Research finds that beliefs about crime, fear of crime, and perceptions about the effectiveness of crime control measures have important consequences. Beliefs affect: (1) Legitimacy and trust in public officials and government institutions; (2) Compliance with the law and legal authority; and (3) Public empowerment of government (e.g. endorse passage of laws, budgets or levees).
At the time this report was written in February 2011, Oregon’s violent and property crime rate trends were declining and were at their lowest level since the 1960’s. Researchers conducted a statewide survey in July 2010 in order to assess whether Oregonians believed crime across the state increased or decreased in the previous 12 months.
Primary Research Question
Given Oregon’s prolonged downward trend in crime rates, researchers asked survey respondents whether they believed crime decreased across the state and in their local community. Researchers also asked respondents questions about their individual beliefs about crime, as well as their education level, income, and political beliefs.
Results for this report are based on telephone interviews conducted June 15-July 27, 2010, among a random sample of 1,569 adults 18 years of age or older living in the state of Oregon. The Portland State University Survey Research Laboratory conducted the interviews in English and Spanish.
Racial and ethnic minorities were oversampled to obtain more reliable results from members of these subgroups. Women were overrepresented due to their higher participation rates. The subsamples are weighted so that the results accurately reflect the proportion of women in the population of Oregon.
The error attributed to sampling that would be expected at the 95% level of confidence for the sample as a whole is plus or minus 2.47 percentage points.
Most Oregonians believed crime in Oregon increased in the last year and very few believed it decreased. Oregonians were more likely to believe crime in their local community stayed the same, but still 25% believed crime increased in their community last year.
- 52% believed Oregon crime increased
- 38% believed Oregon crime stayed the same
- 10% believed Oregon crime decreased
Beliefs about Oregon crime trends appear to be based on personal ideology, educational achievement, and affluence.
- Respondents who believed crime increased were dissatisfied with the criminal justice system, were more conservative, did not have Bachelor’s degrees, reported family income less than $50,000, and were more likely to support punishment and enforcement approaches to control crime.
- In contrast, 51% of persons who believed crime decreased had a Bachelor’s degree, 59% made more than $50,000, and only 25% believed punishment and enforcement should be top priorities.
Beliefs about local crime trends appear to be based upon personal experience more so than ideology, education, and social class.
- Those who believed local crime increased reported less feelings of safety and greater fear of crime, and experienced household or personal victimization within the last year.
This survey cannot fully explain the gap between crime data and citizen’s beliefs about crime. The results indicate, however, that political beliefs, levels of education, social class, and personal experiences account for some of the variation in perceptions. Other research also points to the important influence that media and popular culture have on shaping public attitudes about crime and criminal justice. Efforts to address public safety should give careful attention to how perceptions are formed in an effort to better educate the public about the nature of the crime problem in Oregon. A better understanding of citizen’s beliefs can assist in the creation of policies that enhance the public’s sense of wellbeing and increase public trust and confidence in criminal justice.