The Fictitious Crime Wave

Once again this election season, many candidates for office are TRUMPeting the alarm over the tremendous “crime wave” sweeping the country, most specifically regarding the murder rate. Since these politicians rarely, if ever, provide any actual data or, more importantly, perspective to accompany these dire warnings, I decided to look up some actual figures.


The chart above shows the “murder and nonnegligent manslaughter rate” per 100,000 US population for the past twenty years as reported by the FBI (FBI Crime Statistics). The chart shows a steady decline in the rate, followed by an uptick in 2015. Despite this uptick, the 2015 rate is still 34% lower than the rate reported in 1996. While I would certainly agree that any increase in the rate is a bad thing, I would hardly describe the situation as apocalyptic.

For a bit of perspective, the chart also shows the rate of US traffic fatalities over the same period, as reported by Wikipedia (Traffic Fatalities). Interestingly, the traffic fatality data show a very similar pattern of general decline and a slight uptick in 2015. The rate of traffic fatalities has remained between 2.1 and 2.7 times greater than the murder/manslaughter rate over the entire 20-year period. The uptick in traffic fatalities in 2015 amounted to an increase of 2417 deaths, whereas the uptick in murder/manslaughter amounted to an increase of 1532 deaths. Yet, I have seen very few reports of politicians invoking an urgent need for crackdowns on speeding, drunk driving, or other causes of the traffic fatality increase.

This interesting comparison naturally triggers one of those mysterious musings I am prone to: “I wonder why people are so much more frightened of murder than of traffic fatalities?” I don’t feel qualified to answer the question, but I certainly find it interesting.

Like so many others, I love to read mysteries. I’m even trying my hand at writing some (see Books). In the vast majority of the mystery books I have read, as well as in the books I have written, at least one person is murdered, leading the protagonists to try to solve the associated mystery. I doubt that I would find it as interesting to read books about forensic car crash investigators. And, with so many new mystery books coming out each year, many featuring multiple homicides, many featuring lovable protagonists who routinely solve murder after murder after murder in every conceivable locale and under every conceivable circumstance, there really is a crime wave out there! But let’s all remember, it’s a fictional crime wave. I can only hope our politicians and their followers are able to tell the difference between fiction and reality.

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