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  Chapter Twelve:

  Capital Punishment
  Offenses of Prisoners
  Juvenile Offenders



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Robberies increased rapidly from the early 1960s to the mid-1970s and remained at a high level until the last decade of the century, when a sharp downturn ensued.
The incidence of robbery is considered the best overall indicator of a populationís exposure to criminal risk. Unlike homicides or rapes, nearly all robberies are committed by strangers. Unlike thefts or assaults, most robberies are reported. And only robbery is both a violent crime and a property crime. 

Unfortunately, the trend data for robbery are incomplete. Data from the FBIís Uniform Crime Reports go back only to 1957, as shown in the chart. A series based on the National Criminal Victimization Survey goes back no further than 1972. No information is available about the nationwide incidence of robbery before 1957, and data from the two official sources do not agree for the period they both cover. 

What is clear from the data is that the incidence of robbery tripled between 1965 and 1975 and then remained at a high level, peaking in 1991. The incidence of robbery dropped sharply during the remainder of the century, declining 44 percent between 1991 and 1999. 

Criminologists disagree about the reasons for the abrupt surge in robbery and other serious crimes during the 1960s, as well as the causes of the decline in the 1990s. The original rise has been blamed on the social unrest of the 1960s, the spread of illegal drugs, court-imposed restrictions on police practices, demographic and ethnic shifts, the expansion of street gangs, and youth unemployment. The subsequent decline has been attributed variously to a huge increase in incarceration, new policing strategies, the maturation of the illegal drug market, a sharp decline in youth unemployment, the substitution of credit cards for cash, and enhanced security measures in stores and other public places. 

None of these factors, taken alone, seems to explain much about the trend in robberies during the last four decades of the century. Presumably these factors worked in some as yet unknown combination to produce the trend described here.

Chapter 12 chart 2

Source Notes
Source Abbreviations

HS series H 956; SA 1998, table 335; WA 2000, page 906; and the Uniform Crime Reports web site at (accessed September 1, 2000). For the incidence of robbery, and for information on its surge after 1960, see HCS, section 2. See also Adam Dobrin, Brian Wiersema, Colin Loftin, and David McDowall, eds., Statistical Handbook on Violence in America (Phoenix: Oryx Press, 1996).


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