Reporting Crimes to Police Reduces Risk of Future Incidents

Victims of crime who report the incident to the police are less likely to become future victims compared with victims who don’t report the crime, according to a new study at the University of Iowa (UI).

The researchers evaluated data of more than 18,000 people who had been victims of crimes of interpersonal violence, such as sexual assault, robbery, threatened rape and threatened assault, and also property crimes like theft and burglary. Information was taken from the National Crime Victimization Survey, a database of non-fatal crime reports, and covered a period from 2008 to 2012.

Overall, the researchers found that victims who filed police reports about their initial experience were 22 percent less likely to be victimized again. Future interpersonal violence victimizations were 20 percent lower, and future thefts were 27 percent lower. Future burglaries did not decline with police reporting.

The findings suggest that this may be attributable to the increased awareness of victims, police action, and other services that victims receive after reporting their experience to authorities.

“We know that the role of police in society is to provide safety, and clearly we see that they are succeeding in this role. However, they cannot be successful without cooperation from the victims and community. That’s why it is important to report the victimizations to police,” said Dr. Shabbar I. Ranapurwala, lead author of the study and postdoctoral research scholar at the UI Injury Prevention Research Center.

Also involved in the study were Drs. Mark Berg, associate professor in the UI Department of Sociology, and Carri Casteel, associate professor in the UI Department of Occupational and Environmental Health.

According to national figures, about 54 percent of violent victimizations are not reported to the police. In the population studied by UI researchers, 59 percent of crime victims did not report their initial victimization to police.

Initial victimization was reported to the police more often by females (41.8 percent) than males (39.9 percent), by African-Americans (44.2 percent) more often than whites (40.6 percent), and by non-Hispanics (41.6 percent) more than Hispanics (36.7 percent). The most often reported initial victimization was burglary (59.1 percent), followed by interpersonal violence (51.5 percent) and theft (34.4 percent).

Many crimes go unreported to the police for fear of repercussions or because the crime is considered trivial, the researchers note.

“When victimizations are not reported to the police, this creates significant inaccuracies or errors in crime-rate estimates generated from official law enforcement data,” said Berg.

“Victim non-reporting, therefore, has significant consequences for policy,” he said. “For instance, the annual allocation of crime-control resources is partly determined by variations in serious crime rates, information that is based on official data sources.”

Understanding how reporting to police affects future victimization could help law enforcement and other government agencies better engage with victims, particularly those in minority communities, who experience higher rates of victimization, say the authors.

Such engagement can also include linking victims with services (e.g., social, financial, emotional, and legal) offered by local or state government, or by community organizations.

The findings are published online in the journal PLOS ONE.

Source: University of Iowa