Law Enforcement, Crime Prevention, and Public Opinions About Crime

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After a crime has been committed, the justice system of the United States goes into action. The system has three major components that work together:

  • Law enforcement agencies gather evidence and capture suspected perpetrators.
  • The judicial system tries perpetrators in a court of law and, if they are found guilty, sentences them to a period of incarceration or some other form of punishment, restitution, and/or treatment.
  • Correction agencies house convicted criminals in prisons, jails, treatment centers, or other places of confinement.


In 2002 the United States had 13,981 city, county, and state police agencies and nine major federal law enforcement agencies. As of October 31, 2002, there were 957,502 full-time law enforcement employees. Of the total, 665,555 were sworn police officers and civilian employees accounted for 291,947. Almost 90 percent of police officers were male, while 62.1 percent of civilian employees were female. Suburban counties employed 268,044 law enforcement personnel, and the 70 cities in the nation with populations of 250,000 or more employed 205,573 law enforcement personnel. The 10 cities with populations of one million or more employed 112,183 law enforcement personnel. (See Table 9.1.)

Killed in the Line of Duty

Wearing a badge is a dangerous profession.… While progress is being made, violence remains a serious threat to those who have sworn to protect society.

—The Federal Bureau of Investigation, Law Enforcement Officers Killed and Assaulted, 1996

From 1993 through 2002, felons killed 636 law enforcement officers, an average of about 73 officers per year. Law enforcement murders were higher in the mid-1990s than other years during this time. From a peak of 80 in 1994, the number of officers killed declined to 61 in 1996, rose to 71 in 1997 and dropped in 1999 to 42. In 2002, 56 law enforcement officers were killed in the line of duty, down from 70 in 2001. (See Table 9.2.)

In 2002, 15 officers were killed in ambush situations. Ten officers died during arrest situations, such as drug-related arrests. Ten died in traffic stops or pursuits, nine were killed answering disturbance calls, and eight officers died while investigating suspicious persons or circumstances. Being in a one-officer vehicle was the most dangerous situation: 17 officers were in one-officer vehicles without assistance when they were killed. (See Table 9.3.)


Firearms claimed the lives of 591 of the 636 officers killed in the line of duty from 1993 through 2002. Of these murders, 443 were committed with handguns, 112 with rifles, and 36 with shotguns. Bombs killed nine officers, while knives (eight), personal weapons (three), and other weapons (25) killed the remainder of officers. (See Table 9.4.) During 2002, firearms were used in 51 of the 56 slayings, and handguns were used in 38 of those killings. Ten were killed with rifles and three with shotguns.


In 2002, 61 suspects were arrested for the murders of law enforcement officers; 59 were male and two were female. Thirty-seven of the arrestees were white, and 24 were black. Thirty-six assailants were under the age of 31, and 24 were ages 18 to 24. The average age was 32. (See Table 9.5 and Table 9.6.)

Among the 785 persons arrested and charged for their involvement in killing officers from 1993 to 2002, the average age was 28. Some 528 had been previously arrested for criminal activities (245 of them for crimes of violence), and 373 had been convicted, while 158 were on parole at the time of the killings. (See Table 9.7.)

Percent law enforcement employeesPercent officersPercent civilians
Population groupTotalMaleFemaleTotalMaleFemaleTotalMaleFemale
Total agencies: 13,981 agencies; population 271,240,537957,50273.226.8665,55588.711.3291,94737.962.1
Total cities: 10,653 cities; population 182,456,027558,89275.124.9428,36588.711.3130,52730.269.8
Group I
70 cities, 250,000 and over; population 52,879,728205,57370.529.5154,11683.516.551,45731.868.2
10 cities, 1,000,000 and over; population 24,682,265112,18369.630.483,92582.517.528,25831.468.6
22 cities, 500,000 to 999,999; population 14,767,28752,62672.627.440,10184.016.012,52536.163.9
38 cities, 250,000 to 499,999; population 13,430,17640,76470.429.630,09085.614.410,67427.872.2
Group II
162 cities, 100,000 to 249,999; population 24,457,03961,73973.226.846,12489.011.015,61526.473.6
Group III
389 cities, 50,000 to 99,999; population 26,808,26462,20376.323.747,76291.38.714,44126.973.1
Group IV
760 cities, 25,000 to 49,999; population 26,374,11261,34378.022.047,96092.27.813,38327.372.7
Group V
1,763 cities, 10,000 to 24,999; population 27,930,90368,51379.420.654,41393.16.914,10026.573.5
Group VI
7,509 cities, under 10,000; population 24,005,98199,52179.920.177,99092.17.921,53135.864.2
Suburban counties
964 agencies; population 57,536,474268,04469.830.2158,10486.913.1109,94045.354.7
Rural counties
2,364 agencies population 31,248,036130,56672.127.979,08692.17.951,48041.558.5
Suburban area*
6,528 agencies; population 108,747,307418,09373.326.7275,58489.210.8142,50942.557.5
*Suburban area includes law enforcement agencies in cities with less than 50,000 inhabitants and county law enforcement agencies that are within a Metropolitan Statistical Area.
Suburban area excludes all metropolitan agencies associated with a central city. The agencies associated with suburban areas also appear in other groups within this table.
source: "Table 74: Full-Time Law Enforcement Employees as of October 31, 2002: Employees, Percent Male and Female by Population Group," in Crime in the United States 2002, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Washington, DC, 2003


