Although public concern about crime seems to have receded somewhat in recent years, it still ranks fairly highly among the things that Americans care most about.
For example, over most of the past decade and a half, a significant majority of Americans, when asked whether crime rates in the U.S. had increased or decreased over the previous year, believed it had increased (scroll about 2/3 of the way down the linked page to see the data).
The problem is that this just isn’t true. Property crime rates have dropped steadily since measurement began in 1973. Violent crime rates stayed roughly level from 1973 through 1994, and have dropped like a stone since. Even the murder rate–a reasonably reliable proxy for levels of violent crime—is now at levels not seen since the mid-1960s.
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I’m not sure what this proves, exactly, except this: when deciding which of society’s problems are most urgent, it’s every bit as important to find out what’s actually going on as it is to find out what people think is going on.