Crime is a fact of life for most Americans. While statistics clearly show that crime has been declining for the past decade, these numbers can be misleading. For many communities, crime is a persistent problem that has dramatically increased in recent years as the crime rate drops in urban environments and affluent areas. Homeowners need to educate themselves on the dangers in their areas and what crime rates actually mean. Here are a few surprising facts hidden in crime stats…

Nearly 1 in 3 Americans Have Been the Victim of a Crime

It’s not secret that America has a crime problem. In fact, the U.S. has more crime than any other nation on earth, including larger countries like India and China. Even when accounting for political prisoners and other factors, the U.S. has more crime per citizen than anywhere else. And when the numbers are compared to the actual American population, there’s enough crime for 1 in 3 people to have been a victim.

Of course, it’s not THAT bad… When accounting for people that have suffered multiple crimes (either during the same incident or over a period of time) the number is closer to 1 in 5. Still, these numbers don’t bode well for a country that’s obsessed with security. The situation might be even worse than it appears as the majority of crimes aren’t even reported. For example, more than 50 percent of property crimes, like burglary, go unreported.

Most Major Crimes Go Unsolved

Perhaps even more frightening than the number of victims in the U.S. is the number of crimes that go unsolved. Despite the fact that Americans spend more on law enforcement than any other country, most crimes, including major felonies, will go unsolved. The overall clearance rate (the percentage of crimes in a given category that lead to the arrest of a suspect) for most major crimes is well below 50 percent. Burglary, for example, has a clearance rate below 13 percent. Murder is the only major felony with a clearance rate above 50 percent. In 2009, the clearance rate for murders was 65 percent.

Fun Bonus Fact: The budget for the Drug Enforcement Agency was $2.2 billion in 2009, larger than the entire GDP of more than 30 countries.

There’s a Reason for Most Crimes

No one should apologize or make excuses for criminals. However, there is an underlying reason for most crime in America that most people don’t want to address: drugs and alcohol. Whether discussing murder, burglary, vehicle theft, or assault, most criminals have some addiction or connection to drugs or alcohol. While younger offenders (especially burglars and car thieves) can be enticed by the thrill crime can offer, most criminals suffer from some sort of chemical dependency that contributes to their actions. These findings have been confirmed by study after study, leading some to call for a greater focus on rehabilitation methods for reducing crime. Some evidence suggests this approach could work. Portugal decriminalized ALL drugs in the early 2000s and started sending drug offenders to rehab facilities. The overall effect was a substantial decrease in property crimes, murder, and drug related activity. However, some critics argue these trends follow a larger decrease in crime in developed countries over the last decade.

Different Types of Drug Users Commit Different Types of Crime

Not all drug addicts are created equal. Users of one drug are more likely to commit a specific crime than other users of another drug. Heroin and marijuana users are more likely to commit burglary while cocaine users are more likely to rob someone. Declining burglary rates in the 1990s were actually attributed to higher rates of cocaine users.

Suburbs are the Most Dangerous Places in America

The suburbs are often idealized as the perfect place to raise a family. But the last few years have seen a dramatic change in the places Americans live. As professionals and affluent individuals started to relocate to urban environments, once flourishing suburbs have undergone a dramatic change. Suburbs are defined as residential communities within commuting distance of a larger city. While crime has decreased in major cities, like New York and Chicago, the suburbs haven’t been so lucky.

Of the most dangerous places to live in America, suburbs occupy the top five spots. The current most dangerous place in America is East St. Louis, Illinois, a suburb of St. Louis, Missouri. East St. Louis has held the top spot for the past 5 years with no signs of improvement. Below is a list of the most dangerous places in America, along with the nearest big city and the annual number of crimes per resident:

Suburb Nearest City Crime Per 1,000 People
East St. Louis, IL St. Louis, MO 153.97
Chester, PA Philadelphia, PA and Wilmington, DE 64.02
West Memphis, AR Memphis, TN 112.63
Saginaw, MI Flint, MI 68.3
Camden, NJ Philadelphia, PA 70.74