According to a Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) survey, in June of 2002 federal agencies employed more than 93,000 full-time officers authorized to make arrests and carry guns. This figure reflects an almost 6 percent increase from June of 2000. Of the major federal employers in 2002, the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) employed the most officers (19,407), almost half of whom were Border Patrol agents. The Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) accounted for 14,457 officers, the U.S. Customs Service for 11,977, and the FBI for 11,398. (See Table 9.8.)

In 2002, 85.2 percent of federal officers were male. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS), one of the agencies with 500 or more officers, had the largest proportion of female agents, at 28 percent. The DEA (Drug Enforcement Agency) had the smallest proportion of female officers, only 8.6 percent. Racial or ethnic minorities filled 32.4 percent of all federal law enforcement positions. Hispanics, who can be of any race, accounted for 16.8 percent of federal officers, and non-Hispanic blacks made up another 11.7 percent. Asian/Pacific Islanders (2.5 percent) and American Indians (1.2 percent) were also represented in the federal force. (See Figure 9.1.)

Federal Officers Assaulted and Killed

From 1998 to 2002 a total of 2,772 federal officers were assaulted. The assaults resulted in eight fatalities, one of which occurred in 2002. The 374 federal officers assaulted in 2002 was the lowest number of assaults during this period, with 653 assaults in 1998 being the highest. In

Disturbance calls9810884141678149
Bar fights, person with firearm, etc.415421376454
Family quarrels5754631191495
Arrest situations20528342126221612122410
Burglaries in progress/pursuing burglary suspects231443500330
Robberies in progress/pursuing robbery suspects739187121134144
Drug-related matters383443172383
Attempting other arrests7115868566593
Civil disorders (mass disobedience, riot, etc.)00000000000
Handling, transporting, custody of prisoners201140442220
Investigating suspicious persons/circumstances105151517131067688
Ambush situations965814612106101015
Unprovoked attacks6227847628711
Mentally deranged assailants151411100034
Traffic pursuits/stops97101091189813910
Note: The 72 deaths that resulted from the events of September 11, 2001, are not included in this table.
source: Table 18: Law Enforcement Officers Feloniously Killed, by Circumstance at Scene of Incident, 1993–2002," in Crime in the United States, 2002: Uniform Crime Reports, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Washington, DC, 2003

2002 personal weapons (hands, feet, etc.) were used in 173 incidents, firearms were used in 34 incidents, and threats accounted for 65 incidents.

In July of 1998 the nation was shocked by a shooting in the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C. Russell E. Weston, Jr., was charged with fatally shooting two Capitol police officers, Jacob J. Chestnut and John M. Gibson. Both men were buried with honors in Arlington National Cemetery. Weston himself was wounded in the gunfire exchange but recovered. Also wounded was a young female tourist.


Crime prevention programs implemented by state and local agencies receive over $3.2 billion in U.S. Department of Justice grant funds each year. In 1996 the United States Congress issued a mandate to the Attorney General to authorize an evaluation of the effectiveness of these programs. The University of Maryland's Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice was selected to conduct the evaluation and issue a report. That report, "Preventing Crime: What Works, What Doesn't, What's Promising," was published in July 1998 as a Research in Brief by the National Institute of Justice (Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice, Washington, DC).

