Predicting Crime: The review of Research


In almost every period of western civilization, the inexorable increase in crime has been lamented in the corridors of power, the media, and the public. Haunted by recollections of a previous golden age, pundits have used crime statistics, research, and the almost daily barrage of media stories as a basis to conjecture about the changing nature and scope of crime, including dire predictions for the future.

However, unlike the last forty years, the most significant and frequently discussed crime trend for the 1990s has been the drop in the recorded crime rate throughout North America. Statistics Canada reported that in 1999, the national crime rate was at a 20-year low. The overall crime rate for the year fell 5% five from 1998.   In addition, the rate of violent crime fell 2.4%, the seventh consecutive annual drop.   Homicides decreased by 4.7% in 1998 and reached the lowest rate since 1967 (Statistics Canada, 2000, 9).   Throughout the United States, property and violent crime offences reported to law enforcement agencies decreased 7% in 1999, in relation to the previous year.   This marked the seventh consecutive year that property and violent crime has fallen in the U.S. (Federal Bureau of Investigation, 1999).

There are a number of factors that drive current crime trends although there is no definitive explanation as to why the crime rate has dropped so precipitously in the last few years or why it began to dramatically increase in the 1960s.   Some criminologists argue that the most significant variable is demographics: the aging population of the 1990s meant that there were less people in the crime-prone age group of 15 to 25 years.   During the 1960s and early 1970s, just the opposite occurred: a large portion of the baby boom generation was in that age bracket.   Based purely on demographics, the implication for the future is that the numbers of those most likely to commit offences (i.e., the offspring of the baby boom generation) will rise for most of the first decade of the 21st Century and then gradually decline.   Other significant factors that have and will continue to influence the nature and scope of crime are macro-economic factors, technology, globalization, work and lifestyle choices,the organization of crime, and criminal justice resources and responses.

The use of crime trend analysis, as well as other quantitative models and qualitative analyses, to predict the future of crime has been used by some criminologists, futurists and criminal justice policy makers as a means to anticipate future crime trends, in part so that the scope and impact of crime can be lessened and even prevented in the coming years.

However, there is currently a lack of synthesized knowledge of the research and organizations that have undertaken crime forecasting.   The purpose of this study is to make a modest contribution to addressing this void by providing some initial empirical inquiries into the literature, research, and analytical tools, as well as the individuals and organizations that have developed forecasts of crime for the 21st Century.

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