Drug War Distortions - link to home page

Sunday, July 14, 2024

Home page

xml symbol denoting RSS newsfeed

Public Service Advertisements

About Common Sense

Coalition for Medical Marijuana

Drug War Facts

Common Sense for Drug Policy


Drug Truth Network

Get Active!


Drug Strategy

Drugs and Terror

Recommended Reading


Distortion 1: Drug Use After Prohibition Ends

Distortion 2: Drug Use Estimates

Distortion 3: Needle Exchange

Distortion 4: Harm Reduction

Distortion 5: Methadone Treatment

Distortion 6: Emergency Room Visits

Distortion 7: Gateway

Distortion 8: Ecstasy

Distortion 9: Cannabis As Medicine

Distortion10: Young People and Drugs

Distortion 11: Marijuana Potency

Distortion 12: Cannabis and Driving

Distortion 13: US Crime Rates

Distortion 14: Cannabis and Drug Treatment

Distortion 15: People Only Smoke Pot To Get High, Whereas They Drink Alcohol To Be Sociable

Distortion 16: ONDCP's 'Open Letter on Marijuana' & the AntiDrug Media Campaign

Distortion 17: Cannabis and Drug Treatment Part II

Distortion 18: Cannabis and Mental Illness

Special: NORML's Truth Report 2005, An Analysis & Response To The Drug Czar's Open Letter About Marijuana

Special: Debunking The Myths — Chronic Pain & Opiods, by Frank Fisher, MD

Distortion 19: Estimating the Size of the Illicit Drug Market

Distortion 20: Methamphetamines

Distortion 21: US Crime Rates & Arrest Rates

Distortion 22: Marijuana & Violence

Search using CSDP's own search tool or use

WWW Common Sense

Crime Rates in the US Versus Other Nations

Are Crime Rates In The US Higher Or Lower?

Distortion 13: The drug war has reduced crime in the US compared with other nations.
"It's interesting that, in a 2001 study, the British Home Office found that violent crime and property crime increased in the late 1990s in every wealthy country except the United States. No doubt effective drug enforcement had a part in declining crime in the United States."
Source: Asa Hutchinson, "European Experience Shows Legalizing Drugs Doesn't Work," St. Paul Pioneer Press, Oct. 11, 2002.

False. This assertion is based on a comparison of reported rates of crime in various countries, including that of the US as reported by the FBI in its Uniform Crime Reports. The research was performed for the UK's Home Office Research Development & Statistics Directorate. While it is true that the RDS performs an annual review of crime statistics data, the comparison that Hutchinson and others try to make using these annual reports is invalid. According to "International Comparisons of Criminal Justice Statistics 2000" by Gordon Barclay and Cynthia Tavares for the RDS, dated 12 July 2002:
"Although most countries collect information on the number of crimes recorded or reported by the police, absolute comparisons of crime levels are often misleading. Recorded crime levels will be affected by many factors including:
a) Different legal and criminal justice systems;
b) Rates at which crimes are reported to the police and recorded by them;
c) Differences in the point at which crime is measured. For some countries, this is the time at which the offence is reported to the police while for others recording does not take place until a suspect is identified and the papers are forwarded to the prosecutor;
d) Differences in the rules by which multiple offences are counted;
e) Differences in the list of offences that are included in the overall crime figures;
f) Changes in data quality." (p. 2)

Source: Gordon Barclay and Cynthia Tavares, "International Comparisons of Criminal Justice Statistics 2000," UK Home Office, Research Development & Statistics Directorate, dated July 12, 2002, available online at http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk/rds/pdfs2/hosb502.pdf, last accessed Dec. 17, 2002.

The report on the other hand also notes that "Since the definition of homicide is similar in most countries, absolute comparisons of rates are possible. For the period 1998 to 2000, the average rate (the number of homicides per 100,000 population) was 1.7 in EU Member States with the highest rates in Northern Ireland (3.1), Spain (2.8) Finland (2.6), Scotland (2.2) and Sweden (2.1). The rate in England & Wales (1.5) was below the average. For the other countries, the highest rates were found in South Africa (54.3), Estonia (11.4), Lithuania (8.9), Latvia (6.5) and the USA (5.9). (p. 3)