In evaluating crime prevention programs throughout the United States, researchers looked at both the process employed by each program (how it was designed to work), and the impact of each program on reducing crime in a number of categories, such as in schools, families, communities, businesses, and high-crime areas. Based on ratings of between one (weakest) and five (strongest) in each category, researchers divided crime prevention programs into those that worked and those that did not work. Programs that worked had ratings of three or higher in at least two categories, while those that did not work had ratings of less than three in all categories or in all but one category. Crime prevention programs were rated as "promising" if there was no conclusive evidence of overall success or failure but the program received a level three evaluation or higher in at least one category and was "found to be effective by the remaining evidence."

What Worked

For small children, frequent home visits to infants under the age of two by trained nurses or aides reduced the incidence of child abuse as well as other injuries to children, and an arrest by age 15 occurred less frequently among preschoolers under the age of five who received weekly home visits from teachers. Among adolescents, risk factors for delinquency such as aggression and hyperactivity were more effectively dealt with by parents who had participated in some type of family therapy or parenting classes.

Several types of school-based programs were identified as being effective. A combination of consistency with school rules, reinforcing positive behavior among students, and implementing school-wide programs such as anti-bullying campaigns reduced the incidence of crime and delinquency. Long-term programs such as Life Skills

1-officer vehicleFoot patrolOther*
CircumstanceTotal2-officer vehicleAloneAssistedAloneAssistedAloneAssistedOff duty
Disturbance calls921500010
Bar fights, person with firearm, etc.401300000
Family quarrels520200010
Arrest situations1011100052
Burglaries in progress/pursuing burglary suspects000000000
Robberies in progress/pursuing robbery suspects410100002
Drug-related matters300000030
Attempting other arrests301000020
Civil disorders (mass disobedience, riot, etc.)000000000
Handling, transporting, custody of prisoners000000000
Investigating suspicious persons/circumstances804200020
Ambush situations1523310213
Unprovoked attacks1123310101
Mentally deranged assailants401300000
Traffic pursuits/stops1017100010
*Includes detectives, officers on special assignments, undercover officers, and officers on other types of assignments that are not listed.
source: "Table 22: Law Enforcement Officers Feloniously Killed, by Circumstance at Scene of Incident Type of Assignment, 2002," in Crime in the United States, 2002: Uniform Crime Reports, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Washington, DC, 2003
Knife or cutting instrument80021210101
Personal weapons30001100010
Note: The 72 deaths that resulted from the events of September 11, 2001, are not included in this table.
source: "Table 26: Law Enforcement Officers Feloniously Killed, by Type of Weapon, 1993–2002," in Crime in the United States, 2002: Uniform Crime Reports, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Washington, DC, 2003

Training in the areas of stress control, anger management, and problem solving helped to reduce delinquency and substance abuse, as did the use of behavior modification techniques in teaching thinking skills to juveniles at high risk of delinquency.

Police programs rated effective in reducing crime included extra police patrols in high-crime areas and the use of specialized units that identified and monitored repeat offenders once they were released into the community. The study found that the arrest of employed domestic abusers reduced the rate of future incidents of domestic abuse by the same individuals.

Among other programs, the threat of filing civil actions against landlords for not reporting drug offenses helped to reduce the incidence of drug crime on their premises, while drug treatment programs in prison reduced the rate of repeat drug offenses by prison parolees. Treatment also proved effective in reducing overall repeat offender rates among both juveniles and adults when the treatment program was targeted at risk

