Is there twice as much violent crime in the UK versus the USA?
|The tweet from Charlie Kirk|
I came across a screenshot of a Twitter post while on Facebook this morning. The original post now has 11,000 retweets and 23,000 likes on Twitter. As you can see from the picture somebody called Charlie Kirk, who is a right-wing American commentator, claims that there are 933 violent crimes in the UK per 100,000 people. This is more than double the rate he claims for the USA where he says there are only 399 violent crimes per 100,000 people. The UK doesn’t feel that violent to me, so is it true?
We’re all gonna die
According to the FBI, in 2016 there were 1,248,185 violent crimes committed across the whole of the USA. That is an increase of 4.1% on the 2015 figure but still represented only 386.3 violent crimes per 100,000 people. So, Mr Kirk appears to be slightly overestimating the violent crime in the USA. I should say that I am using the 2016 figures as those are the latest available on the FBI website, so maybe he has slightly different ones.
The Office for National Statistics reported in February 2017 that there were 1,167,998 violent crimes committed in England and Wales. At this point, I’ll make clear that although the original claim was about the UK, I am going to focus on England and Wales as I’ve struggled to find reliable information about other areas of the UK.
The ONS does not, so far as I can find, provide a helpful crime per 100,000 figure, so we will have to work out our own. In 2016, the population of England was 55,268,100, Wales was 3,113,200. This gives us a population for England and Wales in 2016 of 58,381,300. So, we divide 1,167,998 (number of crimes) by 58,381,300 (population) and then multiply by 100,000 to find a violent crime rate in England and Wales of 2,000 per 100,000 people. Now, as I’ve said Scotland and Northern Ireland have been excluded from my figures so right off the bat we should say that even if there were no violent crime at all in those places then the addition of the extra 7 million people living in Scotland and Northern Ireland would not explain the difference between our figure and Mr Kirk’s.
Now then we’ve gone from an original claim that the UK is slightly more than twice as violent as the USA to showing that England and Wales alone are more than five time as violent as the USA. Maybe he’s right and we do need to get some guns in here to protect ourselves or else we’re all gonna die. But, are we comparing the same things?
Apples and oranges
Apples are a round fruit, covered in a skin, that grow on trees. An orange is a round fruit, covered in skin, that grow on trees – so they’re the same thing, right? The UK violent crime rate is a figure showing the violent crimes committed per 100,000 people and the US violent crime rate is a figure showing the violent crimes committed per 100,000 people so they must be the same thing, right?
Let’s check that assumption.
When the ONS talks about violent crime, what does it mean? According to “The nature of violent crime in England and Wales: year ending March 2017”, violent crime is defined as:
“Violent crime covers a wide range of offences from minor assaults (such as pushing and shoving), harassment and abuse (that result in no physical harm), through to wounding and homicide.”
So, to the UK’s official compiler of statistics, violent crime includes offences were there is no actual violent, merely the threat of violent. Even then, the threat is often implied as is the case with harassment, which would include silent phone calls for example.
“… violent crime is composed of four offenses: murder and nonnegligent manslaughter, rape, robbery, and aggravated assault.”
At this point, I think we should acknowledge that we are taking statistics from an organisation that appears unable to count to five, but I have not come across any criticism of their actual statistics, so we’ll stick with them.
In the UK violent crime means any offence involving even the mildest degree of unwanted physical contact as well as offences where the threat of violence is merely implied. Whereas, in the USA violent crime means four (or five) specific offences to which force or the threat of force is a key component in the actus reus. By the way, in the US aggravated assault is essentially equivalent to our section 18 GBH as it requires an intention to cause serious bodily harm, but it can also be an assault committed with a dangerous weapon.
Breaking it all down
Before I go on, I will say now that all of the figures I will use now for the UK statistics come from a spreadsheet you can download here. All of the figures for the USA come from the FBI’s official stats, which can be found either on or via this page.
Between July 2015 and June 2016 there were 23,617 assaults where the attacker intended to cause serious harm. That gives us a crime rate of 40 section 18 GBH’s per 100,000 people. The FBI report that in 2016 the estimated rate of aggravated assaults was 248.5 per 100,00 people and that is following a decrease of 13.5% on previous years.
The same period of July 2015 to June 2016 saw 36,438 rapes recorded in England and Wales giving us a crime rate of 62 per 100,000 people. For the USA, the FBI recorded a rate of 41.2 per 100,000 across the whole of the USA. The American figure is based on their updated definition or rape, introduced in 2012, which seems to mirror that of the UK’s that was introduced in 2003.
Let’s look then at robbery. During our period England and Wales experienced 51,419 robberies. This includes both robberies of people and of businesses. That gives England and Wales a crime rate of 88 per 100,000. The USA experienced 321,464 robberies giving them a rate of 105.5 per 100,000 people.
Murder seems like it should be the most straightforward crime to spot and record, unfortunately, the ONS doesn’t agree and have lumped murder, manslaughter (of all types), corporate manslaughter and infanticide together as if they were all one offence. In the period ending June 2016, there were 681 homicides recorded. However, it should be noted that the UK has a habit of recording offences when they come to light rather than when they happened. Normally, this isn’t a big problem but because the Hillsborough enquiry reported in that period the figure has been increased by the ONS to include the 96 victims of the Hillsborough disaster, which occurred in 1989. I will therefore subtract the 96 from our total for that year giving us a new total for homicides of 585. Converting that into a homicide rate for the year tells us that there was 1 homicide per 100,000 people. By comparison the USA figure for just murder and non-negligent manslaughter was 5.4 per 100,000 people.
Finally, what was the violent crime rate for England and Wales if we use the FBI’s definition of violent crime? First, if it isn’t obvious already we cannot directly compare our overall violent crime rate with that of the USA because we define offences such as aggravated assault slightly differently and because we record offences slightly differently, e.g. homicides. But, we can get a ball park figure.
If we add up all the offences, we can see that there were 112,059 violent offences. That gives England and Wales a 2016 violent crime rate of 191.9 per 100,000 people based on the US definition of violent crime. According to the FBI for 2016 their violent crime rate was 386.3 per 100,000 people.
Was Mr Kirk’s claim correct?