Crime has fallen, so why don’t we believe it? Two School of Law academics set the record straight

Dr Toby Davies and Professor Graham Farrell investigate the gulf between crime statistics and public perception of crime.

There has been a significant and long-term decline in crime over the last 30 years, encompassing violent crime (which includes domestic violence and violence against women), anti-social behaviour, burglary, and car crimes. There is evidence that, overall, crime has fallen by almost 90%. However, public perception of crime does not match with these statistics.

This is the subject of a new article in The Conversation by School of Law academics, Dr Toby Davies and Professor Graham Farrell.

They both have considerable expertise in Crime Science, the aim of which is to study how crime happens in order to discover methods of preventing it. Dr Davies is a quantitative criminologist who uses spatial analysis, networks and computational methods to identify patterns and regularities in the occurrence of crime, with a view to informing effective crime prevention measures. Professor Farrell is particularly interested in situational crime prevention: designing-out and nudging people away from crime.

In their article, they lay out the statistics behind their headline as well as teasing out the reasons behind it. They cite the following explanations for the precipitous drop:

  • Cars, private homes, and public spaces have seen a dramatic increase in security measures such as: vehicle electronic immobilisers; door deadlocks; stronger door frames, double glazed windows; and security fittings. These all combine to make crime more difficult;
  • As a knock-on effect of these security measures, teenagers are less likely to commit ‘debut crimes’ like burglary or joyriding, thus preventing longer-term criminal careers.

Despite this compelling evidence, public perception is a different story; 78% of the (polled) public believe that crime has risen.

Dr Davies and Professor Farrell note that this is down to a confluence of potential factors including:

  • Sensational media coverage which prioritises reportage of violent crimes;
  • Political point-scoring rhetoric which uses crime to undermine the opposing party;
  • ‘Crime drop deniers’ who are afraid of losing funding;
  • Genuine but localised instances of certain crimes (eg knife violence).

The authors urge government to rely on statistics and evidence surrounding crime, instead of public opinion, so that they can employ the positive lessons learned from this decline and continue to prevent crime.

Their article underscores the need for not only unbiased research of this kind to provide accurate insights into crime, but also investment into communicating this to the general public. Through using outlets like The Conversation, our academics are able to translate their research into an inclusive format, and thus share their knowledge and expertise with a wider audience.

Professor Graham Farrell is a member of the Centre for Criminal Justice Studies and can be found on X/Twitter: @FarrellLeeds.

Read more news stories about his work here, or his most recent research project here, and listen to his recent interview on BBC’s More or Less here.

Dr Toby Davies is a member of the Centre for Criminal Justice Studies and can be found on X/Twitter: @tobypeterdavies.