current affairs

Why don’t we believe the crime rates?

Earlier this week I wrote about the number of armed conflicts in the world, and how it has fallen away steeply since the early nineties. The world is now a much less violent place. The same is true of crime. In many developed countries, crime rates have been in a steady decline. In Britain, crime is lower now than it has been for 30 years.

The figures are pretty robust. In Britain we count recorded crimes in police statistics, but we also survey people on their experiences of crime to try and pick up unreported little incidents. Here’s what the figures show:

Over the last ten years, there has been a gentle but steady fall in crime. The fall actually begins further back, with the number of incidents peaking around 1995. Between 1995 and 2005, crime fell by 40%, and our streets are safer now than they have been at any point in my lifetime.

Most of us, it seems, are unaware of this. When asked whether they thought crime was getting better or worse, most Britons say it is getting worse. Here are the ‘perception of crime’ figures, where people are asked if there is more crime than two years ago. Most of us, it would seem, think things are generally improving in our local area but that the country as a whole is going to pot.

The majority of the country is missing out on some very good news. It’s a similar situation in the US – see perception of crime, and actual crime.

Why might this be? Presumably a large part of it is that the newspapers love a bad news story a whole lot more than a good news story. There is always going to be a bias towards drama, and that’s psychology as well as media sensationalism. Crime stories are full of outrage, violence and human tragedy. They stir our emotions and burn their images into our minds. The latest crime figures, not so much. They’re abstract, mathematical, and announced by a civil servant. It’s hardly surprising that the big picture gets lost amongst all the real-life incidents.

Unfortunately, there are consequences to this. If we’re convinced that the world is becoming more dangerous, we’re less likely to trust our neighbours, and that’s not good for community. Children don’t get to play outside. We live in fear when we don’t need to.

What do we do about it? I’m not sure. Perhaps we could start by watching a little less television.


  1. Totally agree with this article. I am, frankly, finding myself really worn down by the constant ‘things are so bad’ that I keep hearng around me. I am finding tht I wake up full of joy, but I am gradually drained of energy and joy as my day goes on.

    Wondering though, whether we need to do more than just turn off the news. I wonder whether we don’t acutually need to produce ‘Counter-tabloids’ or something of the sort that carry only good news stories as headlines.

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