clearance rate. That’s the share of cases each year that are closed, or “cleared,” through the arrest, charging and referral of a suspect for prosecution, or due to “exceptional” circumstances such as the death of a suspect or a victim’s refusal to cooperate with a prosecution. In 2019, police nationwide cleared 45.5% of violent crimes that were reported to them and 17.2% of the property crimes that came to their attention.

Both the percentage of crimes that are reported to police and the percentage that are solved have remained relatively stable for decades.

Which crimes are most likely to be reported to police, and which are most likely to be solved?

Around eight-in-ten motor vehicle thefts (79.5%) were reported to police in 2019, making it by far the most commonly reported property crime tracked by BJS. Around half (48.5%) of household burglary and trespassing offenses were reported, as were 30% of personal thefts/larcenies and 26.8% of household thefts.

Among violent crimes, aggravated assault was the most likely to be reported to law enforcement (52.1%). It was followed by robbery (46.6%), simple assault (37.9%) and rape/sexual assault (33.9%).

The list of crimes cleared by police in 2019 looks different from the list of crimes reported. Law enforcement officers were generally much more likely to solve violent crimes than property crimes, according to the FBI.

The most frequently solved violent crime tends to be homicide. Police cleared around six-in-ten murders and non-negligent manslaughters (61.4%) last year. The clearance rate was lower for aggravated assault (52.3%), rape (32.9%) and robbery (30.5%).

When it comes to property crime, law enforcement agencies cleared 18.4% of larcenies/thefts, 14.1% of burglaries and 13.8% of motor vehicle thefts.

Is the government doing anything to improve its crime statistics?

Yes. The FBI has long recognized the limitations of its current data collection system and is planning to fully transition to a more comprehensive system beginning in 2021.

The new system, known as the National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS), will provide information on a much larger number of crimes, as well as details such as the time of day, location and types of weapons involved, if applicable. It will also provide demographic data, such as the age, sex, race and ethnicity of victims, known offenders and arrestees.

One key question looming over the transition is how many police departments will participate in the new system, which has been in development for decades. In 2019, the most recent year available, NIBRS received violent and property crime data from 46% of law enforcement agencies, covering 44% of the U.S. population that year. Some researchers have warned that the transition to a new system could leave important data gaps if more law enforcement agencies do not submit the requested information to the FBI.


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What the data says (and doesn’t say) about crime in the United States (6)

John Gramlich is an associate director at Pew Research Center.



What do statistics tell us about crime? ›

Crime statistics are important in determining whether these initiatives are working, or if changes are needed6. The data can show if crime is going up or down in the areas targeted. This can help criminal justice professionals understand whether their initiatives are successful.

What is a good source of data about crime in the US? ›

The Bureau of Justice Statistics' (BJS) NCVS provides a detailed picture of crime incidents, victims, and trends.

Why crime statistics are not reliable? ›


Which country has the highest crime rate? ›

According to the rating Venezuela has topped the list, followed by Guinea and Afghanistan. The WOS released the “Most Criminal Countries” this week. The WOS website is a global network of around 2,360 organisations dedicated to compiling statistics to raise public awareness.

What is the importance of crime data? ›

The primary purpose of crime analysis is to support (i.e., assist) the operations of a police department. These functions include criminal investigation, apprehension, and prosecution; patrol activities; crime prevention and reduction strategies; problem solving; and the evaluation and accountability of police efforts.

What are the main sources of crime data? ›

The primary source of official crime statistics in the United States is the annual Uniform Crime Reports (UCR) compiled by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).

What are the 3 most common ways we measure crime in the United States? ›

Congress uses data from the Uniform Crime Reports (UCR), the National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS),1 and the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) to inform policy decisions and develop appropriate responses to crime.

What are the two major sources of data on crime in the US? ›

The U.S. Department of Justice administers two statistical programs to measure the magnitude, nature, and impact of crime in the nation: the Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program and the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS).

What is the problem with true crime? ›

This is detrimental to mental health. Too much exposure to true crime can lead to paranoia, unsafe feelings, being more wary of others, and heightened anxiety. The popularity with true crime forms of multimedia can be credited to the 1996 novel “In Cold Blood” by Truman Capote, which details the Clutter family murders.

Why are so many crimes unreported? ›

Other reasons for not reporting a crime are due to lack of information about reporting and personal safety. Some victims may be unaware of the resources available to them to help guide them through the process of reporting. Victim's may also fear retaliation from the offender if they do report them to the police.

What is crime reliability? ›

Reliability refers to the ability to repeat a piece of research again and obtain the same or similar results.

What country has least crime? ›

Singapore, which has the lowest crime rates in the world, has attracted investments from more than 4,500 top-ranking US firms, as a direct result of these companies operating in the country. These include Alphabet Inc. (NASDAQ:GOOG), Apple Inc.

