About Half of U.S. Adults Say Local Crime Is on the Rise

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The FINANCIAL — Americans’ perceptions of the trend in local crime have been steady in the past year and indeed over the last decade. Almost half of Americans say there is more crime in their local area compared with a year ago (46%), on par with the 41% to 51% range seen since 2005. Another third currently believe there is less crime in their area compared with a year ago, while 18% believe the level of criminal activity is the same.

Consistent with historical trends, a Gallup Crime poll conducted Oct. 7-11 shows Americans rate crime in the entire U.S. as much worse than they rate crime in their local area. Seven in 10 Americans believe there is more crime in the U.S. than there was last year, a seven-percentage-point increase from 2014.

Several major cities, including Baltimore, Washington, D.C., and St. Louis, are reporting higher homicide rates compared with last year, though for the most part, homicide rates remain well below the elevated levels recorded in the late 1980s and 1990s. Aggregated data for all of the nation’s largest cities so far in 2015 show no signs of a broad trend toward increased violence or criminal activity that might be felt in communities across the country.

Historically, a larger share, though typically not a majority, of Americans say that local crime is on the rise from the previous year, rather than declining. Only between 1998 and 2001 did a higher level of Americans say there was less crime in their area rather than more. In 2005 — not an abnormally troubled year in terms of national crime statistics — these attitudes returned to where they have been for most of Gallup’s trend. And for the ensuing decade, about half of Americans have consistently assessed crime as on the increase in their local area.

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But even if Americans tend to report local crime as increasing rather than decreasing, other Gallup questions indicate that few believe local crime conditions are truly dire. A combined 12% of adults describe the problem of crime in the area they live in as “extremely serious” or “very serious,” slightly down from last year’s 16%. On the other end of the spectrum, a majority (56%) say the problem of crime is “not too serious” or “not serious at all,” compared with 50% last year. About a third rate the issue of local crime as “moderately serious.”

The 12% who rate the local crime problem as “extremely” or “very serious” is much smaller than the 59% who say the same about the U.S. crime problem.

Meanwhile, in terms of their own personal safety, most Americans (64%) say they would not be afraid to walk alone at night within a mile of their home. This year’s reading is similar to those of past polls dating back roughly 20 years. The historical high for this question occurred in 1982, when nearly half of the country said they would be afraid to walk alone at night (48%), but by 1994, that level had fallen below 40%, where it has remained since.

Bottom Line

While there is no appreciable change in how Americans perceive their local crime conditions relative to last year, a firm plurality say it is on the rise. But to the extent these perceptions are correct, there are few signs that most Americans believe their fundamental safety is in danger in their local communities. A majority rate the problem of crime in their area as not serious, while an even stronger majority say they do not feel unsafe when walking alone at night near their home. Those attitudes remain much more upbeat than Americans’ assessments of crime in the broader U.S., as they typically are, most likely because Americans tend to rate local conditions better than national conditions in a variety of areas.

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