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Violent crimes up 17% in 2011

The Bureau of Justice Statistics' National Crime Victimization Survey includes reported and unreported rapes, robberies and assaults after historically low numbers in 2010. Experts say the one-year fluctuation could be a fluke.

October 17, 2012|By Danielle Ryan, Washington Bureau
  • A man is arrested on charges of assault with a deadly weapon on allegations that he threw rocks at police in Anaheim.
A man is arrested on charges of assault with a deadly weapon on allegations… (Los Angeles Times )

WASHINGTON — The number of violent crimes in the United States rose by 17% in 2011, the first year-to-year increase since 1993, according to a report released Wednesday by the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

But the report said that the jump was more a matter of returning to the norm after historically low numbers in 2010. In 2010, incidents of violent crime experienced an unexpected double-digit drop of 13%.

The National Crime Victimization Survey measures rape or sexual assault, robbery, and aggravated and simple assault. The number of aggravated or simple assaults rose from 4 million in 2010 to 5 million in 2011, a 22% increase, accounting for most of the rise in violent crime.

Property crime was also up, the first increase in a decade. The number of property crimes rose from 15.4 million in 2010 to 17 million in 2011, an 11% increase.

Property crime includes burglary and theft, including motor vehicle theft. Home burglary incidents rose from 3.2 million to 3.6 million, an increase of 14%. Incidents of theft rose from 11.6 million to 12.8 million, an increase of 10%.

The statistics appear alarming at first glance, but experts warn against forecasting future trends based on what could be a one-year fluctuation.

"One-year fluctuations don't tell us much, if anything at all," said Robert Huckabee, associate professor of criminology at Indiana State University. "I say let's see where things go over the next 10-15 years."

Criminologists have long sought to explain variations in crime rates and opinions vary widely, Huckabee said.

"Some say that crime has been down because of more aggressive or better-quality police activity," he said. "Some say it's related to demographics — fewer males in the 18- [to] 30-year-old group."

But Huckabee said a plausible explanation for the variation was difficult to find.

Eric Baumer, professor of criminology at Florida State University, said that although the numbers might reflect the beginning of a meaningful break in the long-term decline, he was skeptical of that conclusion.

"It appears that the 2010 estimates are based on smaller sample sizes," Baumer said, noting previous budget cuts to data collection for the crime victimization survey.

"The 2011 data are based on larger samples … so it seems plausible that some of the reported change could be due to the differences in sampling across the two years," he suggested.

Charles Wellford, chairman of the department of criminology and criminal justice at the University of Maryland, said that the public thought of violent crime as "murder, rape, robbery and serious assault."

But "simple assault," which the crime victimization survey takes into account, can refer to instances in which "two people get into an argument, things escalate, and one of them calls the police. No one is injured and no weapon is involved," Wellford said.

There was no significant change in the number of rapes or sexual assaults and robberies. Violent crimes experienced by whites, Latinos, younger people and men accounted for the majority of the increase.

The crime victimization survey figures are considered the most comprehensive because they count reported crimes as well as crimes that are never reported to the police. In 2011, 49% of violent victimizations and 37% of property victimizations were reported to police. Historically, less than 50% of all violent crime is reported.

danielle.ryan@latimes.com

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