11 weird things we learned from global crime stats

As it turns out, crime does pay — with lots and lots of stats!

Civilization has a vested interest in keeping tabs on uncivilized activity. Crime statistics have been collected all around the globe for centuries to various degrees of precision. These stats paint a clear, data-guided picture of a universal (if unseemly) aspect of humanity. Crime is one our species' most thoroughly documented activities, and therefore one which we can most accurately attempt to grasp.

The truth is made of numbers.

We've picked through the vast reservoirs of facts and figures from around the world in an attempt to make some order of the number jumbo. Some of these findings may challenge your conceptions, while others will reinforce them. But in the end, they are the only authority that matters because detached steely statistics never lie.

Here we present a big ol' serving of hot steamy number porn. Enjoy.


11. The Americas Are A Bad Neighborhood

According to one study (originally in Spanish, Google translation here), of the 50 cities with the highest homicide rates, all but four are in the Americas/Caribbean and none are in Europe, Asia or Australia.

The most dangerous city in the world was San Pedro Sula, Honduras with a homicide rate of 159 per 100,000 people (side note: I visited there last year. Didn't get dead; ate some tasty street food). Fifteen of the most dangerous municipalities are in Mexico, four are in the United States. (New Orleans comes in at a fairly murdery number 21, which along with Detroit and St. Louis, can boast higher homicide rates than the most dangerous Iraqi city, Mosul.)

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10. Arizona Is The U.S. State Most Likely To Punch You

Some advice: don't go shootin' your mouth off in Arizona. They beat people up there. Based on the victim-to-population ratio, an adult has a greater chance of being physically assaulted in the state of Arizona than anywhere else in the United States. The second state most likely to not like the cut of your jib and want to do something about it: North Carolina. The third is Arizona's like-minded angry neighbor New Mexico.

image via Reuters


9. Mark Zuckerberg Is The World's Most Dangerous Criminal

As of 2010, over 100,000 crimes have been linked to Facebook in the U.K. This number was based on alleged crimes alerted to police. In 2010 alone, 16 U.K. police forces reported 7,545 calls from the public alerting authorities to everything from alleged acts of terrorism and missing pets to sexual offenses and "a large number" of "malicious messages" sent through the site.


8. Norway Is Just Adorable

Over 50% of all criminal offenses in Norway are traffic related (and we're not talking about sneaking contraband over international borders, were talking the "beeb beep, vroom vroom" kind).

The five million-strong Scandinavian nation suffered only 32 homicides in 2007. To put that number in some perspective: In 2006, Buffalo N.Y. — the U.S. city with the tenth highest murder rate — had a total of 74 homicides, with a population that clocks in a little under 300,000. Norwegian prisons have tennis courts, basketball gyms, flat screen televisions, swimming pools, and even artwork. The maximum penalty in Norway is 21 years (though few inmates serve more than 14).

Only 60 out of every 100,000 citizens are incarcerated in Norway compared to 700 in the United States. Which must mean...

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7. All Americans Are in Jail (Or a Bunch Are, Anyway)

Roughly, 0.7% of Americans are currently in some form of correctional facility. This is, by far, the highest in the western post-industrial world. While only one in 142 Americans are currently inside a prison, one out of 32 Americans are in some variation of correctional program (that includes those in jail as well as those on parole). That's 6.7 million adults. Think of that number this way: If all the adult Americans currently in our correctional system were to start their own state, they would be the 14th largest state, behind Washington, but above Massachusetts.

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6. China Executes An Entire Basketball League Every Year

According to Amnesty International, roughly one-third of the world's executions take part in China. In 2007, China — the world's most populous nation — executed 470 people. That's 1.3 executions each and every day. If you need a visualization for 470, think of it this way: the combined roster of all the NBA teams is roughly only 435 players. The next highest in 2007 was Iran with 317 executions and the United States was the highest post-industrial western nation with 42, coming in at number seven of all nations, right above Iraq.

image via The Telegraph


5. The Majority Of Bank Robbers Are Shy

In 2010, there were 5,628 bank robberies in the U.S. Of these, by far the most popular modus operandi was silently slipping a note to a teller (3,142 robberies started this way). Interesting bank robbing side fact: according to the FBI stats, statistically, the best chance of being caught in a bank robbery is between 9 and 11 A.M. on a Tuesday. So when you get that birthday check from grandma, we'd recommend using utilizing a banking apps that allows you to deposit physical checks remotely, or at least wait until Friday afternoon.

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4. Sweden Is A Nice Place For A Nighttime Stroll, Americans Isn't

According to a United Nations survey, the Swedes are the most likely to feel safe going for a walk alone at night. This is mostly in line with the facts as the country reported only 232 homicides (PDF) out of a population of nearly 10 million in 2009 (seven of which were committed against Swedish citizens abroad), accounting for a rate of one murder per 100,000 citizens. (Compare that to number 11 above's San Pedro Sula with 159 per 100,000.)

In that same survey, Americans checked in at the third feeling safest walking alone at night, despite a murder rate at seven-and-a-half times Sweden's and suffering the highest number of reported crimes than any other nation.

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3. Staying Home Is Nearly As Dangerous As Going Out

Between the years 2004 and 2008 roughly one in three violent crimes in the U.S. occurred in or near the victim's own home.

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2. Parking Attendants Are Crap at Their Job

You are paying for non-street parking for absolutely no reason as one in 10 of all property crimes in the U.S. occurred in parking lots and garages.

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1. It's All Getting Better

All the numbers are going in the right direction, in the U.S. at least. Violent crime has plummeted in the U.S. since the early 1990s. And not only is this trend continuing, it appears to be accelerating. In the past four years, the total number of violent crimes has continued to plunge each year: by 3.5% (from 2007 to 2008); 4.4% (2008-09); 6.2% (2009-10); and 6.4% (2010-11).

Keep in mind, these numbers have fallen in the midst of a severe economic recession, which flies in the face of conventional thought about what causes crime. There are many many competing theories for this precipitous collapse, but no consensus has yet to be established.

Furthermore, this fall in crime seems consistent with the long view of history. Cambridge University professor of criminology Manuel Eisner has studied homicide records from western European localities between the 13th century and the mid-1990s. He has concluded that in every country he studied, murder rates had declined precipitously. For example, the best estimates of the homicide rate in western Europe in the 1200s (which includes rural sections as well as comparatively denser populated medieval cities — all before firearms were invented) was roughly 32-per-100,000 people, while in the 20th century, it was a paltry 1.4.

Cognitive theorist and Harvard professor Stephen Pinker's recent book The Better Angels of our Nature documents the steep downtrend in all variations of violence including crime, war (both foreign and civil), terrorism and genocide. He has concluded that, in contrast to much of the public's perception, we are living in the safest time in the history of history.

The democratization of the media can make it seem like there is violence all around us and we are declining into a RoboCop-like dystopian abyss. In the context of a 24-hour internet world, we certainly encounter more images of violence. But the cold hard numbers point to a very different conclusion (one I would argue is at least partially driven by technology): civilization is a journey, not a destination, and our species is further along the path towards our ideals than we've ever been.

Evan Dashevsky is a DVICE contributor and a professional word nerd for hire. Follow his cough-sized thoughts on Twitter @haldash.

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