A recent article in the local newspaper, "Santa Rosa crime rate plummets," notes the dramatic drop in crime. It asks whether local citizens are safer than they were 20 years ago--an interesting question to ask when 'objective' indicators of crime clearly show dramatic decreases.
In light of this, we may ask, What is newsworthy about the drop in crime? In another entry, we reviewed some of the statistical evidence--using the most accurate measures of crime we have--which indicate that crime is declining dramatically--not just police data but also victim reports of crime and other sources. Moreover, there are steep decreases even though reporting of crime is improving. However, the truly astounding fact is that even though crime is going down, citizens are still afraid of crime and still believe that crime is going up. Year after year, the same pattern continues. How is that possible?
Here's data from Gallup on public opinion about whether a nationally representative sample of Americans think crime is going up. Believe it or not, even though crime continues to go down, as it has for decades, a higher percentage of people feel crime is going up than has existed for more than a decade. See the table here.
Here we are, one of the richest and most educated nations in the world, and many people are out of touch with reality. How is this possible? Why are people so afraid when they're safer now than they have been for decades?