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Arrests Do Not Necessarily Represent Solved Crimes

by Ed Lyon 

Statistics show that the United States of America incarcerates more of its citizens per capita than any other legal jurisdiction in the world. The entry into the incarceration nation begins with the simple arrest by a member of one of the 18,000 law enforcement agencies throughout the U.S. This equates to one arrest every 3 seconds and 20 arrests every minute, continuing in a mathematic progression amounting to 10,662,252 arrests of U.S. citizens for the reporting year of 2016. 

One finds it easy to understand exactly why one in four U.S. citizens has a criminal record based on this. And such herculean efforts by local, state, and federal law enforcement officers are no doubt statistics they are proud of. Closer inspection, however, proves once again that everything that glitters is not made of gold regarding the nature and character of these astronomical arrest statistics. 

To begin with, just because an arrest occurs, it does not indicate that an actual crime was solved. Frighteningly, only 1 out of every 10 crime victims report an offense to police. An even scarier statistic is that only 1 in 4 crimes that are reported to police are actually solved and cleared by an arrest. With so little crime being reported to police, and even less crime being actually solved by the police, why is the taxpaying populace footing the stupendously high bill to keep so many of them on the public payroll? 

Recently, the Vera Institute of Justice combined data from eight federal crime reporting databases into a single information pool to reveal arrest trends at the local, state, and federal levels in conjunction with demographics, offense categories, and the 25 percent of reported crimes that were actually solved and thus culminated in a proper arrest. Despite the fact that each of the nation’s 18,000 law enforcement agencies share input on a purely voluntary basis and what they report is not the same, some surprising yet extremely useful data were gleaned. 

Over the last 10 years, arrests for all crimes have declined by 25 percent. Arrests for violent crimes like assaults and murders have fallen to just 5 percent of arrest totals. Eighty percent of arrests fall under the category of minor offenses. Varying from one reporting agency to another, minor offenses comprise most everything above traffic tickets to theft, including a category that defies rational sorting the FBI calls “all other offenses.” 

One arrest category that has astronomically risen since the compilation’s baseline year of 1980 is drug offenses. They have skyrocketed an astounding 171 percent as part of the federal government’s steadily failing war on drugs continues to stumble along, fueled by politicians chasing votes and bureaucrats seeking to keep government jobs. Drug arrests for 2016 numbered 1,572,579, many of which the only real crime was the arrestee being “drug” to jail for it. It comes as no surprise that racial disparity in drug arrests disfavors black people. Depending on which statistical database one uses, blacks comprise 12 to 18 percent of the U.S. population, yet they represent 28 percent of all drug arrests. What makes this so disproportionate to the statistical table are other studies showing drug usage being close to the same across racial lines. 

Police narrowing their enforcement focus to such minor, picayune crimes, especially in predominantly minority population areas, serves only to foment unrest and breed mistrust. This in turn causes a vicious cycle of mistrust that feeds on itself growing ever larger the more it is nourished by, often denied, but still tacitly set arrest quotas, so bureaucrats can maintain and even ask for increases to already obesely bloated police department budgets. 

What is truly needed is more of a crime prevention stance by police than one of strict law enforcement. The three quarters of crime victims who never report being victimized should not have been victims to start with. More interpersonal interactions with citizens by police (rather than the broken windows model now being practiced) might well result in vastly lower crime statistics and safer communities for everyone. 



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