How Perceptions of Crime have changed over Time in the United States

How Perceptions of Crime have changed over Time in the United States


Perceptions of crime should match the reality of crime. People’s perceptions of crime can fail to change over time if what are gathered from crime news are distorted pictures of how crime is with the aim of promoting selfish interests. In the United States, the perceptions of crime should reflect the reality that crime rates have gone down compared to the way they were in the past. Media, especially newspaper prints should report the true findings to enable Americans to develop the right perceptions of crime, a factor that is necessary in addressing social problems such as racism.


Despite the efforts that law enforcers have in collecting and analyzing the data needed to show changes in crime rates, people’s perception of crime will always remain the same. Most people will be of the opinion that crime rates have increased (Gramlich, 2019). However, according to Mastrorocco and Minale (2018), people’s perceptions of issues such as crime are affected by the sources where they mostly get informed. On this basis, the media that is mostly preferred by older people is a stronger influencer of public perceptions about crime compared to the reports generated by law enforcers. The results of a study done and noted by Mastrorocco and Minale (2018) indicates that when people view channels that have a wide coverage of criminal activities in society, their perceptions of crime will go up only to come down when the coverage is reduced. On this basis, in order to determine how perceptions of crime have changed over time, it is easier to do it by investigating how media coverage of criminal incidences has been. In the effort to develop an in-depth study, conducting a case study on the United States would be suitable. President Trump described the United States as a nation where crime has been rampant and ending the practice was one of the main goals to be accomplished by his government (Sun, 2018). 

Background Study of Crime in the United States

In the past, statistics show that the types of crime that were common in the United States were violent street crimes and property related crimes. These types of crime in the 1800s were measured by counting the number of prisoners in prisons and jails and categorizing them according to the crime committed by each inmate. Thus, the counting and categorization exercise allowed the use of racial differences and nationality status in describing crime in the United States (National Academies of Science, 2019). Sun (2018) conveys that the historic description of crime has influenced the actions that President Trump is taking to end crime. 

Over time, the data collection and analyzing techniques have continued to improve to categorize crimes according to their victims (the government, the society, or an individual), the techniques used to commit the crime, and the intention to commit the crime. Furthermore, categorization evolved to consider a variation of crimes among states, the severity of crimes, and then those crimes that the police can identify as they occur and those that they cannot. For example, today, the police are challenged to prevent crimes committed through the internet due to lack of the required resources and rapid technological advances (National Academies of Science, 2019). National Academies of Science (2019) notes that, in the early 1900s, the reports generated by the law enforcers were mainly for use by courts, the corrections departments, and the police. In this regard, the public perceptions of crime was lower compared to that of law enforcers (Mastrorocco and Minale, 2018). 

Media Coverage of Crime in the United States

Media reports of increasing crime rates (by states and in terms of their type, severity, and the police’s ability to respond on time) have made the public develop a certain perception of crime in the country and eventually weigh the degree of public safety (James, 2018). James (2018) notes that the public’s perceptions of crime has been increasing especially for those types of crimes that the police cannot prevent before they cause harm on the targeted victim(s).

Compared to the television medium, the newspaper media formats have had the stronger ability to report crime-related news with fewer constraints since the targeted audience could get informed anytime and in more details unlike in televised news (Schildkraut, 2017). However, news reporters have the tendency of failing to report the true picture of crime especially those that are serious and challenge the police. In light of this, Schildkraut (2017) points out that the public perceptions of crime have been wrong since they are based on a distorted picture of crime. Schildkraut (2017) continues to suggest that by having wrong perceptions of crime, people in society have developed social problems among themselves. On this basis, how people relate or social problems indicate the changing perceptions people have about the crime.

Ruel (2018) agrees with Schildkraut (2017) that television stations tend to give more time to advertisements than reporting news that is more important to Americans. In response to the concerns raised on this matter and the increased competition for audience, television stations changed to allocate more time to report crime news but overdoing it distorting the true picture of crime. Hence, people’s perceptions of crime are changing not based on the reports generated by the police but on the business interests of the television stations.

