American arrests are plummeting. But why? Here’s a closer look at the statistics – and it’s not what you think.
Written by Leonard Adam Sipes, Jr. It included editorial content which is the opinion of the writer. Editors Note: The data presented include well-documented facts via federal research coupled with opinions.
Are vastly declining arrests the result of intense criticism of law enforcement?
Are decreased arrests the reason for increasing urban violence?
Crime in America
I’m often asked why America has such an intractable problem with violence. Criminologists have tried to answer this question for decades without a definitive answer.
But it could be the lack of accountability for people who commit criminal acts. If you escape apprehension for murder or rape or robbery, what’s to stop you from committing more?
Big city mayors are calling for more arrests and a greater percentage of crimes solved yet both are declining. Those under correctional supervision are at record lows. Police response times are compromised.
Progressive critics will immediately launch into all the reasons why declining arrests and diminishing correctional populations are in society’s best interest. We are too heavy-handed, they say. Too many minorities are caught up in arrests and prosecution. Families are destroyed through incarceration. And yes, there are major groups and prominent people (i.e. Biden) calling for prison populations to be cut in half.
We have between 350-400 million firearms in private hands with minorities and women recently taking the lead. Why? Maybe it’s because they are no longer confident that the justice system can protect them. It’s the same with the explosion of personal and home security devices. We frame the discussion as “gun violence” when so many see firearm possession as a matter of necessary protection, and that includes criminals.
The article below focuses on arrests as one indicator of our ability to hold criminals accountable. Observers will state that the vast decreases in arrests or the correctional population were the results of COVID but the timelines in the charts below clearly show a pattern of declining arrests well before the 2020 pandemic.
The Decline In Overall Arrests From Statistica
There were over 4.53 million arrests for all offenses in the United States in 2021. This figure is a decrease from 1990 levels when the number of arrests was over 14.1 million.
The Bureau of Justice Statistics released its report Federal Justice Statistics, 2021. The study found that arrests by federal law enforcement agencies declined 35% from fiscal year (FY) 2020 to FY 2021, reaching the lowest level over the past two decades.
Federal arrests mostly declined since 2013 with COVID and immigration policies having an impact.
Juvenile arrests dropped to their lowest level in 40 years. Juvenile arrests overall fell by 58% between 2010 and 2019. In 2020, youth age 17 and younger accounted for just 7 percent of all arrests for violent crimes, down from 14 percent in 2010. That 10-year decline in youth arrests far exceeds the decline in adult arrests for violent crimes.
Police Initiated Contacts Fall By 9 Million
The portion of U.S. residents age 16 or older who had experienced contact with the police in the preceding 12 months declined from 26 percent in 2011 to 21 percent in 2015, the Bureau of Justice Statistics announced.
The number of residents who had experienced contact with police dropped by more than 9 million people, from 62.9 million to 53.5 million during the period.
From 2011 to 2015, the number of persons who had contact that was police-initiated fell by 8 million, and the number of persons who initiated contact with police fell by 6 million.
A 60 Percent Decline in Searches-Arrest
In 2020, the majority (75%) of U.S. residents whose most recent police contact was a street stop experienced no resulting enforcement action.
Residents who did experience an enforcement action most often received a warning (16%), while being searched or arrested (5%) or given a ticket (3%) was less common.
About 5% of residents were searched or arrested during their street stop in 2020, marking a nearly 60% decline from the 13% searched or arrested in 2018 (emphasis added).
There is considerable data indicating that police officers at all levels are making fewer arrests while urban violent crime increased. There are cities where violence is exploding.
Many suggest that we may have a crisis of confidence within law enforcement with tens of thousands leaving per the Bureau Of Labor Statistics and numerous media articles. The riots and protests of the past ten years (costing over two billion dollars) and the endless news reports (yes, some of it was justified) painting “all” cops as callous and brutal plus the lack of charges on the part of progressive prosecutors may have convinced police officers that arrests are not worth the trouble except when the evidence is abundant or a violent crime with cooperative witnesses.
Critics lambasted cops for progressive (proactive) policing. It seems that officers (and criminals) got the message.
There are surveys indicating that cops are reluctant to be proactive (i.e., a 60 percent decline in searches) or aggressive as to stops. Data from the US Department of Justice suggests that proactive policing reduces crime, more than any other modality, Police Strategies.
The crisis of confidence within American law enforcement is considerable. But with increasing violence in a wide variety of cities, we may have more on our hands than protests and a reexamination of police-community relations.
Violence destroys cities. Every city with a violence problem hemorrhages jobs, tourists, economic development, residents, and public confidence. There are a number of national articles about people leaving cities. “Over the past few weeks, as protesters have been met with tear gas and rubber bullets in cities across the country, some who had predicted an exodus grew more resolute.” Even The New York Times asked if New York City was still worth it,” The Atlantic.
No, not every interaction needs an arrest. No, not every arrest needs incarceration. Yes, we within the justice system need to rededicate ourselves to impartiality, respect, and service.
But the proper balance via accountability for violent criminals seems to have diminished considerably. Endlessly negative media, vastly fewer cops, longer response times, a reluctance to engage in proactive policing, and an unsupportive public may be the reasons.
About the writer: Leonard Adam Sipes. Jr.
Retired federal senior spokesperson. Thirty-five years of directing award-winning public relations for national and state criminal justice agencies. Interviewed multiple times by every national news outlet. Former Senior Specialist for Crime Prevention for the Department of Justice’s clearinghouse. Former Director of Information Services, National Crime Prevention Council. Former Adjunct Associate Professor of criminology and public affairs-University of Maryland, University College. Former advisor to presidential and gubernatorial campaigns. Former advisor to the “McGruff-Take a Bite Out of Crime” national media campaign. Certificate of Advanced Study-Johns Hopkins University. Former police officer. Aspiring drummer.
Author of ”Success With The Media: Everything You Need To Survive Reporters and Your Organization” available at Amazon and additional booksellers.
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