Sunday, January 14, 2007

Crime in the UK versus Crime in the US

There is a discussion going on about gun control and the right to defend yourself over at A Tangled Web. Since my figures on crime in the UK versus crime in the US are couple of years old, I thought I would take a look at the currently available statistics.

The public misconception is that the UK is a safe country and the US violent, but the truth is just the opposite. Depending on which numbers you choose, the violent crime rate in the UK is five times higher than the rate in the US.

[Update - July 2, 2009: People still don't like these statistics, so here is the latest bunch courtesy of the EU and the UN, Naming Britain the most violent country in Europe, with violent crime rates ahead of the US and South Africa.]

[Update - August 20, 2007: Lots of people don't like my conclusions in the post. Fair enough, you don' have to. Here are some other statistics - from the Times Online and the Independent, since you question the other sources here - that you might want to look at. And if you really don't believe the statistics below, point to better statistics.]

British FlagOn the east side of the Atlantic, we have the British Home Office and the British Crime Survey for 2005/2006. The UK does not use a calendar-year reporting scheme, but reports on a September-to-September time-frame. (These figures do NOT represent two years' worth of data.) The first problem is that there appear to be two separate figures for the crime rate. If we look at the tables supporting Chapter 5, on Violent Crime, (this is an Excel Workbook) we are told that there was a total of 2,420,000 violent crimes in the time-frame covered by the report. If we take the word of the CIA Factbook the UK had a population of 60,609,153 (July 2006 est.) This gives a rate of violent crime per 100,000 inhabitants as 3992.8. However in Chapter 7, (Table 7a) of the BCS, the total violent crime rate per 1000 inhabitants is listed as 23, which is equivalent to 2300 per 100,000 inhabitants. Even this lower number is an astonishing figure when compared to the US data.

US FlagOn the west side of the Atlantic we have the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Uniform Crime Report for 2005. (2005 is the last year for which the data are not preliminary.) In table 1, we see that in 2005, the violent crime rate per 100,000 inhabitants was 469.2.

I recently broke out some of the state-by-state numbers. I repeat them here.

StateViolent Crime Rate
per 100,0000
murder rate per
South Dakota 175.7 2.3
California 526.3 6.9
New York 445.8 4.5
Massachusetts 456.9 2.7
Wisconsin 241.5 3.5
Illinois * 551 6.0
District of Columbia 1459.0 35.4
* Illinois doesn't like to present data to the FBI for inclusion in the Uniform Crime Report. So it is hard to know if the figures for Illinois are low or high. (And yes I know, D.C. is not a state.)

The UK numbers make Washington, D.C. look good.

But then in The Sun Online, in an article: 600 kids mugged each term day we find that the UK numbers do not include crimes against anyone under the age of 16.
Yet the attacks are not included in the Government’s key measure of crime, which IGNORES offences on under-16s. [emphasis in the original]
This ignoring of inconvenient facts is not surprising, given that a 2002 study found that as many as 11 million crimes (some serious) were omitted from the British government's official figures. While some reforms have been enacted, cooking the books seems to still be taking place. (Those 600 muggings per day amount to 113,000 additional crimes every year.)

An interesting comparison of two major metropolitan centers, shows just how far the UK has fallen.
  • New York has a population of 8 million, London 7 million
  • London's crime rate is about 7 times that of New York
  • Police budgets are comparable
  • New York has 40% more cops on the beat

All of this is true while the perception that the UK is a safe society and the US is the violent, wild west remains.


the eternal optimist said...

This is a sobering analysis. Thanks for the effort in collecting and comparing the statistics.

the eternal optimist said...

This is a sobering analysis. Thanks for collecting the statistics - the article is very useful.

Steve said...

The way crime statistics are collected and reported differ in different countries, so you can't perform like-for-like comparisons like this. The US reported violent crime rate, for instance, only includes aggravated assault, and not the less serious (but far more numerous) forms of assault.

Zendo Deb said...

This isn't the only post I have on this topic.

The UN, the EU have repeatedly shown the UK to be more violent than the US.

The UK figures don't include any crimes where the victim is under 15.

The UK figures have been repeatedly questioned (by folks in the UK) for being white-washed.

Rape is so rarely prosecuted and even more rarely is a conviction obtained that there are serious questions about whether or not 50% of all rapes are even reported.

See UK Crime for more.

Maya said...

Comparing the US' most well known city to the most well known city in the UK isn't exactly a reasonable point of comparison. The US population is far larger, and when you look at cities like New Orleans or St. Louis you get a very different picture. For example :

Zendo Deb said...

Yeah, the US population is larger. Which is why most comparisons are on per-capita basis. (Which the UK loses.)

And comparing NY and London is reasonable, because they are roughly the same size.

Anti-gun people like to compare Seattle, WA and Vancouver, BC. But demographically they aren't similar.

If you compare Seattle, WA and Milwaukee, WI you get a different picture. Almost exactly the same population. Similar demographics in terms of income, etc. Seattle has a much lower rate of violent crime than Milwaukee. Washington state has a long history of concealed carry, while Wisconsin still denies the right of self-defense.

The comparison of London and NY: They are similar in size, they have a similar-sized police force. NY has more cops on the street while London has more clerks and paper-pushers.

Zendo Deb said...

You also get a different picture if you compare north and south. There is more crime in the south, because even the criminals stay home when it is 20 degrees below zero. (Which it often is in places like Chicago.)

When Chicago was murder capital of America, the police and the papers used to track the weather in the late winter, knowing that crime would rise as the temperature rose.

Demographics also matter. There is more crime in poor areas. Comparing New Orleans with London is a bit disingenuous.

Also, you should follow the links in the Updates. To get a look at the UK versus other European countries as well.

Zendo Deb said...

Then there is the 2002 study (link in the original) that found the Brits were "cooking the books" to make themselves (Scotland Yard and the current administration) look better.

And ignoring crimes against anyone under 16, is inexcusable. Especially when you consider that the 16-20 age group is one of the most victimized. (Do you think the 15-year-old cohort lives a crime-free existence?) Of course it does make the numbers look better.

So as bad as the statistics are, for the UK, there isn't even much hope that they are telling the whole story. How much has been swept under the rug?