Known assailantsTotal1993199419951996199719981999200020012002
Under 18 years8316181773113422
18–24 years29032383137252724203224
25–30 years15012241423191710111010
31–40 years11791517617101081312
Over 40 years1091313111012112141013
Age not reported3611632010760
Average years of age2828272727302727322932
Note: The 72 deaths that resulted from the events of September 11, 2001, are not included in this table.
source: "Table 38: Law Enforcement Officers Feloniously Killed, Profile of Known Assailants, Age Groups, 1993–2002," in Crime in the United States, 2002: Uniform Crime Reports, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Washington, DC, 2003
Known assailantsTotal1993199419951996199719981999200020012002
Asian/Pacific Islander150223420020
American Indian/Alaskan Native140122332010
Race not reported3210517031410
Sex not reported138410000000
Note: The 72 deaths that resulted from the events of September 11, 2001, are not included in this table.
source: "Table 39: Law Enforcement Officers Feloniously Killed, Profile of Known Assailants, Race and Sex, 1993–2002," in Crime in the United States, 2002: Uniform Crime Reports, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Washington, DC, 2003
Known assailantsTotal1993199419951996199719981999200020012002
Prior criminal arrest52855626248595441514848
Convicted on prior criminal charge37331413842553430293736
Received juvenile conviction on prior criminal charge67664651261129
Received parole or probation on prior criminal charge28725353131352322252931
Prior arrest for
Crime of violence24519454328241811201918
Drug law violation25224263422342721132328
Assaulting an officer or resisting arrest146152520111371991710
Weapons violation24026402826271719191919
Note: The 72 deaths that resulted from the events of September 11, 2001, are not included in this table.
source: "Table 42: Law Enforcement Officers Feloniously Killed, Profile of Known Assailants, Criminal History, 1993–2002," in Crime in the United States, 2002: Uniform Crime Reports, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Washington, DC, 2003
Percent of full-time federal officers with arrest and firearm authority
AgencyNumber of officers*MaleFemaleTotal minorityAmerican IndianBlack or African AmericanAsian or Pacific IslanderHispanic or Latino, any race
Immigration and Naturalization Service19,40787.9%12.1%46.7%0.5%5.0%2.7%38.1%
Federal Bureau of Prisons14,45786.413.640.01.424.91.512.3
U.S. Customs Service11,97781.418.636.
Federal Bureau of Investigation11,39882.
U.S. Secret Service4,26690.3%9.7%20.3%0.8%11.9%1.9%5.6%
Drug Enforcement Administration4,11191.48.617.
U.S. Postal Inspection Service3,17582.317.737.20.423.24.29.4
Internal Revenue Service2,86872.
U.S. Marshals Service2,69288.411.617.
Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms2,36287.1%12.9%19.8%1.1%9.2%1.9%7.4%
National Park Service2,14884.815.
Ranger Activities Division1,55883.
U.S. Park Police59089.310.720.
Veterans Health Administration1,64991.48.640.
U.S. Capitol Police1,22581.2%18.8%33.0%0.2%29.0%1.0%2.8%
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service72888.911.
GSA-Federal Protective Service70990.79.340.30.430.41.18.5
USDA Forest Service61178.121.918.
Bureau of Diplomatic Security59290.49.616.
Note: Data on gender and race or ethnicity of officers were not provided by the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts.
Detail may not add to total because of rounding or because of personnel classified as "other" race.
*Includes employees in U.S. Territories.
source: Brian A. Reaves and Lynn M. Bauer, "Table 5: Gender and Race or Ethnicity of Federal Officers with Arrest and Firearm Authority, Agencies Employing 500 or More Full-Time Officers, June 2002," in Federal Law Enforcement Officers, 2002, U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, Washington, DC, August 2003

factors related to the underlying criminal offense, such as aggression or childhood abuse.

What Did Not Work

Despite their popularity and widespread use, gun buy-back programs, Drug Abuse Resistance Education (D.A.R.E.), and "Scared Straight" programs that brought juvenile offenders face-to-face with hardened prison inmates were among programs rated ineffective by researchers. Among other popular programs, boot camps using military-like discipline and regimentation failed to reduce the rate of repeat offenders among both juveniles and adults. Similarly, shock probation, shock parole, and split sentences under which offenders were briefly incarcerated before being released to a supervised community setting did not reduce the incidence of repeat offending any more than programs that placed similar offenders directly under community supervision without an initial period of incarceration.

According to the report, the incarceration of serious offenders at high risk of re-offending was effective in preventing future crimes; however, the less serious the offender, the less likely incarceration was to have a demonstrable impact on future crimes.

As discussed earlier, the arrest of employed domestic abusers reduced repeat offenses of domestic abuse; however, the opposite occurred among domestic abusers who were unemployed. According to the report, "Arrests of unemployed suspects for domestic assault caused higher rates of repeat offending over the long term than nonarrest alternatives" that addressed the underlying problems that contributed to the unemployment, such as substance abuse.

Summer-job and subsidized work programs also failed to reduce crime or arrests, as did police newsletters with local crime information.

What Was Promising

The report lists the following programs as among those that are potentially helpful in reducing certain types of criminal activity or repeat offending:

