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Five things we learned from the FBI’s big report on crime

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, left, along with FBI Director James Comey, center, and Deputy Attorney General Jim Cole, right. (Jim Lo Scalzo/European Pressphoto Agency)

The FBI on Monday released its annual report on crime in the United States, giving us a wide-ranging look at a variety of horrible things that happened in the country last year. If you want to know how many people were killed, or how often a car was stolen, or what part of the country recorded the most arrests for selling heroin, this is your kind of read.

Here are five key details in this year’s report, including what the FBI’s new definition of rape means for these statistics.

1. A lot of people were arrested. Most of them were white men.

White men made up a significant majority of the people arrested in the United States last year. A hefty majority of all people arrested were white (68.9 percent), with more than twice as many white people arrested (6.2 million) as black people (2.5 million).

Men, in general, continued to dominate the arrest records kept nationwide. Nearly three-quarters of all people arrested last year — 73.5 percent — were men. (That is actually down from two decades ago, as men accounted for 80 percent of all arrests in 1995.) Men also made up an even larger percentage of  people arrested for violent crime (79.9 percent), arson (8.03 percent), robbery (86.6 percent), murder and manslaughter (88.3 percent).

Women made up a majority in just one category (prostitution, as women accounted for 67 percent of those arrests). The only other category where women came close to matching the number of men arrested was embezzlement, which was nearly evenly split between men and women (51.6 percent to 48.4 percent).

2. Good news: Fewer people were arrested. Bad news: More minors were arrested in killings.

Overall, the numbers offered some glimmers of hope for society. The number of violent crimes declined, for example, dropping from 1.2 million to 1.1 million in 2013 after inching up a little a year earlier. Murders, robberies, aggravated assaults — all down.

However, there were some particularly worrisome numbers. Younger people were committing fewer robberies, assaults and burglaries, and overall they were charged with fewer crimes. But the number of people age 17 or younger who were arrested on murder or manslaughter charges increased to 485 last year from 425 a year earlier. That number also rose for people age 14 or younger, going up to 63 from 47 a year earlier. And this came as the overall number of arrests in murder and manslaughter cases declined ever so slightly (to 6,742 from 6,763 the year before).

3. We are giving up on our addictions to counterfeiting and breaking curfew.

If you look back at the past full five years, the overall number of crimes has solidly dipped to 5.6 million from 6.7 million in 2009. That’s good! There are drops in every category listed here. For example, the number of arrests over forgery and counterfeiting dropped to 25,000 from 35,000 in that period. There are a few unusual numbers, though. Fewer men were arrested in every category (admittedly, men had a head start, given how many of them got arrested each year). Women, meanwhile, showed slight upticks in arson and buying or having stolen property.

The biggest drop overall came in the number of arrests for breaking a curfew or disregarding loitering laws. The number was cut in more than half since 2009, a surefire sign that we are becoming more cognizant and respectful of the dangers of loitering.

4. The average amount stolen during burglaries was $2,322. The average amount stolen during robberies was $1,170. 

Burglaries were apparently much more lucrative than robberies last year. The average value stolen during burglaries was roughly the same whether a home ($2,315) or an office or business ($2,344) was burgled. Robberies, though, offered far less in the way of money taken, with a big exception: banks, where an average of $3,542 was stolen during more than 5,600 robberies.

5. This report uses the FBI’s new definition of rape — but doesn’t know exactly how many sexual offenses were carried out. 

The Justice Department said in 2012 that it would change the FBI’s definition of rape so that it covered more forms of sexual assault and didn’t just cover the rape of women. Rape had been defined since 1929 as “the carnal knowledge of a female, forcibly and against her will,” but that definition was dropped starting last year. So this is the first installment of the FBI’s crime statistics report to include the new definition.

However, not every state and local agency that feeds into the FBI’s numbers were able to change how they record these kinds of sexual assaults, so some were able to report assaults using only the older definition. The FBI estimates that the number of sexual assaults last year increased by 41.7 percent to 38,250 with the inclusion of the rapes of men and sexual assault with an object, among other things. The bureau came up with this number by looking at sexual offenses (including rapes of men and other kinds of assault) in the National Incident-Based Reporting System. This number “can be used to generally understand” how sexual offense statistics are likely to rise, according to the report, at least until the FBI figures out how to determine a representative sample of such assaults.

(And, of course, these are only reported rapes, which means that the number does not reflect the sexual assaults that occur and do not get reported.)