Applying a Crime Seriousness Scale to Measure Changes in the Severity of Offenses by Individuals Arrested in Florida
Group: Florida Department of Law Enforcement
Florida has experienced consistent and significant declines in total crime rates and violent crime rates since 1989; however, the perception among citizens, law enforcement, and the courts is that individuals are arrested today for committing more serious and violent crimes than in the past. Florida's Statistical Analysis Center analyzed Computerized Criminal History data on over eight million felony arrest events and almost three million arrestees from 1984 to 2002 to examine trends in offender seriousness to assess the legitimacy of these views. In addition to calculating individual arrest histories based on counts of arrest events, a seriousness scale was developed and applied to annual cohorts to capture a more accurate representation of the relative seriousness of individuals' police encounters over time. We found increases in the frequency of arrest events in individual careers but decreases in the seriousness and level of violence of arrestees’ crimes, especially over the past decade. Additionally, Florida’s change in punishment policy in 1994 from an indeterminate to a determinate, “get tough” approach was examined in relation to changes in arrestee seriousness. Recommendations are made for other states to replicate the methodologies and analysis reported here, and for further research to be conducted on the impact of changing punishment policies on the seriousness of individuals arrested.
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