How should we interpret bump in Colo. crime rate? ‘We don’t know’

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Crime and Handcuffs
Crime statistics are tough to assess but criminologists says crime is at an all-time low.

Assessing the crime rate can confound even the most seasoned criminologists. All you have to do is look at the most recent stats from Colorado.

When it comes to rape, for instance, the number of cases in Colorado are up significantly -- statistically, speaking, that is. The percentage of rapes jumped 41 percent -- from 2,055 cases in 2012 to 2,903 cases in 2013. But ask Kim English, of the Colorado Division of Criminal Justice, what's going on and it might just be that a change in the definition of rape is a factor. While it’s possible the incidence of rape is going up, the most likely explanation is that the definition of rape was broadened to include sexual assault with an object and forcible sodomy, which covers men who are raped.

Overall, the state’s crime rate has edged up a bit in the last couple of years, according to numbers released this month. Yet simultaneously, the crime rate in Colorado and the United States sit at an all-time low.

“We don’t know if the crime rate has hit rock bottom and if we’re starting to trend up," says English, noting a small statistical rise.

While Colorado typically has a higher percentage of rape cases than other states, it’s probably due more to awareness than the number of incidences.

“We have in Colorado a very strong long-lasting victims’ movement that’s been very active since the 70s and 80s, and we have very aware police departments,” English says. “And I’ve wondered if that was one of the reasons why we have a higher rape rate because people are more willing to report.”

English says one flaw in current crime tracking is they don’t include what she calls modern crimes.

“[Things] like identify theft and white collar crime and fraud,” English says. “We think those things are probably going up, but we don’t have very good measures of those.”

As for marijuana-related crimes, some people predicted those crimes would go up since recreational pot was legalized, but she says that hasn’t been born out in the numbers.

“In the scientific literature, there’s very little that links marijuana to criminal activity, whereas violence is linked to alcohol, for example,” says English. “So we’re really not looking to see marijuana-related crime go up.”

And while crime is generally at an historic low, English says it’s important to note that there are neighborhoods in Colorado where crime has risen, especially in places where poverty persists.