Determining the Current Perceptions of Crime in the United States

According to McGill (2016), Americans feel unsafe. More people worry about the intensity of crime as compared to the historic years. The level has been higher over the last 15 years. Based on what Americans gather, it has become easy to predict which types of crime will be more widespread than others (McGill, 2016). To support this, McGill (2016) reports that a good number of the nationals are compelled that gunshot incidences may increase within the next ten years since there is a news item every week about a shooting incident that has killed victims or injured them. The tendency of the shooting incidences occurring every week, to the public, is a sign indicating that shooting to cause harm is a criminal activity that has run out of control and, therefore, it is easy to predict how severe it may become over the next few years. On this basis, the types of crimes reported by the media more often cause the public to perceive that the crimes are a challenge to control and that they may worsen over time (McGill, 2016). On the other hand, McGill (2016) argues that the types of crimes less reported by the media are under control by the police and will decline or cease to exist over time.

Gramlich (2019) and McGill (2016) agree that over the last two decades, crime rates have gone down, especially murder, but the public’s perception regarding this type of crime does not match with the reality. Generally, American’s perception of crime has always been up and social differences are noted to be responsible for this. According to Gramlich (2019), most of the nationals that support President Trump are the whites who tend to view the black people and other foreigners as persons that threaten their security structures. Putting more focus on the social differences that exist in the country has forced nationals to appreciate how public safety has been significantly improved to a higher degree than it was in the past (McGill, 2016). What is gathered from this is that even though the media has a strong influence on the public’s perception of crime, historical classifications of crimes and their offenders have a stronger impact that creates a permanent perception of crime.

To enrich the findings further, Courtauld (2014) points out that different media companies have varying agenda, which influence the incidents of the crime they choose to report and those that they ignore. The agenda or the choices the media mostly make eventually influence people’s perceptions about crime in terms of the offenders and the victims. More so, the audience is allowed to share its views and have certain opinions. Hence, it is conveyed that the perceptions of crime in the United States have remained high because some media news reports have upheld the historical classifications of crimes and offenders. Therefore, in the United States, perceptions of crime have not changed in violent crimes that involve racial differences (Sun, 2018).


From the study, it is difficult to establish the accuracy of the news reports on crime incidences that the media have been reporting. However, following the approaches that taking it can be constructed that most of the media stations have been distorting the real picture of crime in the country. Moreover, the media has been reducing the relevance of the crime reports generated by the law enforcers to the public. In light of this, the perceptions of crime have never changed regardless of the real crime changes that have been taking place. The media needs to have an appropriate agenda for the public to have the right perceptions of crime. When the public has the right perceptions of crime, researchers will be able to establish a meaningful statistic of how perceptions of crime have been changing for the best interest of the society. In the United States, the change is possible and the Federal Government needs to understand media influences and develop laws that regulate the agenda of the media companies in regards to crime reporting. 


Courtauld, A. (2014). How the media controls our perceptions of crime. Retrieved from:

Gramlich, J. (2019). 5 facts about crime in the U.S. Retrieved from:

James, N. (2018). Recent violent crime trends in the United States. Retrieved from:

Mastrorocco, N. and Minale, L. (2018). News media and crime perceptions: Evidence from a natural experiment. Retrieved from:

McGill, A. (2016). Is violence in America going up or down? Retrieved

National Academies of Science (2019). Introduction: Crime statistics in the United States. Retrieved from:

Ruel, S. (2018). If it bleeds, it leads: Coverage of violent crime by the U.S. television news media. Retrieved from:

Schildkraut, J. (2017). Crime news in newspapers. Crime, Media, and Popular Culture. Doi: 10. 1093/acrefore/9780190264079.013.32

Sun, E. (2018). The dangerous racialization of crime in the U.S. new media. Retrieved from:

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