At a recent family picnic, one of our cousins started talking about crime. She said she didn't think crime was any worse today than it was 40 years ago. I vehemently stood up to that remark and when I got home, made it my mission to prove that what she said wasn't right.
I knew I could get factual information from the Internet. What I share here came from reputable statistics (www.disastercenter.com/crime/uscrime.htm), not hearsay or Huffington Post.
First of all, you need to know that the population in America in 1970 was a bit more 203 million. That's important because when statisticians want to qualify crime in such a way that a measurement can be applied across the total population, they will say, for example, ''There were 43 violent crimes per 100 thousand people in the U.S. and 29 violent crimes per 100 thousand in Warren, Ohio.'' That would show us that we have 33 percent fewer violent crimes here than the national average.
Keep in mind that the following statistics are for the United States at large, not Warren specifically.
So, here goes:
In 1970 when the U.S. population was at 203 million, crime rate totals were as follows: murders, 16,000; robberies, 350,000; assaults, 335,000; burglaries, 2.2 million; larceny theft, 4.3 million; vehicle theft, 928,000.
In 2010, the population was 309 million, an increase over 1970. The numbers for that year read: Murders, 15,000; robberies, 370,000; assaults, 782,000; burglaries, 2.1 million; larceny theft, 6.2 million; and vehicle theft, 740,000.
Only two categories kept pace with the increase in population: assaults and larceny thefts. Robberies only increased by a mild 5 percent.
The good news is that burglaries decreased by 2 percent; vehicle theft decreased by 21 percent and murder decreased by 6 percent overall. While two categories remained about the same per capita, the rest showed a significant decrease per 100,000 people.
It's interesting to note that for some reason, when the population hit the 250 million to 260 million mark in 1991-1993, crime rates hit an all-time high, rising as much as 25 to 50 percent over 1970 and sometimes twice as high as the 2010 numbers showed.
After gathering the information, I had to admit that because the numbers don't lie, my initial perception of more crime now was somewhat inaccurate. Overall, crime is not worse now than it was 40 years ago. In fact, when you view the big picture, except for assaults and larceny thefts, the crime rate is significantly less per capita than it was in 1970.
Cousin Phil, I apologize.
OK, so if crime is actually somewhat less than it was 40 years ago, then why do we have the sense that we are worse off when it comes to the perceived fearsome actions of those around us?
Frankly, I doubt you'll be shocked by what I say next.
In looking for a reason for our angst, I watched Youngstown, Cleveland and national news at various times during the day. What I found was that typically every broadcast had one thing in common: Each led off with their most shocking story.
Sickening stories about children always topped the list when available. Crimes against women and minorities were followed by crimes committed using weapons to rob and burgle or assault individuals. Actually, any crime committed with a weapon, especially a gun, was meat for the table. A good crowd melee made its way into the middle when available. And don't forget the tragic accidents - they get big play and replay.
Even on Saturday morning, when audiences tune in for lighter fare, one program out of Cleveland spent at least the first 15 minutes grinding out all the bad news from the entire week's library of bad news. Talk about your Debbie Downer moments. Ouch and ouch.
What's behind this trend that overwhelms us with the sense that crime has increased exponentially? I think there's an obvious reason and a not so obvious reason. Come back in two weeks to find out what they are. ...
Jagunic is a Cortland resident. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org