Government reports - and I read an ample amount - are often like my sophomore calculus class. I managed to make it through them but I'm not sure what I learned when I'm finished. A perfect example is a lengthy and well-documented crime report released this week by the U. S. Department of Justice. A brief capsule of the report runs 15 pages. The report itself took enough paper to claim a small forest.
But here's the bottom line - I think. Overall crime is down from two years ago and significantly down from 30 years ago when the first National Crime Victimization Survey was conducted.
That's the good news. The bad news however is that 23 million Americans sustained some form of violent crime or property crime last year. The survey is quick to point out this number marks a decline in the past 10 years and a reduction of almost half from 1973.
But then the report says - it's here in black and white - that nearly half of the crimes of this nature are not reported to police officials. So you figure that one out on your own because I don't have a clue.
That being what it is, there were still 23 million residents who were crime victims last year. I don't know if there is some number out there that we could call an "acceptable" crime rate, but 23 million seems dramatically sad to me.
If you believe the statistics, then the decrease over the past three decades is due to one reason and one reason only.
I am firmly convinced that the decline is a result of the get-tough policy toward criminals that has emerged in that time period. Mandatory sentencing, three-strike provisions and other solutions have clearly sent a signal that crime does not pay. And some of those repeat offenders are in jail and not out in society to commit their crimes again and again.
It would take far too long and far too much space to try and explain the entire crime survey. And, to me at least, much of it is useless or either just common sense, i.e. most murder victims are male, most murder victims know their killers, etc. These statistics are so common that school kids can recite them by now.
So until proven otherwise, let's take this survey for what it's worth. The survey involves thousands and thousands of people and numbers and statistics of all kinds. It says that crime is down on a per capita basis and it says that the poor are the victims of crime more often than the affluent. It says crime is up slightly in some areas and down in others.
And to me at least, it offers little new information.
But it does illustrate one fact that cannot be ignored. When we truly make criminals pay for their actions, less crimes are committed. It shouldn't take an expensive and exhaustive survey to teach us that lesson but if that's what it takes, then we'll accept the survey and the corresponding results.