We are Winning the War on Crime

In case anybody has been feeling concerned about the state of the union, here are some interesting facts about crime trends in America for y’all.

The gist? We are Winning the War on Crime!

Thank this guy

Thank this guy

First: Crime is at a 45 year low in America.

As a whole, we have never been safer, and that is awesome and something we should celebrate!

Yes, we can always do a better job, but instead of freaking out about how bad things are, let’s throw ourselves a party.


I’m not going to go into the Why’s (although I’m told there is a pretty fascinating study correlating the reduction in lead paint to the reduction in crime), but here are a lot of facts (sources at the bottom).

Note: I find the downward trend in crime particularly interesting considering we are poorer than ever.

Statistics Time

Overall Violent Crime is at its lowest level since 1970.

  • In 2012, the US had 387 violent crimes per 100,000 residents. That’s down 37%  since 1997
  • Tennessee had the most violent crime (644 per 100k)
  • Maine had the least violent crime (123 per 100k)


Within violent crime:

  • Murder is at its lowest level since 1963
  • In 2012 the US had 4.7 murders per 100k, down 31%  since 1997
  • Louisiana has the highest murder rate (10.8 per 100k)
  • New Hampshire has the lowest murder rate (1.1 per 100k)
  • Even Chicago, which has seen an uptick in murders since hitting a 20 year low in 2007, has seen the murder rate drop 34% since 1997.
  • Rape is at its lowest level since 1976
  • In 2012 the US had 26.9 rapes per 100k, down 25%  since 1997
  • Alaska has the most rape (79.7 per 1ook) (and also the highest male to female ratio)
  • Virginia had the least rape (17.7 per 100k)
  • Robbery is at its lowest level since 1967
  • In 2012 the US had 113 per 100k, down 39%  since 1997
  • Nevada has the most robbery (178 per 100k)
  • Wyoming has the least robbery (10.6 per 100k)
  • Aggravated Assault is at its lowest level since 1976
  • In 2012 the US had 242 assaults per 100k, down 37%  since 1997
  • Tennessee has the most assault (480 per 100k)
  • Maine has the least assault (61 per 100k)


Overall Property Crime is at its lowest level since 1967.

  • In 2012 the US had 2,860 property crimes per 100,000 residents. That’s down 34% since 1997
  • Arkansas has the most property crime (3,660 per 100k)
  • New York has the least property crime (1,922 per 100k)
  • Idaho was a close second least with 1,980 per 100k

Interesting stuff huh? That data comes from the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports. This data is collected from all local law enforcement agencies each year. It’s not perfect, as every agency has different policies and statistical collection and reporting methodologies, but it is the best we’ve got and is fairly comprehensive.

Now, some even more fascinating details on homicides and gun violence. This data comes from the Federal Bureau of Justice Statistics. There are other sources that show similar trends.

Homicide & Guns

There’s a lot of interesting data on trends in homicide by type, relationships, gender, and race. The data I examined looked at the US during the period from 1980 to 2008. Here are some facts I pulled out:

  • The number of homicides has dropped consistently since 1980. I’m not talking just about the rate falling. The absolute number of homicides in the US fell from 23,040 in 1980 to 16,272 in 2008, a 29% decrease
  • The absolute number of gun homicides fell as well, dropping 24% for all guns during this period (27% for handguns and 18% for other guns)

Let’s stop a second and recognize this. Gun violence has reached a 30 year low in America. Just remember that.

  • A majority of homicides (67%) involve guns. This is a higher share than in 1980, but actually represents a lower number of gun homicides. It is just that other forms of homicide (knives, blunt objects, etc) have fallen even more quickly
  • Most gun homicides (71%) involve handguns
  • During the same period that gun homicides fell 24%, the number of gang-related gun homicides rose 447%


This is another one to stop and recognize. Gang-related gun homicides only comprised less than 1% of homicides in 1980 but are now over 5%. Even though it is a relatively small share of homicides, this is the only significant category of homicide that has increased. If you read much about it too, it generally involves handguns, not automatic weapons.

  • The number of law enforcement officials killed in the line of duty by guns has fallen 63% since 1980.
  • Justifiable homicides comprise only 4% of the total and has remained flat the past 30 years. In 2008, roughly 3/5 of these were police vs. civilians
  • Of all homicides, 95.5% involve only 1 victim. Another 3.7% involve 2 victims. Only 0.8% involve 3 or more victims (up from 0.5% in 1980)
  • The share of homicides involving 5 ore more victims has remained flat at 0.1%, and the absolute number is down from 26 victims in 1980 to 16 in 2008

Another important point to consider with regards to all the fears about mass shootings. They’re incredibly rare.

  • The most common age group for homicide victims and offenders is 18 to 24
  • The largest share of homicides are committed by Friends/Acquaintances (26%), followed by Family/Intimates (18%), and then Strangers (12%). 44% are undetermined
  • Among family homicides: 37% involve a spouse/ex-spouse, 25% children, 19% other family, 13% parents, and 7% siblings
  • A vast majority (90%) of homicides of intimates (spouses, ex-spouses, girlfriends, boyfriends) are committed against women
  • Overall, men are 7 times more likely to commit homicides and 4 times more likely to be victims of homicides than women

There’s a lot to digest there, including both really positive trends and disturbing facts. Let’s celebrate that as a country we are hurting fewer people. We’re stealing, attacking, and murdering less than we have in generations. Of particular importance to remember is that as a whole we’re actually less at risk of gun violence than ever before.

But major concerns still remain. Women are disproportionately victims of spousal homicides, rape, and other violent crimes. Concentrated poverty raises crime rates, and we have seen economic disparity getting worse across the country. And even though it’s not on the scale of the late 1980s/early 1990s, gang related homicide has ballooned in recent years.

Let’s have an honest conversation about what is happening though. Let’s not exaggerate the problems or obsess over poorly crafted solutions. I also would like to hear more conversation about what we’re doing right, because clearly something has been working. We are winning, America.


Topic for another day: We are Losing the War on Drugs: And Why That’s Not Necessarily a Bad Thing


About Tony

Lives in Austin, Texas and likes music, art, philosophy, and random stuff.
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