Reasons Why People Don't Call the Police

Instructor: Rachael Smith

Rachael has a background in secondary education and has practiced law for eight years.

This lesson outlines several reasons why people don't call the police, ranging from the victim's view of the crime and/or the offender to a lack of response by the police. This lesson also examines how a victim's race affects their decision to report a crime.

The Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), a division of the Department of Justice, analyzed victimization reports from 2006-2010. In its 2012 'Victimizations Not Reported to Police, 2006-2010' report, the BJS found that 52% of all crimes were not reported by victims. The most common type of crime to go unreported was sexual assault, with 51-70% of all incidents not being reported to police during those years. In contrast, robbery and motor vehicle theft were reported most often with approximately 85% and 65% of those crimes being reported respectively.

In addition to determining what types of crimes went unreported, the BJS study also determined that there are five main reasons why crimes are not reported to police.

  • matters were dealt with through another agency or on a personal level (34% of unreported crimes)
  • the victim did not feel the crime was important enough to report (18%)
  • police would not or could not help (16%)
  • the victim feared retaliation by the offender or didn't want the offender to get in trouble (13%)
  • other (18%)

In over one-third of cases, victims either reported crimes to a different agency or the matter was handled directly with the offender. This commonly includes disputes between family members or neighbors, where the issue is resolved by more informal means. An example would be when a neighborhood child hits a baseball through his neighbor's window. Usually this type of situation would involve the neighbors talking to one another and the child paying the bill for the broken window rather than the victim reporting the matter to the police.

Similarly, many victims did not feel a crime was important enough to report. This could include situations where the property was recovered, restitution was paid, or where the crime was viewed as simply being small enough that it did not require police involvement. This could also include incidents where the loss suffered was less than the insurance deductible or where the victim believed the harm was accidental or unintentional.

Sometimes crimes are not discovered until much later, preventing the police from being able to assist. If the property cannot be recovered or if the offender is unable to be identified, victims often fail to report crimes because they believe the police are unable to help. Victims may also believe that the police will not help either because the offender is a police officer, the victim believes the police will be ineffective, or because the police may believe that the crime was not important enough to investigate.

In some instances, victims were afraid that if they reported a crime to the police, the offender would seek revenge. Others reported that they did not call the police because they did not want to get the offender in trouble.

The remaining percentage of those surveyed either had a different reason for not calling (i.e. it was too much of a hassle to report the crime or they were told not to report it), or they reported more than one of the reasons discussed above.

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