  • Proactive drunk driving arrests with breath tests may reduce accident deaths.
  • Community policing, including meetings with area residents, may reduce inaccurate perceptions of crime.
  • Mailing arrest warrants to domestic violence suspects who leave the scene before police arrive may reduce repeat offenses.
Oct. 7–10, 1983Feb. 10–13, 1984Jan. 25–28, 1985July 11–14, 1986Apr. 10–13, 1987Sept. 9–11, 1988May 4–7, 1989July 19–22, 1990Mar. 7–10, 1991Mar. 26–29, 1992Jan. 8–11, 1993Jan. 15–17, 1994Jan. 16–18, 1995May 9–12, 1996Jan. 10–13, 1997Apr. 17–19, 1998May 23–24, 1999Mar. 10–12, 2000Jan. 10–14, 2001Mar. 4–7, 2002Feb. 3–6, 2003
High cost of living; inflation; taxes12%10%11%4%5%2%3%2%2%8%4%4%7%11%6%7%3%13%6%2%2%
International problems; foreign affairs711NANANA44NA1383243434428
Crime; violence5443326125937272523201713912
Fear of war/nuclear war; international tensions14112722235212NANANA(a)NANANA2NA(a)1235
Ethics, moral, family decline57235152257861491618151374
Excessive government spending; Federal budget deficit412181311127218813514158514113
Dissatisfaction with government22NANA5NA21NA85651278511942
Economy (general)45671012872442351410122163671834
Poverty; hunger; homelessnessNANA665710710151511107101075443
Drugs; drug abuseNANA281111271811869610171255732
Trade deficit; trade relationsNANANANANA3311432121111(a)NANA
Education; quality of educationNANANANANA2322887513101311161274
Environment; pollutionNANANANANANA452331131222221
Health careNANANANANANANANANA12182012107658765
No opinion; don't know4433412756222276426845
Note: Exact wording of response categories varies across surveys. Multiple responses are possible; the Source records up to three problems per respondent. Some problems mentioned by a small percentage of respondents are not included in the table. Sample sizes vary from year to year; the data for 2003 are based on telephone interviews with a randomly selected national sample of 1,001 adults, 18 years of age and older, conducted Feb. 3-6, 2003.
*Less than 0.5%.
source: "Table 2.1: Attitudes toward the Most Important Problem Facing the Country," in Sourcebook of Criminal Justice Statistics 2002, U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, Washington, DC, 2003. The Gallup Organization, Inc.
  • Battered women's shelters may help some women reduce the likelihood of being victimized again.
  • Gang monitoring by community workers and probation and police officers may reduce criminal gang activity.
  • Community-based mentoring by Big Brothers/Big Sisters of America may prevent drug abuse.
  • Schools that group students into smaller units, like a school within a school, may prevent school crime.
  • Job Corps residential training programs for at-risk youth may reduce the incidence of felony offenses.
  • Prison-based vocational education programs for adult inmates in federal prisons may reduce repeat offending.
  • Adding a second clerk in a convenience store that was previously robbed may reduce store robberies.
  • Drug courts may reduce repeat drug offending.
  • Drug treatment in jails with follow-up urine testing in the community may reduce the rate of drug re-offenses.
  • Intensive supervision and aftercare of juvenile offenders may reduce the rate of re-offending for both minor and serious crimes.
  • Community-based after-school recreation programs may reduce local juvenile crime.

Neighborhood Watch

According to the report, "Neighborhood watch programs organized with police failed to reduce burglary or

MoreLessSame*No opinion
*Response volunteered.
source: "Table 2.31: Attitudes toward Level of Crime in the United States 1989–2002," in Sourcebook of Criminal Justice Statistics 2002, U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, Washington, DC, 2003. The Gallup Organization, Inc.

other target crimes, especially in higher crime areas where voluntary participation often fails." The latter point on voluntary participation was echoed by The National Sheriffs' Association, which founded the current National Neighborhood Watch Program in 1972 with funding from the Law Enforcement Assistance Administration. According to information provided by the National Sheriffs' Association, "Communities that need neighborhood watches the most are the ones that find it the hardest to keep them. This is particularly the case with lower income neighborhoods. Typically, adults in these neighborhoods work multiple jobs with odd hours, making it difficult to schedule meetings and organize events. It also makes it difficult for neighbors to get to know and care about one another in a way that makes them feel comfortable watching out for one another."

Still, according to the National Sheriffs' Association, the National Neighborhood Watch Program has proved successful in reducing crime in many neighborhoods across the country. For example, in Minnesota in the late 1990s, existing Neighborhood Watch programs mobilized in response to a rise in crime and assisted local police in clearing an average of 25 percent of cases. Similarly, in the late 1990s, with the help of Neighborhood Watch programs in Fairfax County, Virginia, burglary rates dropped by 90 percent.

According to the National Sheriffs' Association, "Although not all Neighborhood Watches report success, and most of the time they fail to fully mobilize the residents, most of these programs are successful. Further, these programs often produce positive results beyond reducing crime, such as social interaction or cleaning up the neighborhood."

