SOCIAL INDICATORS 2007
Crime (Part 2)
The Columbine High School tragedy in Littleton, Colorado, during 1999, has come to symbolize a culture of pervasive youth violence. There is no question that the Columbine episode was well beyond the ordinary expression of youth violence but was it truly symbolic of trends in youth culture?
Historical statistics about youth violence are often hard to access and assess. The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) has been publishing data on school violence and crime dating from the 1992-1993 school year. Here is a summary of their findings concerning youth homicides and suicides:
The number of homicides and suicides at school has remained constant over the last decade. Homicides away from school have dropped dramatically and suicides away from school have declined at a less rapid rate. This has occurred during a time of growth in the student population. Therefore, the homicide and suicide rates are actually falling. The 2004-2005 school showed an increase in both homicides and suicides away from school, the highest in six years and five years respectively. It remains to be seen if this marks a change in the trend.
The overall violent crime (victimization) rate has dropped from 96 to 33 per 1,000 since 1993, and the theft crime rate has dropped from 59 to 22 per 1,000 in 2004 (though it increased to 24 in 2005). NCES estimates that juvenile crime victimization is at its lowest level since the early 1970s. There simply is no evidence of a youth crime epidemic.
The fact is that we are in one of the least violent and crime prone eras in more than thirty years and the rates appear to be on a continued downward trend. Youth violence, which had surged in the early 1990s, appears to have been driven in part by a drug sub-culture and not by wide-spread violent youth behavior. The highest levels of crime and violence were twenty-five years ago as evidenced by the following data:
- Violent crime, after declining from at least a fifty year high in 1981, declining in the early 1980s, and then rising again through the early 1990s, has been in steady significant decline since 1994.
- Property crime has been in decline since the mid-1970s.
- Violent crime is less than half as frequent as its 1981 high.
- Property crime is less than one third as frequent as its 1975 high.
- After peaking in the early 1990s, juvenile crime has been in rapid decline.
- There is no evidence of a widespread youth culture of violence.
Crime rates suggest an improving quality of life.