On Sept. 16 the FBI released its annual Crime in the United States report, a statistical compilation of criminal offenses and arrests known to law enforcement agencies for the year 2012. The report includes data voluntarily reported by 18,290 law enforcement agencies nationwide that participate in the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) program.

According to the report, “the number of violent crimes increased 0.7 percent” nationwide in 2012. Violent crimes included in the report are homicide, forcible rape, robbery and aggravated assault. The reported rate of violent crime nationally was 386.9 offenses per 100,000 residents in 2012, up slightly from the 2011 rate of 386.3. Although small, any increase in violent crime is notable because the rate of reported violent crime has trended downward since its peak in 1991.

Of the municipalities in the Omaha metro area, Council Bluffs, Iowa had the highest violent crime rate –1,186 offenses per 100,000 residents that was twice that of Omaha’s rate and three times the national rate. Carter Lake, Iowa had the second highest violent crime rate in the metro area, 602 offenses per 100,000 residents.

Omaha’s reported rate of violent crime was 595 offenses per 100,000 residents, third highest in the metro area and well above the national average. Omaha’s total of 2,485 violent crimes was up from 2,309 in 2011 and 2,263 in 2010, but was only the city’s sixth highest violent crime total in the last ten years. The highest two years during that ten year span were in 2008 and 2003, with 2,684 and 2,627 total violent crimes in those years.

All other municipalities in the Omaha metro area had violent crime rates that were well below the national average. The violent crime rates for Ralston, Bellevue, LaVista and Papillion were 115, 106, 62 and 42, respectively.

Those surprised by Council Bluffs’ remarkably high violent crime rate should know that its 2012 rate is by no means an anomaly. Over the past decade, Council Bluffs’ violent crime rate has well-exceeded the national average each year, and the city has reported a higher violent crime rate than Omaha in each of those years. In fact, Council Bluffs’ violent crime rate has been twice that of Omaha in numerous years during that period.

But despite Council Bluffs’ high overall violent crime rate, fueled by high levels of forcible rape and aggravated assault, Omaha’s eastern neighbor has a consistently lower murder rate than Omaha. Council Bluffs had only 1 murder in 2012, and had a 10-year average of only 2.2 homicides per year, a rate of 3.5 homicides per 100,000 residents. In contrast, Omaha had 41 murders in 2012, and had a 10-year average of 35.3 total homicides per year, a rate of 8.4 homicides per 100,000 residents. While Council Bluffs’ highest homicide total over the last decade was 5 in 2003, Omaha’s highest homicide total was 44 in 2008.

The FBI’s report also shows that property crime nationwide decreased by 0.9 percent in 2012, “marking the 10th straight year of declines” in the number of property crime offenses. Property crimes included in the report are burglary, larceny-theft and motor vehicle theft.

In total, there were a reported 8,975,438 property crimes in the United States in 2012, a rate of 2,859 offenses per 100,000 residents. The number of burglaries declined by 3.7 percent, larceny-thefts remained virtually unchanged and motor vehicle thefts increased by 0.6 percent nationwide in 2012.

Not surprisingly, Council Bluffs also had the highest property crime rate in the Omaha metro area. Council Bluffs’ property crime rate of 6,841 offenses per 100,000 residents is roughly one and a half times that of both Carter Lake (4,588) and Omaha (4,484). Council Bluffs, Carter Lake, Omaha and Ralston (3,544) all had property crime rates that were well above the national average of 2,859 offenses per 100,000 residents.

All other municipalities in the Omaha metro area – Papillion (2,281), Bellevue (2,210) and LaVista (1,613) – have rates below the national average.

While the annual FBI report is interesting for the public, the report is not all that useful for law enforcement agencies.

“The information in the report is known to the individual departments long before it’s published,” said one Omaha police officer who wished to remain anonymous. “We know by the week – or even by the day – when certain crimes are increasing or decreasing.”

There are doubts about the report’s accuracy. The FBI reports only crimes that are known to the police. Researchers have long found that most crimes are not reported to the police, so the report undoubtedly underreports the number of crimes committed. The report also relies on police agencies to self-report crime data. There have been incidents across the country where police departments were found to have altered data to make their city’s crime problem seem less severe. Atlanta, for instance, was found to have altered their crime data while bidding to host the 1996 Summer Olympics.

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