Another source of data comparing crime rates internationally is the International Crime Victimisation Survey, or ICVS. According to the fourth such survey, conducted in 2000:
"Generally speaking, the ICVS suggests that crime rose between 1988 and 1991, stabilised or fell in 1995, then fell back more in 1999. This is the dominant pattern in many individual countries.
"The picture in North America differs from that in Europe. The USA has shown consistent drops in crime since 1988. Canada had a modest increase in 1991, but lower figures in 1995 as well as in 1999, leaving overall crime levels lower than in 1988. In the three European countries with four ICVS measures (England and Wales, Finland and the Netherlands), crime levels are still higher than in 1988, despite a fall in risks in 1999. Compared with 1991, risks fell more in North America than in five of the seven European countries showing falls."
Source: Van Kesteren, J.N., Mayhew, P. & Nieuwbeerta, P. (2000) Criminal Victimisation in Seventeen Industrialised Countries: Key-findings from the 2000 international Crime Victims Survey. The Hague, Ministry of Justice, WODC. Available online at http://www.unicri.it/icvs/publications/pdf_files/key2000i/index.htm. p. 49

Unfortunately the survey uses too small a sample to produce useful results. As noted in the ICVS report, a sample of only 1,000 people was used in the US survey, with a response rate of 60%. The sample for the Netherlands -- a smaller country -- was 2,001, and had a 58% response rate. (p. 17) The report itself notes that "Samples were usually of 2,000 people, which mean there is a fairly wide sampling error on the ICVS estimates. The surveys cannot, then, give precise estimates of crime in different countries." (p. 1)

At p. 24 the report notes: "The relatively small sample sizes in the ICVS mean that it is often a matter of statistical chance which country, among those with high levels, emerges with the highest rate on any particular type of crime."

The types of crimes being measured are another concern. For example, one of the 11 crimes which the ICVS asked about is bicycle theft, the prevalence of which is reported to be much higher in the Netherlands than in the US. On the other hand, according to Figure 7 on p. 48, the US ranks third in the incidence rate for "very serious" crime among the 16 developed nations surveyed, behind only first-place England & Wales and second-place Australia. Following the US in fourth place is drug-warrior nation Sweden, then the Netherlands, then Canada. The bottom four: Portugal, Denmark, Japan, then the nation with the lowest incidence of very serious crime, Finland.

Source: Van Kesteren, J.N., Mayhew, P. & Nieuwbeerta, P. (2000) Criminal Victimisation in Seventeen Industrialised Countries: Key-findings from the 2000 international Crime Victims Survey. The Hague, Ministry of Justice, WODC. Available online at http://www.unicri.it/icvs/publications/pdf_files/key2000i/index.htm.

The real crime victimization rates in the US may be much different. Certainly, the rate at which crimes are reported to law enforcement is much lower than that shown in the ICVS. The US Justice Department conducts its own annual Crime Victimization Survey (for which "In 2001, 43,680 households and 79,950 people age 12 or older were interviewed. For the 2000 NCVS data presented here, the response rate was 93.0% of eligible households and 89.3% of eligible individuals." Criminal Victimization 2001, p. 13) According to it:
"Forty-nine percent of all violent victimizations and 37% of all property crimes were reported to the police during 2001. Of the violent crimes in 2001, 39% of rape/sexual assault, 61% of robbery, 59% of aggravated assault and 45% of simple assault were brought to the attention of the police. Motor vehicle theft continued to be the property crime reported to the police at the highest percentage (82%). Fifty-four percent of burglaries and 30% of theft were reported to the police, 2001."
Source: Rennison, Callie, PhD, Bureau of Justice Statistics, Criminal Victimization 2001: Changes 2000-01 with Trends 1993-2001" (Washington, DC: US Dept. of Justice, Sept. 2002), p. 10.

Back to top

Drug War Facts

About Common Sense for Drug Policy

Common Sense Ad Campaign

Addict in the Family

Get Active! link to info about becoming active

Effective Drug Control Strategy
copyright © 2000-2006, Common Sense for Drug Policy ,
Kevin B. Zeese, President -- Mike Gray, Chairman -- Robert E. Field, Co-Chairman & Executive Director -- Melvin R. Allen, Director -- Doug McVay, Director of Research
tel 717-299-0600 - fax 717-393-4953 - info@csdp.org
Updated: Wednesday, July 15, 2009   ~   Accessed: 85008 times