07 December 2010

50 Year Trends in Violent Crime in the US - FBI Statistics

Recently the FBI, or more precisely, Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) have released a searchable database tool where the user can input particular crimes, at particular areas in the US and over certain time periods. This is a very useful tool, particularly if you live in the US. This tool enables you to drill down into the specifics of violent crime for YOUR state.

What I have done in this article is just showcase some 50 year trends in crime in the US by using some simple charts where the figures were generated by the UCR database tool. The above chart showcases the total number of violent crimes in the US from 1960 to 2009 and the overall trends throughout. This chart allows us to see that overall, violent crime peaked in 1992 with 1,932,274 total number of violent crimes reported in that year. From the figures obtained from the UCR database, we can learn that from 1960 to 2009, there have been a total number of 59, 307, 925 violent crimes reported in the US.

Below you will find each type of crime singled out and displayed in charts for ease of comprehension. Some interesting observations can be made from these... Each chart shows the 50 year trends from the US. where Aggravated Assault, Robbery, Larceny/Theft, Murder/Manslaughter and Property Crime are showcased.

Aggravated Assault
The assault statistics over the 50 years follows similar trends as the overall violent crime numbers. The numbers peaked at about the early to mid 1990's at over 1 million incidents. Aggravated Assault is the largest sector of violent crime. This is due to most incidents being related to social or group activities where posturing and other types of Alpha Male activity occur. Fights are normally the outcome of such behaviour and this in crime/legal terms is Aggravated Assault.

What is interesting is that the Assaults trended smoothly up, building to the peak in the 90's. I have not done the research, but this climb is probably related to an increase in population. Take note of the overall shape of the graph and the smooth climb up. This will become important as you progress through...

For the robbery trends, they also peaked around the early 90's to just under 700,000 in that year. This chart highlights the more volatile nature of the overall trends for robbery. From that peak in the early 90's the drop has been quite severe with overall Robbery numbers dropping dramatically to almost half of what they were 8 yrs after the peak.

There are more noticeable rises and falls than the smooth trends seen with Assault. Instead of the smooth climb seen in assault trends, we can see 3 clear high spots. This is different from the assault trends. Also remember the characteristics of this chart as you go through the remaining areas. Patterns will begin to emerge and insights gained...

The murder/Non Negligent Manslaughter numbers are much lower than robbery for example but again the figures show similar trends over time.

This chart looks much more similar to the robbery chart than the assault chart. There are three clear high spots as there were in the robbery chart. I do not believe this is a co-incidence. The underlying nature of Robbery and Murder is similar. They are both Predatory type behaviours. It is only natural that the trends would be similar between these two types of violent crime. As I first saw these similarities, I was surprised as I was not looking for them.

Forcible Rape
The overall numbers of Forcible Rape also peaked in the early 90's at about 110,000 however the drop in numbers has not been as significant as Robbery for example. I am not an expert in rape so will not pretend to be one here.

The main thing I note is that this chart follows similar trends to the assault chart. Perhaps this is an indication that rape is tied to an underlying social/alpha male type activity from the perpetrators. I would like to hear from people more experienced in this matter, comment on this observation.

Property Crime
Property Crime numbers show a similar overall trend over the 50 years. Again, numbers peak in the early 90's at about 13 million incidents nationwide in the US. Even though the trend is for a lowering of the number of Property Crimes reported each year, the number is still the highest of all seen here.

Although it is an overall fatter chart, the trends seem to be more along the lines of Robbery and Murder. There are three high spots here as well although they are less defined. Again, this seems to indicate that Property Crimes are more Predatory in nature. This is in line with the entire concept of the Alpha Male and Predatory behaviour model of human combative behaviour.

The Larceny/Theft numbers although quite high with a current number of just under 6,750,000, are following the same trends as all of the crimes showcased here with a peak period around the early 90's. This chart does seem to contain elements of both the Alpha Male and the Predatory trends seen in the previous examples.

