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FBI stats show crime is up in Colorado

Experts warn statistics offer little context about root of crime, and to take the numbers with a grain of salt.

DENVER — The FBI’s yearly crime statistics report shows both violent and property crime were up year after year in Colorado and since the start of the pandemic, but experts warn those statistics offer little context about crime and its root.

185,571 property crimes were logged in the National Incident Based Reporting System (NIBRS) by 235 of the state’s 247 law enforcement agencies in 2022 in Colorado, up 11% from the 166,875 property crimes reported by 225 agencies in 2020.

23,484 violent crimes were reported in 2021 compared to 20,829 in 2020, up 12% year to year.

It’s important to note, 10 fewer agencies in Colorado reported crimes in 2020 compared to 2021.

“These national statistics, they mostly lead you in a direction that is not evidence informed but is politically informed,” said Aya Gruber, a former defense attorney and criminal law professor at CU Boulder.

“I think crime statistics have a tendency to trigger cultural narratives that aren’t always as helpful to making decisions in life and can really limit people and make them scared for no reason and are exploited by politicians to get votes,” she said.

Gruber said anyone reading into crime statistics should be educated consumers of the data.

“We need to understand crime trends,” she said.  "We need to understand our neighborhoods, we need to understand our real risks. And the average American’s risk of being killed by violent crime are extremely low.”

Andrea Borrego, head of MSU Denver’s Department of Criminal Justice and a criminologist by trade, said while the data can prove useful for research, it can often be full of holes and lack context about actual crime.

“We’re not getting exactly the full picture because we’re not getting into what’s actually convicted, what’s unfounded and then obviously we just don’t know what’s not reported,” she said.

“It’s not useful because it’s not always accurate. We’re going to underreport certain types of crimes and we’re going to over report types of crimes.”

Gruber pointed to the fact that it can often take years to determine the root of a spike or decrease in crime.

“One of the interesting things they’ve found about a precipitous decline in crime in New York City is it could be traced, correlated pretty significantly to lead paint abatement, because lead paint causes neurological predispositions to crime,” she said. “Who would have thought that.”

“I think we have a very persistent bias to the present," Gruber said. "Like this is something that is just right now that needs to be solved right now… when really you can look at a lot of these things as long term trends.”

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