Violent Crime in the U.S.
Violent crime is defined by the United States Justice Department as the use or threat of force while committing a murder, rape, robbery, or aggravated assault. Detailed crime data concerning all types of violent offenses is provided. Research data and theoretical analysis about murder is considered along with a brief review of the relationship of organized crime and gang violence to the overall rate of violent crime in the United States.
Keywords Bribery; Carjacking; Disposition; Negligence; Neonaticide; Rationalizations; Turf
Violent Crime in the United States
What is Violent Crime?
Violent crime is defined in the Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program of the United States Department of Justice as involving "force or the threat of force" while committing one of four offenses: murder or non-negligent manslaughter, rape, robbery, or aggravated assault (United States Department of Justice, 2007f). The classification of all of the Justice Department crime data is based upon the decisions of police investigators rather than upon any final determination by a coroner, court, or other judicial body. State by state data is available from the Department of Justice, as well as the Kaiser Family Foundation.
According to the Encarta Dictionary, murder is defined as "the crime of killing another person deliberately and not in self-defense or with any other extenuating circumstances recognized by law" (2007). Manslaughter is distinct from murder in that manslaughter is the unlawful killing of one person by another without intention or advance planning. Negligence entails failing to use a proper level of care, so accidents that result in death do not come under the governmental definitions of violent crime. In summary, then, governmental data on murder does not include deaths caused by negligence, suicide, accidents, justifiable homicide (such as a police officer killing a felon in the line of duty), or attempts to commit murder (United States Department of Justice, 2007d). Rape is defined as non-consensual sexual intercourse, and robbery is the illegal taking of money or property belonging to another. Keep in mind that in both of these offenses violence or the threat of violence is a necessary component of the crime. Similarly, while simple assault involves a physical attack, aggravated assault involves a higher level of violence before it is categorized as a violent crime.
In 2012, the United States Department of Justice estimated that 1,214,462 violent crimes occurred in the United States, or 386.9 violent crimes per 100,000 inhabitants, down from 473.5 violent crimes per 100,000 inhabitants in 2007. Although there was a slight 1.1 percent increase in murder and non-negligent manslaughter and 0.7 percent increase in the number of total violent crimes when 2012 data was compared with data from 2011, national crime rates had still fallen by more than 12 percent over the previous ten years. The 2012 estimated violent crime total was 12.9 percent lower than the 2008 level and 12.2 percent below the 2003 level (United States Department of Justice, 2013).
According to the 2012 government data, aggravated assault accounted for 62.6 percent of violent crime in our nation, or 242.3 offenses per 100,000 individuals. In 21.8 percent of these situations, firearms were used in the commission of the crime, a slight decrease from previous years.
Robbery accounted for 29.2 percent of all violent crimes, and guns were used in 41 percent of these offenses. The most common locations for acts of robbery were streets and highways (43.5 percent), while only 16.9 percent of the offenses occurred in the victim's home. On average, the stolen property value per crime was $1,167 dollars, while bank robberies accounted for 1.9 percent of the crime and averaged $3,810 per offense. Total loss estimates for the year 2006, however, were a staggering $414 million (United States Department of Justice, 2013).
Forcible rape accounted for 6.9 percent of all violent crime, or 52.9 offenses per 100,000 female inhabitants. Included in these figures are each victim of a "forcible rape, attempted forcible rape, or assault with intent to rape" (United States Department of Justice, 2013). Statutory rape, defined as sex with a minor, is not included in the data unless force was used in the commission of the crime. Interestingly, the definitions used by the Department of Justice concerning forcible rape use the word "female." Notations, however, disclose that "sexual attacks on males are counted as aggravated assaults or sex offenses, depending on the circumstances and the extent of any injuries" (United States Department of Justice, 2013).
Although a detailed analysis of the causes of sexual offending is beyond the scope of this article, criminologists Tony Ward and Anthony Beech provide a useful integrated theory that includes genetic predisposition; adverse developmental experiences (such as child abuse and rejection); psychological dispositions/trait factors (interpersonal problems, mental disorders); social and cultural structures and process (sexism, masculinity, and other learned behaviors); and contextual factors (such as stress or intoxication) (2008). While their theoretical framework is related to sexual offending exclusively, it is useful in considering the development of theories of violent crime in general.
Finally, an estimated 14,827 people were murdered in the United States in 2012. Murder was the least common violent crime, making up only 1.2 percent of the overall violent crime, or 4.7 murders per 100,000 inhabitants. Firearms played a role in 69.3 percent of the cases. Handguns alone accounted for 71.9 percent of all firearm-related deaths. Approximately 77.7 percent of all murder victims were male, and more than 90 percent of the known offenders were male as well. Most of the offenders were individuals eighteen years of age or older. Just over 90 percent of female victims were killed by male offenders. Nearly half (44 percent) of all murder victims were African American, and in most of these murders the victims were killed by African American assailants. White deaths accounted for 51.9 percent of the total murder victims, with white offenders killing white victims at a rate of more than 83 percent overall (United States Department of Justice, 2013).
With the homicides in which the relationship between the victim and the offender was known, stranger murders accounted for 12.4 percent of these killings. In 13.5 percent of cases, the victim was killed by a family member. Of these totals, 37.5 percent of women were murdered by their husbands or boyfriends. Interpersonal arguments, including those related to sexual intimacy, accounted for 41.8 percent of the 2012 murders, while 23.1 percent of victims were killed during the course of some related felony such as robbery or rape (United States Department of Justice, 2013).
How does Violent Crime Occur?
In this book on homicide in Australia, When Men Kill, Kenneth Polk (1994) offers an excellent summary of crime statistics from the United States, along with contemporary theoretical analysis. In his summary of studies by Wolfgang (1958), Wallace (1986), and Daly and Wilson (1988), for example, a picture of emerges of a male offender, over the age of twenty-five, who is from a poor economic background and who has a 54 percent chance of being unemployed.
Violence often arises out of sexual intimacy, and in Polk's study about 23 percent of the murders committed in Victoria, Australia between 1985 and 1989 involved "sexual ownership" and control issues. The first type of sexual ownership and control was violence triggered by jealousy or the threat of separation from a sexual partner. Four percent of these murders were of perceived rivals, while the majority involved the murder of a current or former sexual partner. In both of these instances, numerous acts of physical assault and threats usually preceded the actual murder, and the use of temporary restraining orders and police interventions was ineffective (Polk, 1994). The second type of sexual partner murders involved suicidal thinking and depression on the part of the offender, whose issues of ownership of and control over his or her sexual partner led to the assumption that the partner would be better off dead too. Often, these murderers were older and in failing health, but younger killers facing medical...
(The entire section is 3750 words.)