The Nameless Horror

Facts & figures: violent crime in the US and UK

I’ve seen a couple of mentions in the wake of Lee Rigby’s murder, just as I saw rather more in the wake of Newtown, of the comparable rates of murder, violent crime, and knife crime in the US and UK, most of them advocating the carrying of more weapons by more people. (“A knife crime occurs every 28 minutes in the UK” via Facebook, for instance.)

With the aim of reducing my retyping overhead, here are some figures and some maths, all culled from the FBI’s most recent annual Uniform Crime Report (2011) and the Office Of National Statistics/Home Office here in the UK (strictly, England & Wales; Scotland and NI have their own legal/reporting systems). The ONS goes up to 2012 at the link, but the FBI is lagging behind - at the time of writing, only the semiannual report for 2012 is up - so I’ve used the 2011 ONS data (alternate link with easy-to-find ONS data by year is here.

Broad points:

  • The annual number of murders in England & Wales is roughly on a par with (slightly higher at ~600 per year compared to ~500-550 per year) the annual number of murders in Louisiana alone.

  • Knives are used in 16.3% of homicides in the US (2010 figures), while guns are used in 67.7%. Knives are used in 35.9% of homicides in the UK.

  • You are twice as likely to be killed with a knife in the US than you are in the UK. (~0.76 knife murders per 100k US, ~0.38 per 100k UK.)

  • You are roughly 4.5 times as likely to be murdered with anything in the US than in the UK (~14,000 murders pa US, ~600 pa UK; both on downward trend over time. UK figures low enough that year-on-year fluctuations are hard to label as significant or not; 2011’s was 638, 2012’s was 551).

  • You are less likely to be the victim of property crime in the UK. (~2,900 per 100k US, ~2,000 per 100k UK.)

  • You are, however, 24% more likely to be the victim of burglary in the UK than in the US. (~700 per 100k US (2010 figures), ~871 per 100k UK.) Robbery is roughly even. (~117 per 100k US (2010 figures), ~127 per 100k UK.) Either vehicle theft or fraud are, presumably, much higher in the US.

  • While guns are used in ~40% of reported robberies in the US, knives are used in only 22.5% of reported robberies in the UK (17,145 out of 76,189 total).

  • Even if all knife crime in the UK caused injury, knives would be used in only 9.3% of all criminal injuries (32,434 out of 346,210 total). Taking out reported robbery (17,145) and threats to kill (1,257), that number falls to 4%.

  • You are far less likely to encounter a knife as a victim of crime in the UK than you are in the US.

  • Despite that, the Facebook “28 minutes” value is wrong. The actual number is every 16 minutes.

  • Someone is murdered with a knife every 6.2 days in the UK. Someone is murdered with a knife every 15 hours in the US. A gun murder occurs every 55 minutes.

  • Our gun crime rates are so low as to make comparison with the US impossible. There are roughly 3,500 cases where guns are involved in violent crimes pa in the UK, out of 821,940 total violent offences. Even total recorded gun offences accounted for just 11,335 in 2011. Both numbers are falling, and have been since the current reporting scheme began in the early 00s.

  • You are far less likely to encounter a weapon of any sort as a victim of crime in the UK than you are in the US.

  • The US violent crime rate per capita is ~386 per 100k. Due to massive reporting differences (in the US, only aggravated assault and above is classed as “violent”, in the UK, anything from harrassment and pushing someone else is classed as “violent”; see notes below), direct comparisons are impossible. If you restrict UK statistics to only offences causing injury - which will include death/injurt by dangerous driving, and lesser assaults that wouldn’t come close to classing as aggravated in the US - the UK per capita rate would be ~577 per 100k. Many of these, however, will be minor injuries that wouldn’t meet the US reporting level.

  • Both countries saw crime peaks in the 80s and early 90s, and both have seen crime decrease steadily in recent years.


Notes:

  • Where I’ve worked out per capita figures, it’s been with a rough 300m US population, 60m UK (again, technically, England & Wales).

  • There are some reporting differences between the two countries. In the UK we’re standardised to crimes reported to the police, with a supplemental survey of experiences of crime used to evaluate unreported crime and perception of crime. In the US statistics use reported crime as well as arrest data to enable further drill-downs by arrest type. The two datasets are broadly comparable, but not completely identical.

  • There are major classification differences. “Violent crime” in the US means homicide, aggravated assault, and forcible rape. “Violent crime” in the UK includes homicide, attempted homicide, ABH & GBH (often but not always roughly equivalent to aggravated assault), harrassment, pushing and shoving, and other forms of non-injuring assault. Our “violent crime” levels are therefore much higher by definition, since most offences fall at the lesser end of the scale. There’s no data in the FBI’s UCR for the equivalent minor assaults, which makes it extremely hard to draw comparisons. Similarly UK “sex crime” includes but is not limited to rape (our reported rape incidence is low enough, like our homicide numbers, that the ONS cautions against drawing year-on-year conclusions from it), and the majority are other sexual offences such as indecent assault.

  • The UK data is far more accessible. The FBI presents a lot of its as percentage-based, not always with national totals (and cautions against comparing state-to-state since differences can be extreme). There’s a compile-your-own-table tool at ucrdatatool.gov but that only runs to 2010. There’s therefore some extrapolation, particularly in the US figures, with rounding or factoring prefixed by ‘~’.