Perhaps the Alpha Male and Predatory model is most relavent to actual combative behaviour and not so much for other crime types and social behaviour. This could also be why the property trends are less distinct.


Writing and developing this post I had no idea I would identify these patterns in the charts. My intent was just to highlight the UCR database tool and throw up some charts. I thought there would be much more variation in each of the charts.

I am surprised the relationship between different types of human combative behaviour emerged through these charts which showcase trends over 50 years. Perhaps I am looking into them too hard? Do I have a preconceived notion and am looking for evidence of it everywhere? I doubt it but I am always mindful of such things. Perhaps I am not looking at them hard enough. A technical share trader examines share charts in fine detail and makes assessments on all sorts of patterns.

The one thing which is common throughout ALL of the charts is the drop off in the early 90's. I am not from the US and suspect the best way to understand this is to ask an American. Why do you think the changes occurred in the early 90's? Was legislation changed at that time? Were laws changed? This is the main reason I suspect but it is a total guess on my part.

An answer or some suggestions would be interesting to know. Let everyone know in the comments below. Are there any surprises here? Anything I missed?

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  1. Several sociologists and economists have suggested that the drop-off in violent crime in the early 90's was due to the liberalization of abortion laws 20 years earlier.

    Many of the people whose demographic properties put them at high likelihood of committing those crimes, were killed before they were even born. 20 years later, when they were at the "peak" of their would-be crime career, we first notice that they're nowhere to be found. That's the drop-off in violent crime stats.

    It's a controversial theory. Conservatives hate it because it seems to suggest abortion has an upside. Liberals hate it because it blames crime on a certain "type" of person, and has creepy eugenic implications. But they've done multiple-baseline comparisons that seem to support the model. I think it's pretty plausible.

  2. Freakonomics gives evidence towards IronMongoose's statements.

  3. Interesting stuff there boys. I will look into that. I wonder if there are any other reasons or theories out there?

    1. The aging of the baby boomers is the usual explanation of the falloff in crime stats. There is also the trend toward mandatory sentencing, harsher penalties and the re-introduction of the death penalty in more and more states as contributing factors. As the numbers of those in the age group most likely to commit crimes diminish as a percent of the population, so too do the incidences of criminal activity. There are volumes of scholarly analysis about this which are all a far cry from the ideas proffered by touchy-feely types that seem to make up the majority of the social media netizens (we used to call them air heads or valley guys/girls).

  4. Another reason is gun laws.

    In the late 1980's and early 1990's we started to see the movement towards the legal carrying of concealed handguns by law-abiding citizens. For a good illustration of the growth, see this animated GIF:


    Brief explanation of the legend: "unrestricted" is just that. "Shall-issue" means the state shall issue the carry license once criteria are met (e.g. must be of particular age, must not be a felon, must pass tests, etc., exact requirements vary from state to state)... but the point is, once the requirements are met the state shall issue, no allowance is given for some administrators personal opinion or bias. "May-issue" allows some administrator (e.g. local sheriff) control over who may or may not get a license, e.g. in New York they routinely deny average citizens, but rich people, movie stars, sports stars, etc. get granted for whatever arbitrary reasons. And "no-issue" is simply that.

    So anyways, you can see how over the years the "right to carry" has grown, and correspondingly, violent crime has dropped. Does this correlation equal causation? Not necessarily, but many studies have been done examining this data and evidence is strong.

    Or to put it in a simple way, criminals don't like getting shot. :-) There was a burglar arrested in my town last year. He was responsible for about 50 burglaries, but all of small businesses. After he was finally arrested they discovered why: because he knew he was in Texas and that many people in Texas have guns in their homes and he didn't want any part of that.


    So your guess of laws changed? Yes, in part.

  5. "Shall issue" gun laws were passed in many states such that citizens can now be licensed to carry firearms defensively. This resulted in an almost immediate drop in violent crime that has been quantified by researchers such as John Lott and others. It makes sense. Criminals perfer unarmed victims. Look at WHERE crime occurs in the U.S. and it's often in jurisdictions with strict weapons laws (i.e. Chicago, New York, Wash D.C. etc.).

