WASHINGTON - Nearly half the violent crimes committed in the United States in 2000 were reported to police, a rise in notification rates that began in the 1990s as the overall crime rate declined, the Justice Department said yesterday.
A study released by the department's Bureau of Justice Statistics found that 49 percent of an estimated 6.2 million rapes, armed robberies and assaults across the United States were reported to police in 2000. An overall average of about 43 percent of the crimes committed between 1992 and 1999 were reported to authorities, the agency said.
The findings are part of the National Crime Victimization Survey, which collects data on nonfatal crimes against individuals age 12 or older from a sample of U.S. households. The survey asks participants about their personal experiences with crime and whether they followed up with law-enforcement agencies.
The report's authors did not attempt to explain the growth in crime reporting, although some experts have suggested it may be an offshoot of the lowering crime rate, with victims feeling less helpless and more confident about the abilities of law enforcement to do its job.
Historically, most crimes have not been reported to police, for reasons including mistrust of authorities, fear of retaliation and shame or stigma.
"What seems to have happened is that, as the crime rate has dropped, people - particularly in minority communities - have been disabused of the idea of victimization as a way of life," Iain Murray, a Washington-area statistician, said in a 2001 study of crime rates. "They have begun to realize that police can do something about the crime that blights their neighborhoods. Therefore, they report more crimes."
Thus, even as the number of actual crimes is dropping, the percentage of those crimes that are reported to police is going up. "Less crime leads to more complaints about the crime that does happen," Murray found.
Serious violent crime and aggravated assault against black victims was reported in higher percentages than comparable crimes against white victims, the justice statistics unit found. Overall, violence against blacks was reported at a rate of 49 percent, compared with 42 percent for whites and 40 percent for Asians, according to the study.
Victims themselves reported about half of the violent crimes brought to police attention; relatives, bystanders and officials, including law-enforcement officers, reported the rest. Violent crime was most often reported because the victim wanted to "prevent future violence," "stop the offender" or "protect others"; it was most often not reported when the victim felt the crime was a "private or personal matter" or "not important enough," according to the study.
Women were more likely to report violence than men, the authors found, and the elderly were more likely to call the police than youths.
Whether the trend of higher reporting continues may be tested soon. The FBI said last fall that major crime in the United States rose for the first time in a decade.
Richard B. Schmitt is a reporter for the Los Angeles Times, a Tribune Publishing newspaper.