An article in this week’s Oregonian takes a hard look at the fear of crime versus the reality of crime and begs an important question—how can people statewide fear crime more than ever despite actual crime numbers falling?
A survey from PSU’s Criminal Justice Policy Research Institute asked Oregon residents across the state about their perception of crime. Only 10% said they thought crime had fallen during the past year and only 38% thought it remained static. The remaining all thought crime had increased.
When it came to their neighborhoods, they were slightly more conservative, with only 25% reporting they believed crime had climbed on a local level.
Interestingly, though, crime has actually fallen again this year and is at the lowest levels since the 1960s in Oregon. This strange disconnect between fear of crime and reality is nothing new, politicians and the media have been playing off of it and likely increasing it for years.
The Associate Professor of Criminology and Criminal Justice at PSU, Brian Renauser states that this disparity can affect “everything from public policy to law enforcement’s ability to keep the public safe—even simple livability and peace of mind.”
The citizens of Oregon aren’t alone in their exaggerated fear of crime; the same sort of fear exists across the country, as does the reality of a falling crime rate. But the good news rarely makes it onto the evening news. Instead we are bombarded with more and more tales of high crime and horrendous acts by a select few.
One study, from the University of Nebraska recently showed what crime shows people watch tends to affect their fear of crime. Those who prefer the reality-documentary based shows are more likely to feel that crime is around every corner. They are also most likely to have little faith in the criminal justice system in general.
News stories and coverage of positive impact by law enforcement and decreased crime rates simply don’t get the ratings that the juicy, scary stuff does. Similarly, a politician who promises to be “tough on crime” plays right into this irrational fear, as do some overly restrictive laws and practices by police.
The survey from PSU indicates those people most likely to believe crime is at all-time highs consider themselves to be conservative and make less than $50,000. Interestingly, this income bracket is also the more likely to distrust police.
Mistrust of the criminal justice system is often characteristic of those people who have had first-hand experiences with the system. They don’t trust it because they may have been treated unfairly or feel like they got an exceptionally harsh sentence.
Having a local criminal defense attorney on their side may have prevented them from facing the more serious penalties. Consulting with such an attorney can give you insight into the realities of your charges and the potential consequences it may carry. Contact our offices today if you are facing criminal charges in Oregon.