What state has the most murders? ›

Homicide Rate by State
#StateHomicide Rate
1District of Columbia49.2 per 100k
2Louisiana22.9 per 100k
3Missouri18 per 100k
4South Carolina17.4 per 100k
47 more rows

Where is the lowest crime rate in the US? ›

Maine. Maine has the lowest violent crime rate of any state: It ranks second-lowest in murder, 19th in rape, first in aggravated assault and fourth in robbery. It also is in the top 10 in each of the three property crimes.

What is dark crime? ›

The dark figure of crime is a term that is used by crime experts and the sociologists to illustrate the number of committed crimes that are never reported or are never discovered and this puts into doubt the effectiveness and efficiency of the official crimes data.

How can data reduce crime? ›

Data analytics can help determine the likelihood that a convicted criminal would pose a threat to public safety if they are released from prison or put on probation.

What is the dark figure of crime statistics referring to? ›

The massive number of crimes not reported to or detected by criminal justice agencies (the 'dark figures' of crime) are not reflected in official statistics, but they have implications for how crime, criminals, and the effectiveness of criminal justice policy are viewed.

What is the crime rate in the United States? ›

U.S. Crime Rate & Statistics 1990-2023
  • U.S. crime rate & statistics for 2020 was 6.52, a 28.64% increase from 2019.
  • U.S. crime rate & statistics for 2019 was 5.07, a 1.19% increase from 2018.
  • U.S. crime rate & statistics for 2018 was 5.01, a 5.9% decline from 2017.

What are the four types of crime data? ›

The UCR Program consists of four data collections: The National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS), the Summary Reporting System (SRS), the Law Enforcement Officers Killed and Assaulted (LEOKA) Program, and the Hate Crime Statistics Program.

Is there more crime in Texas or California? ›

Violent crime and property crime, for example, is higher in Texas than it is in California.

What is the #1 growing crime in America? ›

Identity theft is the fastest growing crime in the country. It occurs when someone obtains credit card numbers, Social Security numbers, bank account information or other personal identification information and uses them to commit fraud or deception.

Does the US have a high crime rate? ›

Based on historical and sociological research, this presentation examines why the United States is the most homicidal nation in the world. At a homicide rate of approximately 5 per 100,000 population the United States by far has the highest homicide rate among affluent nations.

What is the most severe crime in the US? ›

Felonies are the most serious type of crime and are often classified by degrees, with a first degree felony being the most serious. They include terrorism, treason, arson, murder, rape, robbery, burglary, and kidnapping, among others.

What is the best source for crime statistics? ›

The Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program generates reliable statistics for use in law enforcement. It also provides information for students of criminal justice, researchers, the media, and the public. The program has been providing crime statistics since 1930.

What is the most widely used measure of crime? ›

Still, the UCR is the standard & most widely cited method of measuring crime in the US. (2) The National Crime Victimization Survey, begun in 1973, is administered by US Census Bureau.

What is the most accurate measurement of crime? ›

Crime rates, instead, account for the differences in populations. A crime rate is defined as the count of offenses divided by the number of people in the area and can be interpreted as crimes per person. This results in a more meaningful metric for comparing crime risk across space.

What are the three most commonly used data sources for criminal justice research? ›

Some sources of criminal justice statistics/data
  • Criminal Justice Information System - Uniform Crime Reporting Program. ...
  • Bureau of Justice Statistics. ...
  • National Archives of Criminal Justice Data (NACJD)

What is a major source of statistical data about crime in the US which is based on victim self reports? ›

The BJS National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) is the nation's primary source of information on criminal victimization.

What gender commits the majority of crimes in the United States? ›

Statistics have been consistent in reporting that men commit more criminal acts than women. Self-reported delinquent acts are also higher for men than for women, although lower than official data.

Why is America obsessed with true crime? ›

Or so viewers think. Science Focus and BBC World Service's CrowdScience agree, citing evolutionary psychologists who suggest we are drawn to true crime stories to instinctively discover the “who, what, when, and where, learn what makes criminals tick, and better protect ourselves and our kin.”

What are the three main problems in defining crime? ›

The Crime Triangle identifies three factors that create a criminal offense. Desire of a criminal to commit a crime; Target of the criminal's desire; and the Opportunity for the crime to be committed. You can break up the Crime Triangle by not giving the criminal the Opportunity.

What crimes are morally wrong? ›

Finally, there are activities that society generally considers morally wrong and are also criminal law violations (represented as “C”). These acts include behaviors such as murder, sexual assault, and robbery. A significant portion of criminal laws is also immoral.

What percent of crimes are solved? ›

Over the past decade, “consistently less than half of all violent crime and less than twenty-five percent of all property crime were cleared,” William Laufer and Robert Hughes wrote in a 2021 law review article.

What is the least reported of all crimes? ›

Forcible rape is the least reported of all violent crimes.

What age group is responsible for committing the most crimes? ›

Age. Age also makes a difference in criminal behavior: Offending rates are highest in the late teens and early twenties and decline thereafter. Accordingly, people in the 15–24 age range account for about 40 percent of all arrests even though they comprise only about 14 percent of the population.

