Helpful tips for journalists and readers to clear up deceptions by Police when reading and reporting about crime.

By Alec Karakatsanis, Alec’s Copaganda Newsletter

Most reporting about public safety and crime is incomplete and deceptive. I put together a few disclaimers for journalists to insert into their stories and for readers to think about when they consume the news.

police crime report on typewriter

The following are some quotes that can be inserted directly into virtually every news article about public safety that talks about “crime data” or “crime rates” or “crime surges” or a “crime wave.”

  • “Property crime data reported by the police excludes most property crime, including wage theft by employers (which costs low-wage workers about $50 billion per year, more than 3 times more than all police-reported property crime that makes its way into “crime rates”), and tax evasion, which steals about $1 trillion every year (which is about 20 times more than all wage theft and about 63 times more than all police-reported property crime combined).”
  • “Violent crime data reported by police excludes nearly all of the violent crimes committed by police and jail guards, which experts estimate to include several million physical and sexual assaults each year. Given their magnitude, including the crimes by government employees in crime statistics could entirely change the direction of crime trends reported by police at any given time.”1
  • “The vast majority of sexual assault and gender-based violence is not reported to police and never makes it into official “crime rates” reported in the media because most survivors of such violence determine that police, prosecutor, and prison bureaucracies are not a viable or effective way to address that harm.”
  • “Police-reported crime rates are generally lower in societies that spend less money on police, prosecutors, and prisons and that spend more money on health care, treatment, early childhood education, youth activities, poverty reduction, and wellness.”
  • Police-reported property crime rates exclude civil forfeiture seizures by police themselves (which roughly equal all reported burglary combined), a large percentage of which are illegal.”
  • “The vast majority of all other types of crime—such as air and water pollution crimes, police perjury, prosecutor obstruction of justice, government corruption, insider stock trading, foreign bribery, etc.—are never reported to police and never purused by prosecutors, and therefore they never show up in police-reported crime rates. Crime rates tend to capture a small subset of police-reported crimes committed by the poor, and to exclude crimes committed by the wealthy.”
  • “Across the United States, there have been numerous scandals of police departments manipulating reported crime rates and the mechanisms for collecting and reporting crimes in service of a political agenda.”
  • “When evaluating holistic safety, experts caution that it is important to keep in mind that many of the greatest threats to community public safety are not defined as crimes at all. The process of determining which harms are criminalized and which are not is a highly political process that has more to do with power than an objective evaluation of which activities are the most significant threats to public safety.”

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