Collaboration in Civic Spheres

Non-violent crime in Washington state: the data say it pays

by Matt Rosenberg April 18th, 2012

Nine years of Washington figures released recently in the Office of Financial Management’s wide-ranging state Data Book show that with the exception of murder and assault, the odds are long here that criminals will even be arrested, much less convicted. The data suggest that close to nine of ten burglars go scot-free in Washington state, as do more than 19 of 20 car thieves, and more than four of five who commit other thefts. For violent crimes, arrests are more frequent but not always the norm. More than two of three robbers get away with it, as, disturbingly, have more than two of three – and more recently, three of four – reported rapists. For assault, the odds of arrest are almost one in two; and for murder, lately all but certain.

Many more crimes than arrests
Crime and arrest data in the January 2012 Washington state Data Book, from law enforcement and state government sources show that from 2002 through 2010, arrests for most specific types of crimes represented a small to middling percentage of the number of such crimes committed in the same year.

Burglary, theft, car theft: all good bets
Burglary and car theft have continued to be particularly disconnected from criminal apprehension. For each of the last nine years, the number of arrests for burglary has been less than ten percent of the number of burglaries committed in Washington state. In any given year over the same stretch, arrests for vehicle theft have only once exceeded five percent of the corresponding number of actual vehicle thefts (by two-tenths of a percentage point). In 2010, arrests for larceny, or theft, were only 15.4 percent as great as the number of thefts actually committed.

Arrests more frequent for violent crimes
It’s a somewhat different story for violent crimes. Arrests for robbery totalled almost one-third the number of robberies in 2010, part of a steady rise from 23.2 percent in 2002. Arrests for murder were predictably a much higher proportion of incidences (95.4 percent in 2010, up from 77.8 percent in 2002).

Arrests for rape in Washington equal just 25 percent of reported rapes
Actual arrests for rape in 2010 in Washington amounted to just 24.3 percent of the number of rapes reported that year. That represented a slight but continuing downward trend from the early- and mid-2000s, when the percentage was closer to 30.

According to the Data Book’s nine years worth of figures, total arrests for all crimes in Washington state amounted to just 15 percent as many as the total number of crimes committed, up modestly from 11.3 percent in 2002.

About the methodology
The comparisons between number of arrests for a crime and incidences of that crime is considered a telling enough metric to be used by the state’s Office of Financial Management in the Washington State Data Book, which is updated by OFM every two years and includes a wide range of historical data on other policy topics. However it should be added that not all arrests are made in the same year in which the crime was committed. For instance in 2005 in Washington, 207 murder arrests were made, but only 205 murders were reported. Also, arrests do not necessarily result in convictions, which are the province of prosecutors, defenders and the courts rather than police.

U.S. rates better than Washington’s in several categories
In “Crime in United States 2010,” the FBI reports the percentage of different types of crime cleared by arrest in the same year, a somewhat more demanding metric than in the state report. Even so, national performance on the whole was markedly better than Washington’s in several respects. The U.S. arrest clearance for rape in 2010 was 40 percent, compared to the Data Book’s proxy arrest clearance rate of 24.3 percent in Washington (number of arrests for the crime in the year, versus reported incidences of the crime in the same year). More than 12 percent of burglaries were cleared by arrest nationally in 2010 versus less than ten percent in Washington. The percent of thefts cleared by arrest was 21 percent nationally versus 15 percent in Washington; and the national arrest clearance rate for vehicle theft was almost double the state’s.

Washington did have a slightly better arrest rate for robbery, at 30.3 percent, than the U.S.’s 28.2 percent. Nationally, 64.8 percent of murders (and non-negligent manslaughters) were cleared by arrest in 2010, versus 95.4 percent of murders in Washington state.

Source: 2012 Databook, Washington Office of Financial Management


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One Response to “Non-violent crime in Washington state: the data say it pays”

  1. Ryan says:

    Not sure this data supports the headline you chose, but it was interesting none the less. It all seems rather dubious because their is no measurement of the quality of the reports of different crimes. For instance, how many car thefts were reported that were actually legal repossessions or some other misunderstanding? How many of the arrested individuals were found innocent and let go before even being charged with anything official? The cops could improve these numbers by simply arresting more innocent people, so I don’t really understand the value of this metric, and I certainly don’t think it proves that crime pays in Washington State, that’s just simply not even a question that this data addresses at all. This data supports the idea that their are lots of reported crimes that never get solved, but who didn’t already know that?