What makes a good true crime? ›

What makes a true crime podcast? A good true crime podcast requires a great deal of research and the ability to tell a story. Several true crime podcasts take the listener deep into the inner minds of criminals, from murderers, to conmen, to thieves.

Which of the following people is most likely to fear crime? ›

Although anyone can feel a fear of crime, it is more common in specific populations. Women, the elderly, and lower socioeconomic groups all report higher fears of crime.

What is crime specificity? ›

Specific intent crimes are those where a prosecutor must prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the defendant intended to commit a certain harm.

What is the safest place to live in the world? ›

Profiles of the World's 10 Safest Countries
  1. Iceland. According to the Global Peace Index, Iceland is the safest country in the world for the 14th year in a row. ...
  2. New Zealand. New Zealand is the second-safest country in the world. ...
  3. Ireland. ...
  4. Denmark. ...
  5. Austria. ...
  6. Portugal. ...
  7. Slovenia. ...
  8. Czech Republic.

What is the safest country in the world? ›

In 2023, the safest countries in the world (in descending order) are:
  • Iceland.
  • New Zealand.
  • Ireland.
  • Denmark.
  • Austria.
  • Portugal.
  • Slovenia.
  • Czech Republic.

Which country is number 1 in crime? ›


Which city in the US has the most murders? ›

St. Louis, Missouri has the highest murder rate of any US city of 69.4 murders per 100,000 people.
Cities with Most Murders 2023.
CitySt. Louis
Murder Rate69.40
2023 Population279,390
18 more columns

What country has the highest murders? ›

Murder Rates by Country
#CountryMurder Rate
1Jamaica44.95 per 100k
2Honduras36.33 per 100k
3South Africa33.46 per 100k
4Mexico28.37 per 100k
73 more rows

What state has the most unsolved murders? ›

California is the state with the most unsolved murders. California has 48,830 unsolved murders per year, on average. Their unsolved murder rate averages 37.9%.

How is statistics used to solve crime? ›

Law enforcement agencies often use data to determine the most likely locations or times for future crimes. Police chiefs also analyze statistics to verify increases or drops in certain illegal activities. The associated conclusions aid in allocating resources and filling known gaps in crime-fighting coverage.

What are the most common crimes statistics? ›

Number of committed crimes in the United States in 2021, by type of crime
Type of crimeNumber of committed crimes
Motor vehicle theft554,618
Sex offenses166,782
5 more rows
Oct 19, 2022

Should statistics be used in criminal cases? ›

Statistical analysis helps courts figure out what is known, as opposed to what is merely conjectured. It can confirm or disconfirm otherwise speculative assertions about the important behavioral assumptions the law makes.

What percent of crime is solved? ›

Over the past decade, “consistently less than half of all violent crime and less than twenty-five percent of all property crime were cleared,” William Laufer and Robert Hughes wrote in a 2021 law review article.

Why smart statistics are the key to fighting crime? ›

They can now predict three things: Whether or not someone will commit a new crime if they're released. Phether someone will commit an act of violence if they're released. predict whether someone will come back to court.

What kind of data do we want to use regarding crime analysis? ›

Crime analysis uses both qualitative and quantitative data and analytical techniques. Qualitative data and analytical techniques refer to non-numerical data as well as the examination and interpretation of observations for the purpose of discovering underlying meanings and patterns of relationships.

What is the number 1 crime in America? ›

Theft or larceny is the most common type of property crime. It's estimated that someone is a victim of theft every 5.5 seconds. The next most common crime is burglary, which involves breaking and entering.

What is the biggest crime rate in the US? ›

Memphis, Tennessee

The most dangerous city in the USA is Memphis, Tennessee. With a population of 628,127, Memphis has a crime rate that is 237% higher than the national average.

Is statistics a good evidence? ›

Statistics are invaluable as evidence in support of conclusions. If you can either find or generate statistics that show the truth of your conclusions, there are few that would refute your ideas.

Why are statistics best in evidence? ›

The use of statistics typically clarifies the concept or argument. In certain cases, they allow for making calculated, well-informed decisions. In addition, it can point out the issue and help derive a solution to the problem.

Why is statistics not used in court? ›

Although both the law and statistical theory have foundations that rest on formal rules and principles, courts can badly misapply statistical evidence and arguments. In some cases, even when arriving at a correct decision, the courts can accept or give an explanation that is inaccurate and unsound.

What is the dark figure of crime statistics USA? ›

The dark figure of crime refers to a term utilized by criminologists and others. The phrase is usually used to refer to the number of crimes that are not reported, but also refers to crimes that are unknown to all outside parties or law enforcement not accepting that the law has been broken.

What are the two ways crime statistics are gathered in the United States? ›

The U.S. Department of Justice administers two statistical programs to measure the magnitude, nature, and impact of crime in the nation: the Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program and the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS).

What are the three primary sources of crime statistics in the United States? ›

Crime data collected through the Uniform Crime Reports (UCR), the National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS), and the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) are used by Congress to inform policy decisions and allocate federal criminal justice funding to states.


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