Today I went to the Bureau of Justice Statistics Web site to look at the relationship of assailant to victim, and found some other things besides. I also checked out the Center for Disease Control.
Mostly, We Lived
In the last year of reported data (2007) at the Centers for Disease Control (CDC FastStats site), there were 1.4 million emergency room visits because of assault/attempted homicide/homicide. Murder was the 15th most likely cause of death (behind heart disease (#1), cancer (#2) , and suicide (#11)).
There were 18,361 homicide deaths in 2007. 12,632 of those resulted from firearms use.
You have to say those emergency rooms are doing a good job: assuming that all the murder victims died in an E.R. (which they don't), that would still be a 1.3% death rate to overall visits for assault. If you're dying, the paramedics and the E.R. are generally going to save you. Unless you go out afterwards and continue to do whatever got you there in the first place. The same of course is true with heart disease: can't do what you've been doing and expect to live a long life.
But Sometimes We Didn't
The BJS site is a little behind the CDC: most of their reporting ends at 2005.
Victim/Offender Relationships: 1976--2005.
All Homicides 1976-2005 100% 594,276
People kill their spouses about 7% of the time. Wives and ex-wives usually die of gunshot wounds.
They kill their boyfriend or girlfriend about 3.8% of the time. Boyfriends usually die of knife wounds.
They kill some other close family member about 8% of the time.
They kill "non-intimate family", friends, or acquaintances about 32.1% of the time.
It's more likely that these acquaintances will be male, and of age 18-24. This is also the age that uses guns the most. Gang violence has increased 800% (eightfold) over the reported thirty years.
The relationship was undetermined for 35.2% of all homicides in that time period.
That particular statistic "undetermined" is trending upward: no doubt caused by a variety of factors, including a lack of police manpower for apprehensions and for murder investigations. In 1975, 79% of all homicide cases cleared; in 2005, 62%. That's a pretty strong correlation to the undetermined percentage, which has also trended up.
So at least 50.8 % of all homicides are committed by people that knew the victim. Arguments factor into most of them: that's how the homicide starts. That's opposed to homicide in commission with another crime--robbery, rape, and so forth. Mostly it's people getting mad and settling it forever. With a gun. Usually. The BJS says gun-related murder is trending downward, but I don't think the CDC believes it. That's why it's good to check more than one site for your stats. Each producer of stats has a vested interest. Each of them has a different means of getting their reports.
Strangers committed 13.9% of all homicides in that time period.
None of these figures add in 9/11, which according to Wikipedia, killed 2977 people. If you add those into the total, the figure for "homicide by strangers" goes up to 13.95% . The Twin Towers, the Pentagon, and Pennsylvania--as awful and symbolic as they are--do not add appreciably to the number of murders that happened in the United States from 1975 to 2005. But perhaps it's not fair to dilute that by 30 years.
Murder per capita, selected years:
2001, including 9-11-- 7.1. According to the CDC, 20,308 people total died in 2001 of assault/homicide. Even if that includes the 9-11 deaths, then less than 15% of that years' homicides were from this frightening terrorist attack in three locations. Not even equal percentage to the number of intimate family homicides that same year.
According to the BJS, homicides clear more often than any other type of case.
And that makes me wonder something else about police work. Big crimes are fascinating to us: they are discrete (separate) events. Crappy crimes like armed robbery or car theft are more likely to happen to us. They are more likely to impact our daily life.
We hold the loss of human life as the most important, but is it really the most important to us? A murder across town--does it affect us as much as having our handbag stolen? It takes forever to get a duplicate license, a new picture of our boyfriend or grandchild, to cancel our credit cards. A wallet costs more than $20.00 these days, and requires a trip to the store when we don't have our new driver's license yet. Plus we're anxious, angry, afraid, and maybe kicking ourselves for being careless.
But these crimes have a less successful clearance rate. I wonder if our society's dissatisfaction with policing comes from the difference of our moral expectations--and our real expectations. I wonder if our real expectation is to be spared inconvenience--not to worry about human life.
Doing More Triage with Band-Aids
And more than ever, a quick look at statistics shows us this: whichever we pick, the "life is precious" road or the "convenience is precious" one, we've underfunded our police departments. We've got mixed motives in our policing expectations, and a far from clear set of priorities. That's made us ambiguous at best and hostile at worst toward law enforcement and its officers. "Shouldn't you be out fighting real crime?" they hear. Yet accidental injury (including drunk drivers and road war) is #3 on the CDC mortality statistics. Way above murder. Way above suicide. It's life-affirming to write traffic violations. Why is that so hard to believe?
I believe law enforcement agencies have realized this societal ambiguity between life-affirming and convenience-affirming. The LEO on the street is inconvenienced and importuned by it and the agencies have internalized it. We now have a lot of bean-counting inside the agencies, which the police officers seemingly don't like and we don't pay attention to anyway. Statistics on robbery or loitering seem to figure more highly in "police performance assessment" and reportedly can be fudged by knocking down the charges to a lesser violation, or inflating the number of contacts. It's artificial. On some level, it's meant to appease. And get funding. Our ambiguity trends into our funding for the departments. The bean-counting is their fight back. It only works half the picture at best, and reinforces our ambiguity at worst.
As long as society at large fails to realize that police "productivity" is in direct but also inverse proportion from the stats, society will not get either the convenient or the life-affirming law enforcement response. The more crimes solved or prevented, the less need it seems we have for police. But prevention means placing resources before the fact. You can't go by need alone (crime is going up; case clearance going down), but also by the effect (crime is going down; case clearance is up). When law enforcement succeeds, we cut funding. It only makes sense in statistics, not in real life.
This is not what I was starting to look for when I studied homicide statistics. It's just what grabbed me. I was looking for stats comparing Bubba Terrorism to Islamic Terrorism. Haven't found those yet. I got distracted.
Support your local law enforcement agencies. That's what I really have. Do it from the pocket--you get what you pay for. And do it with a smile. That would be life-affirming. Might even work on the convenience scale, too.