MoreLessSame*No opinion
January 19894721275
June 19895318227
*Response volunteered.
source: "Table 2.33: Attitudes toward Level of Crime in Your Area, 1972–2002," in Sourcebook of Criminal Justice Statistics 2002, U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, Washington, DC, 2003. The Gallup Organization, Inc.


The fear of becoming a victim of crime can undermine community relationships. People may withdraw physically and emotionally, losing contact with their neighbors and weakening the social fabric of their lives and communities. In a 2003 Gallup Poll, 2 percent of those polled named crime and violence as the most important problem facing the country. This percentage was down significantly from 37 percent in 1994, the highest percentage recorded in the past 20 years. The mid-1990s saw the highest percentages of those who saw crime and violence as the most important issue. Since that time the percentages have decreased dramatically. By 2001 the number had fallen to only 1 percent, and only 2 percent in 2002. (See Table 9.9.)

More Crime or Less Crime Today?

Another Gallup Poll reported that 62 percent of Americans thought there was more crime in the United States in 2002 than in the year before. (See Table 9.10.) That figure is higher than the 41 percent of respondents in 2001 who felt there was more crime than the year before, and the 47 percent of respondents in 2000 who felt the same. But in 1989, 84 percent of respondents felt there was more crime than the year before.

In 2002 more women (70 percent) felt there was more crime than there had been the year before than did men (53 percent). Seventy-six percent of blacks thought so, compared to 60 percent of whites. Fifty-eight percent of the youngest respondents (18 to 29 years of age) and 68

source: "Table 2.35: Respondents Reporting Fear of Walking Alone at Night, Selected Years 1965–2002," in Sourcebook of Criminal Justice Statistics 2002, U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, Washington, DC, 2003. The Gallup Organization, Inc.

percent of the oldest (65 or older) felt that there was more crime in the United States than the year before. Those who were less educated and had more limited earnings were more likely to feel that there was more crime in the United States than the year prior.

Some 37 percent of respondents in another Gallup Poll said that they believed there was more crime in their area in 2002 than there was a year ago. This is up from the 26 percent who perceived more crime in their area in 2001, but well below the over 50 percent during the years from June 1989 to 1992 and the 46 percent in 1996 and 1997. (See Table 9.11.)

Feeling Afraid

In 2002 the Gallup Poll found that about one in three Americans (35 percent) was afraid to walk alone at night. Almost the same proportion of Americans felt that way in 1965 (34 percent). Through the 1970s, 1980s, and early 1990s the proportion increased to between 40 and 45 percent, and declined steadily from 1993 to 2001, before rising again in 2002. (See Table 9.12.)

Asked if they engaged in selective behaviors because of concern over crime, 43 percent of Gallup Poll respondents in 2002 reported avoiding going to certain places or neighborhoods, 30 percent kept a dog for protection, 24 percent had a burglar alarm, and 21 percent reported buying a gun for protection. (See Table 9.13.)

Avoid going to certain places or neighborhoods you might otherwise want to go to43%37%49%
Keep a dog for protection302634
Had a burglar alarm installed in your home242523
Bought a gun for protection of yourself or your home212716
Carry mace or pepper spray16922
Carry a knife for defense11157
Carry a gun for defense10165
source: "Table 2.38: Respondents Reporting Whether They Engaged in Selected Behaviors Because of Concern over Crime, 2002," in Sourcebook of Criminal Justice Statistics 2002, U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, Washington, DC, 2003. The Gallup Organization, Inc.


Worrying about Crime

Each year the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan conducts the Monitoring the Future survey of students and young adults. Primarily, the survey asks questions about social behaviors, such as sexual activity, drug use, violence, and crime. In 2002, 75.5 percent of high school seniors said that they often or sometimes worried about crime and violence. Female students (83.1 percent) were more likely to worry than were male students (66.5 percent). Black students (80.8 percent) were more worried about crime and violence than white students (73.4 percent). (See Table 9.14.)

According to the same study, when asked how often they worried about certain major problems facing the nation, high school seniors in the class of 2002 said they worried about crime and violence the most (75.5 percent), followed by drug abuse (56.9 percent), hunger and poverty (49.7 percent), and economic problems (47 percent). From 1990 to 2002 crime and violence was the number one worry of high school seniors participating in the study.

Juvenile Punishment

In 2000 nearly two-thirds of respondents to a national Gallup Poll thought that juveniles between the ages of 14 and 17 who commit violent crimes should be tried as adults. Male respondents were more likely to feel that way than females. Sixty-eight percent of those interviewed who had "some college" education believed juveniles should be tried as adults, while only 55 percent of those with post-college graduate education felt that way.

