In a recent press release, the Federal Bureau of Investigation has announced the publication of the 2012 Uniform Crime Report (UCR) statistics, the statistical aggregate of crime records from over 18,000 law enforcement agencies.

Overall, the United States has experienced a minor uptick in reported incidents of violent crime (.7%) from 2011, though these are still part of a marked decline when part of a 5-year (2008-2012:  -12.9%) and 10-year (2003-2012:  12.2%) comparison.  The rate of violent crime per 100,000 people in the US has dropped an insignificant five one-hundredths of a percent and was not reported.  In the 5- and 10-year comparisons, the violent crime rate dropped a remarkable -15.6% and 18.7%, respectively.

Also, reported incidents of property crime have continued a decade-long decline, down .9% from 2011, 8.2% from 2008, and 14.1% from 2003.  Commensurately, property crime rates have dropped 1.6% nationwide from 2011, 11.1% from 2008, and 20.4% from 2003.

Texas and California, the two most-populous states, have produced divergent trends in both violent and property crimes.  While yearly incidents of violent crime in Texas have increased slightly (1.7%) from 104,734 in 2011 to 106,476 in 2012, the violent crime rate per 100,000 Texans has remained stationary.  Conversely, California has experienced a 3.9% increase in incidents of violent crime and a corresponding 2.9% increase in the violent crime rate.

This contrast holds true in property crimes as well.  Texas’ incidents of property crime have dropped 1.9%, nearly doubling the .9% decline nationally.  The 2012 rate of property crimes in Texas has dropped 3.5% from that of 2011.  In California, incidents of property crime have increased by 7.8% and the property crime rate per 100,000 Californians has increased by 6.8%.  A substantial share of the divergence in percent change between Texas and California is likely due to the haphazard method in which the state began its justice realignment process.

This minor uptick in nationwide crime should not be seen as an “early warning” for policy makers.  In 2005 and 2006, both incidents and rates of violent crime increased over the previous year.  In 2007, the general downward trend resumed.  Too often have minor deviations in crime measures been used to justify costly, ineffectual policy that has not likely contributed to public safety.  Rather, this should be seen as an opportunity to explore implementing cost-efficient, evidenced-based reforms in states and regions that are experiencing these increases.

Methodological note:  The UCR should not be considered the “catch-all” measure of crime in the United States and conveys less incident-specific information than do the other two official reporting systems, the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) and the National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBERS), and covers only crimes brought to the attention of or discovered by the police.  Notwithstanding, the UCR is the better tool for explaining macro-level trends in crime.  Further, this post discusses the percent change in the number of incidents and crime rate, not the number of incidents or the rate per 100,000 people.  Using percent change is a useful tool in measuring how incremental change (e.g., criminal justice policy, procedural change, etc.) might influence a macro-level time series.