Epidemiology of Crime in the United States

Part 4. Trends in Property Crime

Trends in UCR Property Crime

The following graph shows historical changes in the Uniform Crime Reports (UCR) Property Crime Index since 1960. This index combines annual rates of burglary, larceny/theft, and motor vehicle theft known to police. Because this index is so heavily influenced by rates of larceny/theft, which currently comprise nearly 60 percent of all reported crime, the FBI has recently decided to abandon the use of the Property Crime Index as well as the Violent Crime Index in future publications of the UCR program.

Similar to UCR data on violent crime, the official rate of property crime increased markedly during the 1960s and 1970s, climbing from less than 2,000 per 100,000 population to well over 5,000 per 100,000 population by 1980. The property crime rate remained at a high level until the early 1990s, when it began a steady decline to approximately 3,000 per 100,000 population in the past few years. Many of the same reasons for changes in the rate of violent crime also apply to these trends of increase and recent decrease in property crime: changes in drug use, shifting economic conditions, variation in the age composition of the population, developments in law-enforcement and sentencing, and, changes in crime reporting practices by police and citizens. The influence of the latter factor becomes apparent when we compare trends in these "official" offenses known to police to trends in National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) household victimization rates.

Property Crime, 1980-2011

Source: U.S. Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Crime in the United States (http://www.fbi.gov)

Trends in NCVS Household Property Crime Victimizations

Unlike the NCVS data on rates of violent victimizations (and UCR rates of offenses known to police), the rates of property crime victimization incidents in the NCVS are based on households rather than on individuals in the population. Similar to the UCR Property Crime Index, the property crimes included in NCVS household victimization rates include theft, burglary, and motor vehicle theft; however, the NCVS does not count property crimes against businesses. For additional details on how these two sources of evidence differ, see the following report from the U.S. Department of Justice:"The Nation's Two Crime Measures" (click here)

As shown below, the long-term trend in the NCVS victimization rate for property crime is quite clear: it has fallen dramatically from over 500 victimizations per 1,000 households in the early 1970s and to less than 200 per 1,000 households in the early 2000s. Put another way, the annual risk of a household experiencing a property crime incident has been cut in three decades from one out of two to less than one out of five. At least in the 1980s, the UCR rate of property crimes known to police remained at a fairly high level while the NCVS rate of household property victimizations was steadily declining. This discrepancy suggests that citizens and/or police were "officially reporting" a greater share of this type of victimization incident. However, the UCR and NCVS data are in full agreement that the rate of property crime has dropped significantly during the 1990s and early 2000s.

Source: U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics (http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/)

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