Skip to main content

Should You Really Call the Cops?

People who report crimes to the police are less likely to be victims of future crimes, but the effect is smaller for African Americans.

By Nathan Collins


(Photo: Jonathan Lopez/Flickr)

There are plenty of reasons you might not want to report being the victim of a crime—fear of reprisal, for example, or a belief that the police aren’t going to be on your side. But a new study suggests that overall, those who report crimes to the police are around 20 percent less likely to become victims again, compared with those who don’t report.

The results hold up across racial and ethnic groups as well as many different kinds of crime, University of Iowa researchers Shabbar Ranapurwala, Mark Berg, and Carri Casteel write in PLoS One. Their findings comewith one very important caveat, however: African Americans who report crimes don’t experience as much of a decline as other groups.

The team based those conclusions on an analysis of 18,657 participants in the National Crime Victimization Survey, all of whom had been victim of a crime at the time they were first surveyed. All of the participants also took at least one follow-up survey, which asked if they’d experienced any crime since the last survey.

Those who report crimes to the police are around 20 percent less likely to become victims again.

Based on that data, the researchers estimate that only four in 10 victims actually report a crime to police in the first place, but those who do experience an average of 0.43 subsequent crimes per person per year—a decline of about 22 percent compared with those who don’t report an earlier crime. That same pattern holds up for interpersonal violence and theft, though interestingly not for burglary—for burglary, there is little if any relationship between making a report and subsequently crime.

African-American victims who reported crimes experienced a much smaller decrease, only 11 percent, in subsequent crime, in part related to whether the initial crime was committed by a stranger. Unlike whites, who saw improvements whether the crime was committed by a stranger, blacks saw improvement only after reporting crimes committed by acquaintances.

“This may suggest a lack of trust between the police and African American victims as suggested in previous studies from Philadelphia and Washington, DC,” the authors write.

That said, the authors argue that reporting crime is better than the alternative. Overall, those who report crimes—including African Americans—are less likely to be victims again, and those who report crime are better positioned to receive victim support services and may be more likely to seek out mental and physical health services, which might help reduce future victimization, the researchers write.