Vargas: Our crime fears don’t match reality


Chapman University just released the findings the first-ever study of American’s fears. The study gives some thoughtful insight into what keeps people up at night and disconcerted about the world around them.

One of the key findings was people by and large believe crime is the same or much worse than it was 20 years ago.

Apparently people are afraid to walk around at night because they fear becoming a victim of a crime. People don’t let their children walk to school because they are certain they are going to be kidnapped. Even our schools aren’t safe anymore from deranged students.

At least that’s what people think.

There is an extreme disconnect between American’s perception of crime and the actual data. Most people surveyed felt crime was getting worse and their community was much more violent.

While the study did not address the reasons people felt this way I have some guesses. One is the vast amount of information we now have available to us everyday. We are saturated with negative news stories not only on mainstream media but now even on social media.

News is broadcast in real time making every story sensational and appearing as if it’s happening next door. These shows air 24 hours a day, and the more titillating, the more emotional impact it has.

The ability to share our victimization experiences has also gotten much more effective thanks to social media. In doing so it has created a perception of being a society being overrun by crime.

Before you begin thinking things are totally out of control ask yourself what things were like in 1993 – one of the worst years for crime in the U.S. since the FBI started tracking data.

Back then I was supervising a community policing team, we were arresting so many people every day it was difficult to keep up with the paperwork. The streets along the boulevards were teeming with streetwalkers at all hours of the day and night. Crack was the drug of choice and was impacting neighborhoods across the country.

Violent crime has been on steady decline ever since. In 1993 there were a combined 93 homicides in Anaheim and Santa Ana. By 2012 that number had dropped to 26. That’s a decline of over 70 percent. Crime across the board has fallen since then and has pretty much flattened out the last few years.

The streets of our communities are safer than they were 20 years ago. In fact they are as safe as the 1970s.

I can show all the statistics across a wide variety of studies from actual reported crime to victimization reports. Sadly, rational explanations don’t appear to work when people are experiencing events emotionally.

Fear of crime is an emotional response to what you think is happening rather than what is actually happening. It’s like knowing the monster under your bed isn’t real but you still wake up in the middle of the night wondering. Looking at charts, graphs and numbers doesn’t make the monster any less real to you.


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