Looking for a thorough picture of crime – National Victimization Survey

In the regular reporting of police department statistics there is one data source that frequently gets overshadowed:  the National Crime Victimization Survey done by the Census Bureau.   It is conducted annually with the most recent available data being 2015.

The goal of the survey is to capture information about from victims whether reported to the police or not. The reports of crime victims on the survey are quite different than what police report in the Uniform Crime Reports.  If only police statistics are considered, no crime exists except those reported to police.  Theoretically the police could make the claim that crime has gone down simply by not taking reports of crime or recategorizing reported crimes to a lower category.  (I hope no one would do that).  The victimization study makes it clear that in most cases there is more crime occurring that isn’t reported to police. So when you hear about communities that are “safe” and those that have higher “crime rates” you have to compare what the police are reporting as crime reports against what the crime victimization survey is reporting.  The victimization survey is done by directly contacting people and asking them to report about themselves.  I even got one many years ago so I know what was asked.  It is done by a sampling method on a national level so you can’t get data for specific communities.

Police leaders often look at this data to determine where we are not meeting the mark for crime reduction.  I think it is important to have actual crime reduction not just police report reduction (if we don’t take a report then no crime statistic goes against our “record”)

For example, as a result of the survey we know that criminal sexual conduct is underreported and has been as long as there has been a survey.  Only about 1/3rd are ever reported to the police.  Same with domestic assault.  Only a little over half are reported to the police.  There is an argument out there by criminologists that people who have confidence in their police will report crimes expecting that the police will take action.  Conversely, if they have no confidence  the police will do anything, they don’t bother to report. With respect to criminal sexual conduct cases, the International Association of Chiefs of Police in cooperation with the Justice Department is conducting training nationally on the investigation of violence against women in an effort to improve policing nationally.  We hosted a session of the training here last year.

From the 2015 report:


Violent crime

No statistically significant change occurred in the rate of violent crime from 2014 (20.1 victimizations per 1,000) to 2015 (18.6 per 1,000). „ No statistically significant change was detected in the percentage of violent crime reported to police from 2014 (46%) to 2015 (47%). „ No measureable change was detected in the percentage of violent crime victimizations in which victim services were received from 2014 (10.5%) to 2015 (9.1%).

Property crime

The rate of property crime decreased from 118.1 victimizations per 1,000 households in 2014 to 110.7 per 1,000 in 2015.

Prevalence of crime

In 2015, 0.98% of all persons age 12 or older (2.7 million persons) experienced at least one violent victimization.

The prevalence rate of violent victimization declined from 1.11% of all persons age 12 or older in 2014 to 0.98% in 2015.

In 2015, 7.60% of all households (10 million households) experienced one or more property victimizations.  The prevalence rate of property victimization declined from 7.99% of all households in 2014 to 7.60% in 2015.

Posted by

I'm the Chief of Police for the Auburn Hills Police Department.