In 2003 the Survey Research Program of the College of Criminal Justice at Sam Houston State University asked for opinions regarding whether those under the age of 18 should be eligible for the death penalty. Just over 52 percent believed they should be eligible, while 32.6 percent believed the death penalty should be only for those over the age of 18. Of those who believed the death penalty should be applied to those under the age of 18, 37.7 percent thought the youngest aged offenders should be 16 years old.


A Gallup Poll found that although a majority of Americans still favored the death penalty in 2001, the percentage of those supporting the death penalty was 67 percent, down from a high of 75 percent in 1997. In 2003 a Gallup Poll found that 60 percent believed the death penalty was applied fairly, with 65 percent of whites stating this view as compared to 26 percent of blacks. (See Table 9.15.)


Each year the Gallup Organization, Inc., asks the American people about their confidence in the major institutions of society. Twenty-nine percent of those polled in 2003 said that they had a great deal or quite a lot of confidence in the criminal justice system, with 45 percent reporting some confidence. (See Table 9.16.) Those with less education and lower income levels had the least confidence in the criminal justice system. Those aged 18 to 29 years old had the highest level of confidence (35 percent) of any age group. Of Democrats, 29 percent expressed a great deal of confidence, compared with 32 percent of Republicans.

In 2003 one-fourth of all respondents had either very little or no confidence in the criminal justice system. Fewer whites (24 percent) than blacks (42 percent) had little or no confidence in the system. Fewer Republicans (24 percent) than Democrats (26 percent) expressed a lack of confidence in the criminal justice system. Those who earned less than $20,000 a year (35 percent) were more likely than those who earned more than $75,000 a year (19 percent) to feel little or no confidence in the system.


In the 2003 Gallup Poll, Americans expressed much more confidence in the police than they did in the criminal justice system. Sixty-one percent stated they had a great deal or quite a lot of confidence in the police, and 29 percent said they had some confidence. Only 10 percent claimed to have little or no confidence in the police. (See Table 9.17.)

Blacks (43 percent) were significantly less likely than whites (65 percent) to have a high level of confidence in the police. Suburban dwellers (64 percent) and Republicans (70 percent) were more likely than rural residents

Class of 1990 (N=2,595)Class of 1991 (N=2,595)Class of 1992 (N=2,736)Class of 1993 (N=2,807)Class of 1994 (N=2,664)Class of 1995 (N=2,646)Class of 1996 (N=2,502)Class of 1997 (N=2,651)Class of 1998 (N=2,621)Class of 1999 (N=2,348)Class of 2000 (N=2,204)Class of 2001 (N=2,222)Class of 2002 (N=2,267)
North Central87.088.887.690.293.286.787.485.180.780.084.679.475.0
College plans
Lifetime illicit drug use
Marijuana only87.185.489.691.191.590.991.985.782.382.885.885.277.0
Few pills87.686.689.490.795.692.691.088.384.684.379.183.177.8
More pills85.784.890.687.489.584.187.481.083.375.679.973.869.7
Note: Data are given for those who identify themselves as white or Caucasian and those who identify themselves as black or African-American; data are not given for the other ethnic categories because each of these groups constitues a small portion of the sample in any given year and therefore would yield unreliable estimates
source: Adapted from Lloyd D. Johnston, Jerald G. Bachman, and Patrick M. O'Malley, "Table 2.69: High School Seniors Reporting that They Worry about Crime and Violence, by Sex, Race, Region, College Plans, and Illicit Drug Use, United States, 1990–2002," Monitoring the Future 2000, University of Michigan, Institute for Social Research, Ann Arbor, MI. updated. Sourcebook of Criminal Justice Statistics, U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, Washington, DC, 2003

(55 percent) and Democrats (58 percent) to express high levels of confidence. A strong majority in all demographic groups had at least some confidence in the police.

According to Factors That Influence Public Opinion of the Police (U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, National Institute of Justice, 2003), police can improve public opinion in the community by increasing the number of informal contacts they have with citizens. These contacts can include community meetings, talking with citizens, and increasing police visibility in the neighborhoods. Such contacts improved public opinion even when the local crime rate was high. They also lessened the negative impact when residents had formal contacts with police, such as being arrested or questioned. These improvements were found regardless of the residents' race or ethnicity.


