Why Don't People Report Crimes to the Police?

By Jim Thomas - Updated June 17, 2017
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The leading reason people don't report crimes to the police is that they handle the matter in another way, such as report the incident to an official outside the police department, according to a 2012 study conducted by the U.S. Justice Department. The study analyzed the reasons that roughly 52 percent of crimes were not reported to the police from 2006 to 2010.

Victims Report to Other Authorities

The Justice Department study found that the leading reasons people cite for not reporting crimes to the police stemmed from a decision to handle the problem themselves or report the incident to other officials, such as a school official, guard or someone else outside the police department. This was particularly true in cases of crimes at schools, where a whopping 76 percent of crimes weren't reported to the police.

Crimes Don't Seem Worthy of Reporting

Eighteen percent of people who don't report crimes told the Justice Department they didn't consider the crimes important enough to take to the police. This is especially true in cases of household thefts, where the value of the stolen goods can be small and/or covered by insurance. In comparison, very few car thefts go unreported.

People Don't Trust the Process

A substantial number of people believe the police can't or won't help them. Sixteen percent of people in the Justice Department survey said the police are unwilling or unable to help. This is even more prevalent among residents in big cities, where mistrust of the police tends to be higher than in suburban or rural communities. Deanna Wilkinson, Ohio State assistant professor of human science, told The Columbus Dispatch that urban crime victims often don't trust the motives or the effectiveness of the local police or don't want to be drawn into an investigation that might involve testifying in court, missing time at work or other personal inconveniences.

Fear Motivates Many Victims' Silence

Reporting a crime can be scary. Thirteen percent of those in the Justice Department study who failed to report crimes cited potential reprisals as the main factor for their silence. This group includes victims who knew the perpetrators and sought to protect them from police. Victims of rape, sexual assault and domestic violence often don't report these crimes to the police out of fear of reprisals, fear that the justice system will treat mistreat them, or to protect a spouse or significant other who abused them.

Shame Is Often to Blame in Assault Cases

As a 2007 National Institute of Justice survey discovered, the percentage of crimes reported to the police are particularly low on college campuses in cases of rape and sexual assault. The statistics, cited in a 2014 Time magazine article, found that only 15 percent of such crimes were reported to police. This generally aligns with the 2012 Justice Department report, which found 67 percent of rape and sexual assault victims of any age avoided contacting the police. Many victims wanted to maintain their anonymity to protect their privacy or cited embarrassment or shame as reasons to keep quiet. Many victims were uncertain whether the legal definition of rape and sexual assault covered their situation and many doubted the police would believe their story.

About the Author

Jim Thomas has been a freelance writer since 1978. He wrote a book about professional golfers and has written magazine articles about sports, politics, legal issues, travel and business for national and Northwest publications. He received a Juris Doctor from Duke Law School and a Bachelor of Science in political science from Whitman College.

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