The murder rate is down across the country, and Americans can be forgiven for relishing this rare bit of good news amid the dirges for layoffs, deficits and fiscal cliffs. Now the Wall Street Journal has gone and spoiled it all for us. While the number of murders has declined the past decade, it’s not because Americans have become any less violent. It’s because hospitals are getting better at treating stabbing and gunshot victims. Emergency room survival rates are higher. Contrary to prevailing opinion, the number of serious injuries from assaults with deadly weapons is rising.
So, the American population is depraved as ever. Does that conclusion apply to Virginia as well? I checked the numbers, and the answer is not clear. The trends reported by the WSJ are not evident from data contained in “Crime in Virginia,” the almanac of Virginia crime statistics. But the WSJ drew upon other data sources, including the Centers for Disease Control and the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System-All Injury Program, so I may be comparing apples and oranges.
Here is the data for murders and aggravated assaults from the 2011 “Crime in Virginia” report (click table for more legible image):
Virginia State Police data confirms the conventional wisdom: The murder rate per 100,000 people is down by 39% since 2005, while the rate of aggravated assault is down by 29%. Insofar as the murder rate has declined more rapidly than the assault rate, it’s possible that better trauma care for stabbing and gunshot victims is responsible.
However, the marked decline in the rate of aggravated assault in Virginia (as opposed to simple assault, which has show virtually no decline at all) stands in bold contrast to the WSJ’s figures, which states that the number of people wounded seriously enough to require a hospital stay rose by 47% between 2001 and 2011.
Aggravated assaults reported by police is not the same thing as wound victims reported by hospitals. According to the state police, only 69% of aggravated assault victims had “some type of injury.” But could the numbers really be that far apart? I don’t know. The issue warrants a closer look by someone who is more attuned to uses and abuses of crime and hospitalization data than I am.