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December 23, 2009

Crime Rates Fall in the First Half of 2009

The FBI issued a press release on Monday 12/21/2009 declaring that crime rates had fallen across the board. The FBI has provided the data here.

There are lots of facts listed in the press release, but only one visualization. So, I took the data and built three visualizations for them.

Facts from the FBI found on the top left of this dashboard:
  1. Violent crime overall decreased 4.4 percent, property crime is down 6.1 percent, and arson fell 8.2 percent.

  2. Individual crimes are also decreasing across the board:

    - Murder (down 10.0 percent)
    - Forcible rape (down 3.3 percent)
    - Robbery (down 6.5 percent)
    - Aggravated assault (down 3.2 percent)
    - Burglary (down 2.5 percent)
    - Larceny-theft (down 5.3 percent)
    - Motor vehicle theft (down 18.7 percent)

On the upper left chart, I included Violent Crime and Property Crime; these are not on the FBI's chart. The crimes are sorted the way they are because they fall within the three major categories of violent, property crime and arson (The violent crime category includes murder, forcible rape, robbery, and aggravated assault). I essentially added subtotals to combine facts 1 and 2 above into one chart.

On the bottom left chart I am displaying the crime rates changes in ascending order. This is more impactful to me.

On the right hand side, I have two charts:

  1. The first is a simply trend chart of the changes each of the last four years broken down by major category.

  2. I think the second chart tells more of a story though. In this chart, I'm showing the cumulative change across the years. This allows you to see the total change as you go across the years.

The top chart on this dashboard supports the following from the FBI:

  1. Murder was lower in all four regions of the country, with the largest decreases in the Northeast (13.7 percent) and the West (13.3 percent)

  2. Motor vehicle thefts decreased significantly in all four regions of the country (Northeast, 19.3 percent; Midwest, 21.4 percent; South, 17.8 percent; and West, 18.2 percent)

  3. On a regional basis, the only uptick in any crime was a slight increase in burglaries in the South (up 0.7 percent)

I'm not sure why they didn't mention it, but ALL categories of crime are down across ALL regions excluding the one uptick.

The bottom chart on this dashboard supports the following from the FBI:

  1. While violent crime and aggravated assault were down in cities of more than 1 million people (7.0 percent and 6.2 percent, respectively), in cities of populations between 10,000 and 24,999, violent crime rose 1.7 percent and aggravated assault rose 3.8 percent.

  2. While both metropolitan areas and non-metropolitan areas experienced decreases in violent crime and property crime in general, non-metropolitan counties saw increases in robbery (3.8 percent) and arson (1.2 percent)

For me, these two facts lead you to the question "So what?" I could have just as easily stated the first fact with the 50,000-99,999 population group. I feel like they're implying some type of significance to the population. However, the intent of most dashboards is to provide facts. The facts are the facts; it's the analysts job to analyze the dashboard and provide supplementary information.

The last set of data relating to major metropolitan areas (MSAs) is not directly referenced in the press release. Here's the dashboard:

Here are some points that jump out at me:

  1. Overall, about 2/3 of MSAs had a decrease in crime over the last year. However, the Central region had only one more MSA decrease in crime than those that increased. The Northeast region showed the most improvement in the number of MSAs that reported a decrease in crime (34 vs. 11).

  2. Minnesota improved at a rate nearly 3 times of second place North Carolina. On the other hand, Alabama's crime rate increased at a rate 2.5 times that of the second worst, South Dakota.

  3. Within MSAs, violent crime dropped 5.7% compared to 4.4% nationally. Property crime was about even comparing MSAs to the nation.

  4. The motor vehicle theft rate reduced dramatically across all MSAs in each region, with the overall decrease at 19.2%.

  5. Forcible rape, burglary and larceny theft in the Central region are the only crimes that increased.

Now, if this was supplemented with information about the steps that were taken that led to these decreases, then the FBI would really have a story to tell. For now, they're just reporting facts.

There are likely tons of other insights to be gleamed from this data. I'd love to see what you can come up with. Download the Tableau Packaged Workbook on my Google Group.


  1. This workbook is not packaged, therefore cannot be opened...

  2. I apologize. I uploaded the wrong Workbook. The packaged workbook has been uploaded.