Guns in the Home

In 2002, 41 percent of Americans told the Gallup Poll they had guns in their homes, up from 40 percent in 2001. The proportion of gun ownership stayed relatively stable the last four decades of the twentieth century, ranging from a low of 36 percent in 1999 to a high of 51 percent in October 1993. (See Table 9.18.)

In 2002 the most likely people to own guns were male, with some college, aged 50 to 64 years old, making $50,000 to $74,999 per year, and living in the South (48 percent) or Midwest (45 percent).

Laws Governing Firearm Sales

The regulation of gun sales remained a controversial issue for the nation's citizens into the new century. In 2002 the Gallup Poll reported that 51 percent of those polled felt that laws covering firearm sales should be stricter, a drop from 62 percent in 2000. Thirty-six percent favored keeping the laws as they were, and 11 percent believed the gun laws should be less strict. Fifty-eight percent of females, 59 percent of blacks, and 62 percent of Democrats supported stricter laws, compared to 43 percent of males, 49 percent of whites, and 40 percent of Republicans. Fifty-nine percent of persons living in urban areas felt that firearm sales laws should be stricter, a drop from 67 percent in 2000, while 42 percent of rural residents supported stricter gun laws, a decrease from 53 percent in 2000. (See Table 9.19.)

Applied fairlyApplied unfairlyDon't know/refused
18 to 29 years64351
30 to 49 years67312
50 to 64 years54442
50 years and older52444
65 years and older51445
College post graduate46513
College graduate54397
Some college61363
High school graduate or less67321
$75,000 and over58384
$50,000 to $74,99966322
$30,000 to $49,99966331
$20,000 to $29,99960391
Under $20,00052453
Urban area53461
Suburban area66304
Rural area58402
source: "Table 2.52: Attitudes Toward Fairness of the Application of the Death Penalty," in Sourcebook of Criminal Justice Statistics 2002, U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, Washington, DC, 2003. The Gallup Organization, Inc.
Great deal/quite a lotSomeVery littleNone1
18 to 29 years3549151
30 to 49 years2644282
50 to 64 years2649241
50 years and older2844271
65 years and older3040292
College post graduate3548172
College graduate4044151
Some college2950201
High school graduate or less2339362
$75,000 and over3546181
$50,000 to $74,9993146232
$30,000 to $49,9993145222
$20,000 to $29,9992043342
Under $20,0002441341
Urban area2746261
Suburban area3244231
Rural area2645281
1Response volunteered.
2Less than 0.5%
source: "Table 2.12: Reported Confidence in the Criminal Justice System, 2003," in Sourcebook of Criminal Justice Statistics 2002, U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, Washington, DC, 2003. The Gallup Organization, Inc.
Great deal/quite a lotSomeVery littleNone1
18 to 29 years6125122
30 to 49 years5931102
50 to 64 years632881
50 years and older642882
65 years and older662760
College post graduate673032
College graduate702640
Some college642781
High school graduate or less5331151
$75,000 and over702642
$50,000 to $74,999682480
$30,000 to $49,999642691
$20,000 to $29,9994832163
Under $20,0004936141
Urban area5926141
Suburban area643062
Rural area5533111
1Response volunteered.
2Less than 0.5%.
source: "Table 2.13: Reported Confidence in the Police 2003," in Sourcebook of Criminal Justice Statistics 2002, U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, Washington, DC, 2003. The Gallup Organization, Inc.
March 19934851
October 19935148
July 19963860
November 19964454
April 20004257
August 20003960
source: "Table 2.56: Respondents Reporting Having a Gun in Their Home, Selected Years 1959–2002," in Sourcebook of Criminal Justice Statistics 2002, U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, Washington, DC, 2003. The Gallup Organization, Inc.
More strictLess strictKept as they are now
18 to 29 years511039
30 to 49 years521334
50 to 64 years511234
50 years and older491038
65 years and older46942
College post graduate611028
College graduate59534
Some college471636
High school graduate or less471140
$75,000 and over571131
$50,000 to $74,999491238
$30,000 to $49,999531332
$20,000 to $29,999521038
Under $20,00048842
Urban area591130
Suburban area511235
Rural area421145
source: "Table 2.61: Attitudes toward Laws Covering the Sale of Firearms 2002," in Sourcebook of Criminal Justice Statistics 2002, U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, Washington, DC, 2003. The Gallup Organization, Inc.

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Law Enforcement, Crime Prevention, and Public Opinions About Crime

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Law Enforcement, Crime Prevention, and Public Opinions About Crime