Crime Rate Lower in United States, Canada Than in Britain

by David W. Moore

Britons have lowest confidence in their police, Canadians most

GALLUP NEWS SERVICE

PRINCETON, NJ -- The United States is often seen from abroad as a relatively lawless society, with murders and gun-related crimes aplenty. But a recent series of Gallup surveys in Great Britain, Canada, and the United States suggests that the image may be somewhat distorted. According to the surveys, the overall crime rate in the United States is lower than in Britain and about the same as in Canada. The polls also show that, among citizens in the three countries, Britons appear to have the least confidence in their police, while Canadians have the most. Britons are also the most likely to say that they live near an area where they would be afraid to walk alone at night.

The crime rate in each country is measured by people's responses to eight questions that ask whether a particular crime happened to the respondents, or to anyone in their households, in the past year. Overall, 32% of U.S. respondents mention some type of crime occurring to someone in their households, compared with 33% of Canadians and 36% of Britons. Three of the eight items ask about violent crime, and the responses reveal that 5% each of U.S. and Canadian households have been the victims of such crime, compared with 8% of British households.

Percentage of People Reporting Occurrence
of Each Incident in Last 12 Months

Britain

Canada

United States

%

%

%

A home, car, or property owned by you or another household
member was vandalized

22

17

15

Money or property was stolen from you or another
member of your household

13

17

16

You or another household member was the victim of a computer
or Internet-based crime, such as fraud or computer hacking,
while using your home computer

7

6

8

You or another household member was mugged or physically
assaulted

7

4

4

Your house or (U.S./Canada: apartment/Great Britain: flat)
was broken into

4

4

4

A car owned by you or another household member was stolen

5

3

2

Money or property was taken from you or another household
member by force, with a gun, knife, weapon or physical attack,
or by threat of force

2

2

2

You or another household member was sexually assaulted

1

1

1

NET HOUSEHOLDS VICTIMIZED BY CRIME

36

33

32

NET HOUSEHOLDS VICTIMIZED BY VIOLENT CRIME

8

5

5

NET INDIVIDUALS VICTIMIZED BY CRIME

25

21

21

NET INDIVIDUALS VICTIMIZED BY VIOLENT CRIME

4

2

3

The individual crime rates were calculated by determining whether the specific incidents had occurred to the interviewees or to someone else. The results show that 21% of Americans were victimized by some type of crime in the past year, compared with 21% of Canadians and 25% of Britons. Violent crime victimization among individuals is 3% in the United States, 2% in Canada, and 4% in Britain.

Confidence in Police

Given the overall higher crime rate in Britain, it is perhaps no surprise that Britons express the least amount of confidence in their police to protect them from violent crime. Just 42% of Britons say they have a great deal or quite a lot of confidence, compared with 53% of Americans and 67% of Canadians.

The lower confidence in the United States could be related to the timing of the survey, which was conducted about the time that there was a major news story about police beatings in New Orleans. A year earlier, 61% of Americans expressed a great deal or quite a lot of confidence in the police, similar to the 63% of Canadians, and much higher than the 39% of Britons expressing that level of confidence.

Fear of Walking Alone at Night

Another major difference found among the countries is the percentage of people who live near an area where they are afraid to walk alone at night. Thirty-five percent of Canadians live within a mile of such an area, compared with 38% of Americans and 45% of Britons. Similar results were found in the multination polls conducted in 2004, with the percentages lower for the United States and Canada than for Britain.

Perceptions of Crime Trends

Relatively few differences are found among the residents of the three countries in their assessments of the crime trends in their own neighborhoods. Forty-seven percent of Americans, 46% of Canadians, and 43% of Britons say there has been more crime in their areas in the past year, while about a quarter to a third say there has been less.

Residents in the three countries are also similar in their assessments of how much crime there is now in their countries, compared with a year ago. The percentages saying "more" are much higher than the percentages saying there is more crime in their own areas, suggesting that across the countries, people are more positive about their local situations than national situations.

Seventy-one percent each of Britons and Canadians say there has been more crime in their respective countries, compared with 67% of Americans. Britons are the least likely to say there is less crime -- 11%, compared with 16% of Canadians and 21% of Americans.

Survey Methods

Results in the United States are based on telephone interviews with 1,012 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Oct. 13-16, 2005. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points. The survey was conducted by Gallup USA.

Results in Canada are based on telephone interviews with 1,003 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Dec. 12-18, 2005. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points. The survey was conducted by Gallup Canada.

Results in Great Britain are based on telephone interviews with 1,010 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Dec. 12-20, 2005. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points. The survey was conducted by Gallup UK.

In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

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