The International Crime Drop

Despite public/media perceptions, most evidence suggests that crime has dropped substantially since the 1990s. The graph below, taken from a 2011 Home Office report into the British Crime Survey (BCS) and police recorded crime (HOSB1011), shows that BCS crime has nearly halved following a peak in 1996/7. This has been absent from most media coverage.

Interestingly, this is a pattern that has been seen in most western countries, regardless of their approaches to crime reduction. For example, the U.S. and Canada have both experienced drops in crime, although the size of the prison population in the U.S. has exploded compared to Canada’s. The purpose of the recent International Crime Drop meeting, hosted by the Royal Statistical Society (RSS) and organised by Chris Kershaw (Home Office), was to discuss the reasons for this drop. There were talks from Nick Tilley, Andromachi Tseloni and Jan Van Dijk, who have also contributed to a new edited book.

There are undoubtedly a large number of explanations for this international drop in crime, but it is likely that any explanation must be consistent across all of the affected counties. For example, abortion legalisation could be put forward as an explanation (a reduction in unwanted pregnancies could lead to later reductions in offending) but the legalisation of abortion has happened at very different times in different countries. There are two strong explanations forward in the meeting:

  1. The improved security of houses and cars have made them much more difficult to victimise. As burglary and vehicle crime often account for a large proportion of total crime, making these crimes harder will lead to a large overall crime reduction.

  2. Demographic change. The population in most western countries is getting older which will have lots of subtle side-effects that could lead to an overall crime reduction (not least that older people are les likely to commit crime).

There was also an interesting discussion about which groups of society have benefited from the crime drop, as the drop has not been consistent across different income groups. For example, it was suggested that low-affluence groups in the U.S. have not experienced a reduction in burglary, but this is largely because they have not shared the increases in house security.

On the whole it was a fascinating meeting and, on the whole, a positive one. Crime has dropped substantially in the last decade, this is good news!