America’s fascination with violent crime: Based on reality?

America’s fascination with violent crime: Based on reality?

Violent crime, sex, Trump and the Kardashians. Why America's obsession with criminals and salaciousness? We have better and more things to do.

FBI Mobile Command Center. (Public domain, U.S. Government photo, via Wikipedia entry on FBI)

WASHINGTON, March 6, 2016 — Crime is at the center of or is the subject matter for 96.5 percent of all television programs. Okay, the percentage is not really that high. It seems as if it is, though.

Crime fascinates us. Certainly, television crime programs and series are always numbered among the most popular across a large demographic of viewers. Crime dominates the newspapers, despite the antics of Mr. Trump, whom some may call a criminal. Crime is seemingly everywhere you look. But actually, it is not.

The Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) Uniform Crime Reporting Program provides many statistics each year on crime in the U.S. Stats for 2015 will be available in September. Assembling them is a tedious and arduous process that involves gathering and correlating information from all of the states and this takes time.

The FBI identifies and defines violent crimes as:

  1. Murder and non-negligent (meaning intentional) manslaughter;
  2. Rape;
  3. Robbery; and
  4. Aggravated Assault.

By definition, the FBI says, all these crimes involve force or the threat of force.

Examining the FBI’s 2014 data, and some statistics gathered from other sources, the following information presented offers an interesting glimpse into how prevalent crime really is in our country.

In 2014, the population of the United States was 318.9 million.

The FBI stats indicate there were 1.16 million violent crimes committed in 2014, meaning that 0.37 percent, or slightly more than one-third of one percent of the population, committed a crime during that year.

Not being factored into this figure however, are the number of individuals included who committed more than one crime. Since we are fully aware that numerous criminals are habitual or repeat offenders, it follows that the average percentage of violent crimes being committed per person is actually less than 0.37 percent.

The bureau says the 2014 number of crimes committed was a bit less than those committed in the prior year (2013) and a full seven percent less than those committed in 2010. Furthermore the 2014 number of crimes committed was fully sixteen percent lower than in 2005.

The breakdown of violent crimes in 2014 shows that aggravated assaults accounted for 63.6 percent of violent crimes, followed by robberies at 28 percent, rape at 7.2 percent, and then murder, at 1.2 percent.

Another interesting FBI statistic involves the use of weapons. The bureau says that firearms were used in almost 68 percent of murders, 40 percent of robberies and just under 23 percent of aggravated assaults. No weapons data is collected for rape.

So, with less than 0.37 percent of us committing violent crimes, the huge amount attention being paid to these criminal activities by the media, television executives and others seems considerably off the mark. What other activity conducted by so few garners so much media attention? Sports? Or perhaps today, the extreme default answer might be Donald Trump.

We are a society that embraces the salacious, the unbelievable, and the unfathomable. More, we embrace the violence perpetrated by violent criminals upon others, even if it is out of proportion when it comes to current reality.

Whether appropriate or not, other things do also occupy mass attention these days:

  • Honey-Boo-Boo;
  • Sensational movie-star divorces;
  • Our next-door neighbor’s divorce;
  • Sexual crimes of athletes, movie stars;
  • Sexual affairs of athletes, movie stars;
  • Sexual affairs of our neighbors;
  • Reality television, Housewives of Wherever, the Kardashians;
  • Hurricanes, tornadoes, tsunamis, floods and earthquakes.

All these grab our immediate attention as well, albeit briefly. Of somewhat lesser concern are widespread forest fires, although they do get national news attention if they involve some kind of human interest story or potential ecological disaster.

Despite the gawking, however, in the end, we have each other’s backs.

It is quite appropriate we are concerned with crime and crime prevention. There are more organizations, committees, task forces, boards, agencies, commissions, groups and societies “for the prevention and cure or eradication of” than there are incidents of individual problems. Okay, this is another made-up statistic, but it’s probably true, or close to the truth.

The concept of a just cause that unites people for the greater good was not created in the United States. But early on, Americans jumped to the top of the totem pole in the “rallying because” totals.

Here are three of many just causes involving people and communities today:

  • Crime prevention – neighborhood watches;
  • Medical issues – races for “the cure;”
  • Natural disasters – food, shelter and other relief donations.

Where else in the world do so many volunteer to help others? The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that for the year ending in September, 2015, about 62.6 million people volunteered through or for an organization at least one time. The time involved tallied over 7.7 billion hours and was valued at over $173 billion.

Another study, sponsored by the Department of Labor and conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau, offered that one in four Americans volunteered through an organization in 2014, and two-thirds of Americans helped their neighbors.

Comparison time:

  • 1.16 million crimes committed in 2014
  • 62.6 million individuals volunteered in 2014
  • The number of people who help others is 54 times more than the number of people who hurt others.

There is one major identifiable crime organization today – the Mafia – or maybe two if you count “El Chapo’s” group of thugs. Several minor groups – MS-13 comes to mind, (and for you conspiracy theorists, the IRS) – also operate in the United States

Yet there are thousands, perhaps tens of thousands of groups that exist to help people, fight crime and right wrongs. So why the ongoing fascination then with the often unfathomable underbelly America?

In a word: Salaciousness.

In the end, the single biggest crime in America is violating the trust of those you love, and those who count on you.

Be a real American. Join a group and fight to right wrongs wherever they are found. Volunteer somewhere. You’ll be glad you did. It does make a difference. And it’s a lot more helpful and productive than watching crime shows on TV.


Paul A. Samakow is an attorney licensed in Maryland and Virginia, and has been practicing since 1980.  He represents injury victims and routinely battles insurance companies and big businesses that will not accept full responsibility for the harms and losses they cause. He can be reached at any time by calling 1-866-SAMAKOW (1-866-726-2569), via email, or through his website

His book “The 8 Critical Things Your Auto Accident Attorney Won’t Tell You” can be instantly downloaded, for free, on his website:

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