Misguided Assumptions About Crime and Punishment

Introduction: Americans’ Fear of Crime

Despite the gradual decrease in crime rates in America since the early 1990s, Americans remain highly insecure (Koerth and Thomson-DeVeaux). Their fear of crime is driven by an array of issues, including their overestimation of the likelihood of a crime occurring. For instance, while carjacking is a rare occurrence, the fear makes people paranoid to the point of assuming it is a highly regular issue.

Secondly, media and entertainment create false narratives about crime, which affects how Americans perceive it. In particular, new agencies give a lot of coverage to crime which heightens the sense of insecurity. In addition, politicians influence how crime is viewed in society as they tend to use it as a campaign agenda (Koerth and Thomson-DeVeaux). By telling people how safe they will be under their leadership, politicians use crime to garner political mileage. Since there is no limit as to how safe a person should feel, it is possible that most people use their fear to express the need for more crime prevention measures to be adopted.

There is sufficient evidence to suggest that crime data reports are inaccurate, especially those compiled by the Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program under the umbrella of the FBI. As a result, Americans act with skepticism when dealing with crime data as the main source of informing their safety. Americans’ fear of crime is not necessarily a negative concept as it breeds much safer neighborhoods.

Treating crime with skepticism implies that a person is least likely to be a criminal, and that may be the source of the reduction in crime rates since the early 1990s. Similarly, increased fear of being a victim of a crime informs the paranoia Americans feel towards crime. The fear of being used as a statistic for a serious crime such as murder or homicide makes most people feel unsafe even when the rate of crime is gradually reducing. Lastly, rich people would always take precautionary measures when protecting their wealth, including being more fearful about their safety.

Social Perceptions and Fallacies

Social perceptions and fallacies of crime in the US are precursors to how crime is dealt with in the country. Crime is believed to be only committed by certain individuals, whereby criminals are separate from law-abiding citizens. Similarly, there is a common perception that people of a given ethnicity are more likely to be criminals, and this is evidenced by the mistreatment of African-Americans by law enforcement personnel (Koerth and Thomson-DeVeaux).

There is the belief that crime is only restricted to certain geographical areas. For instance, a prevailing fallacy is that cities are unsafe compared to suburbs. Lastly, given the popularity of crime in the entertainment industry, the belief that serial killers account for most of the murders recorded is misguided, as murder is committed by persons of different personalities and characteristics.

A common fallacy about the crime is that drug addiction increases the rate of crime. However, the truth is that both crime and drug abuse occur simultaneously, and they support each other. It is misguided to think that white-collar crimes are non-violent. In contrast, the fear of being exposed could push fraudsters into violent actions such as murder which negates the popular belief of white crimes being non-violent (Brody and Kiehl 355).

While police have an enormous amount of data to track down members of the public, such information can only be retrieved and used whenever a crime has occurred, and finding the criminal requires information gathering. Lastly, while there are many deterrents to crime, such as fines and imprisonment, they do not necessarily deter crime. Approximately 85% of persons who are released from prison get rearrested (Kelly). However, increasing the perception that a criminal is likely to be arrested acts as a minor crime deterrent.

Difficulty in Measuring Crime

Measuring crime is made difficult because of the need for self-reporting of crimes. As of 2019, only 42% of violent crimes were reported (Martinez). Law enforcement institutions largely rely on offenders to report crimes, and this might not occur with every instance of crime. As a result, crime data may be flawed when victims choose not to report offenses. Eventually, crime measurement suffers from its poor data collection mechanisms.

Technological advancements have introduced newer crimes that are not easily captured in crime measurement techniques. Until proper mechanisms of collecting data for new types of crime, difficulties in accurately measuring crime will persist. Since the discretion of reporting a crime lies with the victim, their categorization of a certain act as a crime or not determines whether they will report it or not. Eventually, crime data collection is compromised.

FBI Crime Measurement

All crime data collection efforts are centralized within the FBI under the Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program (Regoli). The UCR database is used by criminologist students, courts, and law enforcement entities. More than 18,000 institutions across the country collect and collate their information to the UCR for centralization and use by others. Such centralization is necessary as it informs policy and decision-making processes.

Flaws of FBI Crime Measurement

Crime data from the FBI is inaccurate as it depends on the willingness of victims to report their occurrence. Unless a person considers an action done to them a crime, they do not report it. Similarly, the hierarchical system only recognizes certain crimes and ignores others. For instance, when a person is charged with carjacking and rape, the hierarchical system will only recognize rape since it is the most serious crime in the hierarchical system.

The UCR has been accused of handling crime data poorly. The UCR database only records a crime and not the criminal, takes a lot of time to be updated, relies on the trustworthiness of victims, and fails to weed out errors in its data. The confounding effect of all these factors is that the crime data from the FBI is highly inaccurate.


In conclusion, as the crime rate in America gradually reduces, the fear of crime among the citizens increases. Such a discrepancy is affected by an array of factors, including political discourse and media coverage. The problem is worsened by the difficulty associated with the collection of crime data. At the center of the process is the FBI, whose efforts are compromised by their data collection and handling techniques.

Works Cited

Brody, Richard G., and Kent A. Kiehl. “From white‐collar crime to red‐collar crime.” Journal of Financial Crime, vol. 17, no. 3, 2010, pp. 351-364.

Hutson, Matthew. “The Trouble with Crime Statistics.” The New Yorker, 2020. Web.

Kelly, William. “Our Misguided Assumptions About Crime and Punishment.” Psychology Today, 2018. Web.

Koerth, Maggie, and Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux. “Many Americans Are Convinced Crime Is Rising In The U.S. They’re Wrong.” FiveThirtyEight, 2020. Web.

Martinez, Yolanda. “How Hard is It to Count Violent Crimes?” The Marshall Project, 2017. Web.

Regoli, Natalie. “13 Major Pros and Cons of the Uniform Crime Report.” ConnectUS, 2019. Web.

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LawBirdie. (2023, July 5). Misguided Assumptions About Crime and Punishment. Retrieved from https://lawbirdie.com/misguided-assumptions-about-crime-and-punishment/


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1. LawBirdie. "Misguided Assumptions About Crime and Punishment." July 5, 2023. https://lawbirdie.com/misguided-assumptions-about-crime-and-punishment/.


LawBirdie. "Misguided Assumptions About Crime and Punishment." July 5, 2023. https://lawbirdie.com/misguided-assumptions-about-crime-and-punishment/.