    The "abortion reduces crime" theory, as you might guess, is highly controversial. I've studied it enough that it appears highly specious at this point. It doesn't come close to meeting any serious academic burdon of proof. In fact, there are at least 2 fatal flaws that were made in the original work. I'll leave it to you and Google if you're interested.

  6. Thanks a lot for the information everyone. Hsoi, that gif showing the spread of relaxing gun control laws was very informative. It does seem to correlate closely with the results found in the charts above.

    Of note, the crimes that have dropped the most from the early 90s are the more Predatory type crimes. This matches the Alpha Male - Predatory model in that Predators like easy victims. An armed victim is not an easy victim.

    There seems to be inconclusive data in relation to the reasons for the overall drop in violent crime in the 90s. The legalisation of abortion is just one possible cause of this. Another possible cause seems to be the so-called crack epidemic. Below are some links for further reading for those interested in further study I have found. They are good starting points:




    I think at this stage the lowering of violent crimes being committed is likely due to a combination of reasons including gun laws, abortion and drugs.

    Interesting stuff and before this post, I largely had no idea of these issues. Thanks for our US friends passing on this information.

  7. Adam - here in Cali we attributed the drop in crimes to the three strikes laws... you know get tough on criminals.

    Not sure what the real answer is now that I see it was a national trend... maybe good will towards men?

  8. Good will towards men? You are one funny fellow John :P

  9. The correlation of trends from each category demonstrates a common time period for the change in the trends. The "Alpha Male Predatory Behavior", cited as a common factor, was demonstrating a continuing upward trajectory until the early '90's when some universal "cause and effect" occurred that interrupted the common trend. The time period, where the flat-lining or decrease in trends are observed, notably parallels the beginning of wars in the Mid-East with the first U.S. war with Iraq, where there was an active recruitment effort for military service searching for "Alpha" male candidates for active duty. If this observation holds true, then the trends are merely in a "War Pause" while the perpetrators are engaged in the "killing fields" overseas. Consequently, the earlier rising trends are very likely still in effect and are merely being masked by the temporary "Alpha Male" demands of war.

    From W.T. in Mississippi

  10. The charts all peak right around the time the internet started gaining popularity. Doom and other first person shooters were first released around the same time as well.

    Could it be as simple as that? Maybe borderline criminals started getting satisfaction acting out their violent urges in virtual worlds instead of the real one?

  11. I may be really over simplifying but I would look into post 911 and the use of the Patriot act. It seems that even down to Local Law Enforcement(LEO) that their is a significant rise in "Terrorism" charges. I have personally seen these new charges levied at people that would have otherwise been charged with simple assault.

    I will see if i can pull the data as time permits.


  12. W.T., Martin, Chappy, They are all very interesting observations. Particularly about the correlation between the first gulf war and a period of active recruitment into the military. And Martin, I've actually heard the opposite. That video games increase the likelihood of violence. You could be right though. Chappy, I'd be interested to see the data. Though what you are talking about is long after 1991 it would be interesting nonetheless.

  13. There is one reason for the declining crime rates: under-reporting. Here is one example:


    All levels of government (local, state and federal) know this but it benefits them to keep it under wraps. People that live in major cities know that the declining rates are a sharp contradiction to what they see with their own eyes. Failure and and dropout rates for inner-city schools, as well as demographic trends, belie the completely fabricated trend of lower crime rates. The declining rates are also in stark contrast to huge increase gang activity across the US over the last 20 years.

    Here is one rare example of the reporting of the underreporting:

    Trust me, this is the status quo. The truth of the matter will eventually surface. It always does. I predict that by the time people find out the truth, it'll be a nearly insurmountable problem. In other words, it'll play out much like the problems with our economy.

  14. Murders can't be likewise underreported, and not at the same rate nationally. It follows the same trend.


    Likewise, epidemiological studies like the National Crime Victimization Survey show similar trends to the FBI's Uniform Crime Reports (based on police reporting). The drop in crime is a real thing, no matter how much fearmongering happens in the news.

