I don’t normally write about crime and politics. However, I read one particular unsupported comment on Facebook that angered me: that blacks commit 3 times the amount of crimes than whites. I considered posting a reply, but I wasn’t sure I could refrain from getting into an online pissing war with someone.
I thought about it for a while. I realized that I was feeling defensive at this unsubstantiated claim, but my defensiveness was out of ignorance, too. I had not looked at crime statistics. If they were true or false, I had no idea either way. I decided to explore crime statistics as gathered by the FBI and see what the data had to say on this topic. This is no easy feat.
In this post, I try to stick with the big picture numbers on the types of persons arrested. I used HTML links and included a list of my sources at the end of this article so that you can go and read more data for yourself.
Please note: This post is not meant to be a comprehensive analysis or investigative report of U.S. crime data. You could build and defend a thesis on this topic for one year of data alone.
Cautions about the Data
Statistics, regardless of their source, come with cautions. The data I used comes from the FBI, and they caution against using crime statistics to rank agencies. I would like to add that the FBI pages list two different figures for total arrests: one is 11,302,102, which shows up on Table 29, but then I also see lower numbers in other Table data (9,069,992 and similar variations). When I quote from a table, I am using the total arrest figure shown on that page. Any errors are my own.
Arrests by Race
Using basic math, I calculated that white people in the U.S. are arrested at 2.43 times the rate of blacks (68.9/28.3). This means that, for any given crime, your perpetrator is more likely to be white than not.
Does that mean that whites are arrested more for every single crime category? No, they are not. However, arrests of whites clearly dominates the list. If you don’t believe me, just go look at the data. There’s plenty of it.
Arrests by Gender
I already know what the data is going to tell us: that males are arrested more than females. Let’s take a look at what the FBI data has to say about arrests by gender in the U.S. in 2013 (from Table 42).
According to the FBI, males accounted for:
- 73.5% (or 6,662,833) of the total persons arrested in the nation during 2013;
- 79.9% of persons arrested for violent crime; and
- 62.2% of persons arrested for property crime.
I’d like to say that again. Males make up 73.5% of total arrests in the U.S. in 2013. So far, the type of person so far by race and by gender who are arrested the most are white and male.
Does this mean that women don’t commit heinous crimes? Clearly, this also cannot be the case. If 73.5% of arrests are male, then 26.5% of arrests are of females.
Arrests by Age
I began to wonder what the statistics show about crime when broken down by age. In Table 38, it breaks down the arrests by age, everyone from juveniles to seniors. This is the hardest data to analyze because the ages are broken down singly until age 24. After that, the age data is aggregated every 5 years from 25 to 65, and then a final category of everyone above 65 years old.
From those 5 year groups, the most arrests by group listed (1,430,952 or 15.8%) were in 25-29 age group , followed by ages 30-34 (1,156,177 out of 9,069,992 or 12.74%). Out of curiosity, I added the arrest data for the years 20-24 from Table 38 (376,711 + 377,447 + 371,177 + 358,242 + 337,984 = 1,821,561 out of 9,069,992 = 20.08%).
To restate the above in a clearer format, the composition of arrests by age groups ages 20 and up are:
- 20.08% of those arrested in the U.S. in 2013 were 20-24 years old;
- 15.8% of those arrested in the U.S. in 2013 were 25-29 years old; and
- 12.74% of those arrested in the U.S. in 2013 were 30-34 years old.
In a brief summary, 48.62% of arrests in the U.S. in 2013 were ages 20-34. If you add in the data for 18 and 19 year olds respectively (334,841 + 371,156 = 705,997 arrests or 7.78%), then 56.4% of all arrests in the U.S. are in the 18-34 year old range.
To further summarize from the bottom of the Table 38:
- 90.3% of all individuals arrested were adults (18 years of age and over);
- Adults comprised 88.9% of all persons arrested for violent crimes;
- Adults comprised 84.3% of persons arrested for property crimes.
Add in age, and now it becomes clear that white, adult, male is the profile for the typical person arrested in the U.S. across all crimes.
Does this mean that males or white adult males should only be the ones suspected? Of course not. But, already, it makes me wonder if we as a society are able to understand the truth about what types of people are typically arrested across the board.
Arrest by raw data
Another statistic that I’m interested in is how this profile of arrests by race, gender, and age compares against the total U.S. population, the white population in the U.S., and the black population in the U.S. First, I had to get the actual numbers.
Things get a little confusing here. In the arrest tables, there is a note under the page titles that FBI estimated that the U.S. population in 2013 was 245,741,701. However, I went to the Census Bureau’s web site and searched for 2013 U.S. population data. The Census estimates that the total 2013 U.S. population was 316,128,839. This is significantly more than the FBI figures. For the purposes of my calculations, I decided to trust the FBI for its arrest numbers and the Census Bureau for its population numbers.
Table 43 lists that the number of whites arrested in 2013 is 6,214,197, and the number of blacks arrested is 2,549,655.
