Crime can be defined as an act that is forbidden by law and can be punished by an authority charged with the enforcement of that law.
Crime statistics for the United States are compiled and published by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in form of the annual Uniform Crime Reports, which include all offenses that have been reported to the police. The FBI classifies major felonies into two main categories: Violent crime, including murder and criminal homicide, forcible rape, aggravated assault, and robbery; and property crime, including burglary, arson, larceny/theft, and motor-vehicle theft.
The most commonly used crime statistic is the so called crime rate which, following the FBI’s definition, measures reported crimes per 100,000 people. The U.S. crime rate for violent crimes
was 429.4 offenses per 100,000 inhabitants in 2009, which represents the lowest level since the 1970s. After soaring to record highs in the 1980s, the crime rate has been constantly decreasing since the early 1990s. The same holds for the U.S. property crime rate
which was at 3,036 in 2009, down from 5,073 in 1990. The FBI also reports crime rates for different subcategories, the most-cited one being the murder/homicide rate. With five murders per 100,000 people, the murder/homicide rate in the United States
reached the lowest level since 1964 in 2009. Compared with other highly developed countries, the murder rate in the U.S. is still high though, with China
and most European countries reporting 0.5 to 1.5 murders per 100,000 people. The FBI also reports crime clearance statistics
, which state that 63.6 percent of all murder cases in the United States in 2008 were solved.
Stating a uniform crime rate for a country as big as the United States is difficult as the crime rate greatly varies across different states and areas. That is why the FBI also publishes crime statistics for every single U.S. State
. Maine had the lowest violent crime rate in 2009 with only 120 offenses per 100,000 inhabitants. The District of Columbia reported the highest violent crime rate with 1,346 cases per 100,000 people.
A form of crime that has surfaced in the last decade is Internet or cyber crime. According to data from the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3)
, the number of complaints from victims of cyber crime has increased from 16,838 in 2000 to 303,809 in 2010. The most reported offenses were non-delivery of payment or merchandise, FBI-related scams and identity theft.
Photo: istockphoto.com / alexraths