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If You Don’t Trust Cops, You Don’t Report Crimes?
By Leonard A. Sipes, Jr.
Published: 01/07/2019

Policeofficer e Reasons People Don’t Report Crimes

The National Crime Survey from the US Department of Justice examines crimes reported and not reported to police. Victims may not report a victimization for a variety of reasons, including fear of reprisal or getting the offender in trouble, believing that police would not or could not do anything to help, and believing the crime to be a personal issue or too trivial to report, Bureau of Justice Statistics.

The percentage of violent and serious violent victimizations reported to police was generally stable over the 23 years from 1993 to 2015. There was no statistically significant change in the percentage of violent victimizations reported to police from 1993 (42%) to 2015 (47%), Bureau of Justice Statistics.

People don’t report the majority of crimes committed for a wide variety of reasons that have little to do with their views of law enforcement. If the inference is, “crime victims don’t report offenses because they don’t trust the police,” and if that finding relates to the negative publicity cops have been getting, then we would see changes in crimes reported to law enforcement.

The 44 percent of violent victimizations reported to law enforcement for 2016 (latest report available) falls well into the traditional spread of 42-47 percent reported since 1993.

People don’t report crimes to the police principally because they know there is little to nothing cops can do, or because the majority of violent crime involves offenders known to us, Bureau of Justice Statistics.

Through the National Crime Survey, you are asked “action-oriented” questions such as being hit or threatened with a weapon. If your brother in law hits with you with a beer bottle during a dispute, it’s highly likely that you are not going to report it to the police. Keeping the peace within a family far outweighs your views of the police.

Minor things stolen or a scratched vehicle are impossible to solve, thus calling the cops is pointless.

So how do you separate trusting cops from the endless other factors that cause people not to report crimes? Is it a matter of confidence in the police, or the fact that you just got smacked by a drunk friend?

40 Million Police Contacts a Year

An estimated 40 million U.S. residents age 16 or older, or about 17 percent of the population, had a face-to-face contact with a police officer in one year. Among people who had face-to-face contact, about nine out of 10 residents felt the police were respectful or acted properly, Bureau of Justice Statistics. A 90 percent approval rate in the rough and tumble world of policing indicates that there are other factors at play that affect crime reporting.

Offenders Are Often Victims

There is endless data as to people caught up in crime (as offenders and victims) not trusting anyone for any reason. Is it a matter of not trusting cops as much as it’s a matter of not trusting family or associates? GateHouseNews.

There are programs addressing anger management for offenders (who are frequently victimized themselves). I will suggest that personal issues play a role in any decision making, Crime Solutions.Gov

More than 1,000 pages of documents obtained by the Hartford Courant from the Connecticut State Police, including Adam Lanza’s writings and a spreadsheet detailing the gruesome work of 400 perpetrators of mass violence, bring into focus the dark worldview of a 20-year-old who killed his mother, 26 people and himself at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012. Would Adam Lanza call the cops for any reason?


Yes, we want everyone to trust the police. Cops understand that public acceptance is crucial to crime control. Yes, some officers make bad decisions that influence personal and public opinion. Yes, there are groups with decades of justifiable grievances.

But the article does smack of police baiting. There are endless (and often understandable) reasons for people not reporting crimes.

We could track the last several years of negative publicity (some of it deserved) and compare it to the Department of Justice’s data on crime reporting through the National Crime Survey. If percentages of reported crimes suddenly fell outside of the norm, the researchers may have a point. But that’s not the case.

There are endless people caught up in crime (as offenders and victims) who trust no one, especially cops.

The research below suggests that law enforcement has to do better as to trust. Cops know that. The Major Police Chiefs Association knows that, Crime in America. It’s a focal point of a recent Department of Justice guide to combating violent crime.

But it’s simply too easy to blame trust issues on cops when there are hundreds of additional factors at play.

The Journal of Criminal Justice

Crime victims’ perceptions that they will be treated unfairly or not taken seriously by the police reduce the probability of them reporting offenses to law enforcement by 11 percent, according to a new study appearing in the Journal of Criminal Justice.

The authors analyzed a portion of the Seattle Neighborhoods and Crime Survey (SNCS) that centered on crime victimization, which was conducted in 2002–2003. The sample for the current study was limited to the 687 respondents who identified as being victims of non-sexual violent crime within two years prior to taking the survey.

Participants were asked if they had been “physically attacked, beaten up, or threatened” in the past two years. If they had, they were asked a series of questions about the most recent assault victimization.

They were also asked to indicate whether they agreed that police treat wealthy people better than poor people, white people better than African Americans, Asians and Hispanics, and English-speaking people better than non-English speaking people.

Approximately 40 percent of the assault victims reported the incident to the law enforcement, and according to the researchers’ analysis, perceived that procedural injustice had a negative impact on participants’ decision to report the crimes. Black victims were especially less likely to report crime when their distrust of police effectiveness was higher.

“It is possible that vicarious experiences with the police acquired from family, peers, and neighbors resonate among black residents, exacerbating negative views of police,” the researchers write.

Furthermore, non-injured victims with greater perceptions of procedural injustice were less likely to report their victimizations to the police. However, injured victims were more likely to call the police, despite maintaining heightened perceptions of procedural injustice.

The researchers say their findings have practical and theoretical implications.

“First, police agencies should focus on policies and practices that lend themselves to procedural fairness,” the researchers write. “Simply stated, police practices should be designed to avoid potential negative consequences during police-citizen interactions, including conflict/resistance, violation of citizens’ constitutional rights, and police use of excessive force.”

The study supports previous studies indicating that crime victims don’t report offenses because they don’t trust police.

A full copy of the current study can be downloaded here.

Reprinted with permission from http://www.crimeinamerica.net.

Contact us at crimeinamerica@gmail.com or for media on deadline, use leonardsipes@gmail.com.

Leonard A. Sipes, Jr has thirty-five years of experience supervising public affairs for national and state criminal justice agencies. He is the Former Senior Specialist for Crime Prevention for the Department of Justice’s clearinghouse and the Former Director of Information Management for the National Crime Prevention Council. He has a Post Master’s degree from Johns Hopkins University and is the author of the book "Success With the Media". He can be reached via email at leonardsipes@gmail.com.


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