From the Census People Quick Facts page, I had to do some calculations to get the actual numbers of men in the U.S. in 2013 (100% – 50.8% women (or 160,593,450 female) = 49.2% male x 316,128,839 U.S. total population in 2013 = 155,535,389 males in the U.S.). The number of whites are either 77.7% (245,632,107) or 62.6% (197,896,653) , depending on how the person categorized themselves (white alone vs. white not Latino or Hispanic). Blacks are 13.2% of the total U.S. population or 41,729,006.
Unfortunately, the latest age data from the Census Bureau that I could find is from a 2012 survey (Table 1. Population by Age and Sex). Looking only at the same arrest categories by ages that I used above, the estimates for population of 20-24 year olds is 21,878,000; for 25-29 years old it is 20,893,000; and for 30-34 year olds it is 20,326,000.
Now that I have the actual population numbers, we can look at how race, gender, and age breaks down against the total U.S. population, the white population in the U.S. (where relevant), and the black population in the U.S. in 2013 (where relevant).
Here is the breakdown of arrests of whites by their numbers:
- As a percent of the U.S. population (6,214,197/316,128,839) – 1.96%;
- As a percent of the white population in the U.S. – either 2.52% (6,214,197/245,632,107) or 3.14% (6,214,197/197,896,653);
Here is the breakdown of arrests of blacks by their numbers:
- As a percent of the U.S. population (2,549,655/316,128,839) – 0.80%;
- As a percent of the black population in the U.S. (2,549,655/41,729,006) – 6.11%
Since males are arrested for three quarters of the crimes committed in the U.S., I am focusing on the statistics for males. Here is the breakdown of arrests of males by their numbers:
- As a percent of the U.S. population (6,662,833/316,128,839) – 2.10%
- As a percent of males in the U.S. (6,662,833/155,535,389) – 4.28%
For sake of brevity and for equal comparison, I will post the breakdown the arrests for the age groupings of 20-24 year olds, 25-29 year olds, and 30-34 year olds.
- Of total 2013 U.S. arrests by age group, 20-24 year olds (1,821,561/9,069,992) are 20.08%; 25-29 year olds (1,430,952/9,069,992) are 15.8%; and 30-34 year olds (1,156,177/ 9,069,992) are 12.74%.
- As the number of those arrested as compared to their age group in the U.S. population, 20-24 year olds (1,821,561/21,878,000) are 8.32%; 25-29 year olds (1,430,952/20,893,000) are 6.84%; and 30-34 year olds (1,156,177/20,326,000) are 5.68%.
Note on age groups: As a percent of the total U.S. population, 20-24 year olds comprise 6.92% (21,878,000/316,128,839) of the total 2013 U.S. population; 25-29 year olds (20,893,000/316,128,839) are 6.60%; and 30-34 year olds are (20,326,000/316,128,839) are 6.42%.
Frankly, after crunching all the data, I am exhausted. Although I have a better understanding of the typical person who is arrested, but I also have a lot more questions.
Why are so many adult white males arrested? Why do 8.32% of 20-24 year olds in the U.S. get arrested in 2013? Why do blacks as a percentage of the 2013 U.S. black population get arrested more than whites as a percentage of the white population (3.14% or 2.52% vs. 6.11%)? Is racism towards adult blacks a factor in the discrepancy? I’m not going to be so quick as to say that they are arrested more because they committed more crimes. You could say the same thing about whites or adult white males since they are arrested for crimes more than any other comparable group (whites vs. nonwhites, males vs. female, adults vs. minors). Whether those arrested were found guilty is a court of law is whole other subject and outside the scope of this already lengthy post.
I feel more confident that I can counter unsubstantiated crime opinions with a few facts. I know that probably won’t change anyone’s mind, but I’d like to try. That’s what trying to make the world a better place is all about.
http://www.fbi.gov/about-us/cjis/ucr/ucr-statistics-their-proper-use Caution about using statistics correctly
http://www.fbi.gov/about-us/cjis/ucr/crime-in-the-u.s/2013/crime-in-the-u.s.-2013/persons-arrested/persons-arrested Total number of arrests in the U.S in 2013
http://www.fbi.gov/about-us/cjis/ucr/crime-in-the-u.s/2013/crime-in-the-u.s.-2013/tables/table-38/table_38_arrests_by_age_2013.xls Total arrests by age in the U.S. in 2013
http://www.fbi.gov/about-us/cjis/ucr/crime-in-the-u.s/2013/crime-in-the-u.s.-2013/tables/table-42/table_42_arrests_by_sex_2013.xls Total number of arrests in the U.S by sex in 2013
http://www.fbi.gov/about-us/cjis/ucr/crime-in-the-u.s/2013/crime-in-the-u.s.-2013/tables/table-43 – Total number of arrests in the U.S by race in 2013
http://www.census.gov/search-results.html?q=2013+population&search.x=0&search.y=0&search=submit&page=1&stateGeo=none&utf8=✓&affiliate=census Search for 2013 U.S. population estimate
http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/states/00000.html Census Bureau 2013 People Quick Facts
http://www.census.gov/population/age/data/2012comp.html Census Bureau Gender and Age Table