    (Also, showing raw numbers rather than rates in the graphs muddles things up with the effects of population growth. If there are three times as many people but twice as many murders, things have actually gotten better.)

  15. Adam, Just found this post and information that you put up years ago. Do you have any answers yet to the connection? Seems to me that both "drops" occurred as we were going into a new war. Could it be that those who may have committed crimes left the country as soldiers?

  16. There's a part of this number for those who experienced what it was like in Grand Theft Auto video game, which is a too serious problem for some countries as well. Violence are seen even in those video games that children are hooked up to nowadays. Still, many manufacturers release such games that simulate violence to children, as well as offensive games.

  17. There are some interesting studies that find a strong correlation between lead poisoning and violent crime rates.


    1. I think this is the most relevant response posted here. This article instantly caught my attention when I first read it. The removal of lead from gasoline has a very strong (23-year shifted) correlation with violent crime rates dropping. Obviously not proof of causality but certainly bears more investigation.

      I agree with below poster "jaik" that the charts need to be in terms of incidents/100,000. Raw totals can be easily misleading.

      Read Vol 18 No.1 of 2013 Skeptic Magazine for two very interesting articles on the Mass Murder Problem and The Sandy Hook Problem. The authors have much different takes than one usually gets from the press or government.

      So, Adam, why don't you update the charts with crime rates instead of raw volumes?

  18. these charts don't take population growth into account, they are raw numbers, not crimes per 100,000. Population has doubled in the period of this chart while the numbers of violent crimes has not. When population is taken into account we can see the situation has improved, not worsened, and that even the 1990s were an improvement over the earlier years.

  19. Yes, to get a real picture the numbers need to be crimes per capita.

    There is a great article in Scientific American a few years back (Google to find it) that covered many possible factors in the drop in violent crime. It was unbiased and covered many potential angles.

    One factor not mentioned here is the economy. The mid to late 90s saw negative unemployment so anyone could make a good living in a legitimate job. I believe there is a proven cause and effect relationship between the state of the economy and violent crime, although I do not have any references.

    We should be able to watch these stats over time and see how they shift as economics and wars come and go. Some of the more short term variables will change and we can see how those correlate to violence per capita. Then we may be able to eliminate some of the variables.

    The one other thing I want to note is if we look at the numbers on a per capita basis, violence in general is in decline in the US for several years.

  20. How about when God was kicked out of Public Schools in 1962. Seems like crime exploded after that.

    1. Anonymous Aug 30 2014
      If you are you saying that Clinton is God-like, or appeared so, maybe you are right because that is when the long decrease in crime took place. On the other hand, the man's mischief showed up 8 years after he got rid of Glass-Stiegel and the banks took over as fast as they could.

  21. The long trends going up in crime correspond with increased war during the draft and deception about Vietnam. This also continues through Reagan as he threw needy people out of welfare programs, some onto the street. Remember the welder, a family man who shot 22 people dead at a McDonald's when he lost his weekly therapy session? Reagan also gave the wealthiest their biggest tax breaks in over a half century. Clinton's ability to speak to blacks, poor, and all but the richest eased the entire nation.

  22. There are numerous factors involved.
    However, by far one of the biggest thing has been an increase in education for poor communities. Education helps in several ways, first it tends to remove predilections about peers reducing prejudice. It gives the person more options and less of a stuck feeling. It gives people alternatives to violence in dealing with their issues. It also allows people to identify with things other than gangs or sports as means to have identity and belonging.
    The internet and inter-connectivity has also played a big role in reduced crime. Allowing people to find commonality with people before seeing their face or background.
    I also tend to think violent video games give children an outlet for aggression without acting them out IRL. Personally the death toll in GTA for me is pretty high when I get behind the wheel, (even when I try not to kill people), but I have only ran over 241 people IRL (Only 1 accidentally).


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