Review: Robert Surgenor's
"No Fear: A Police Officer's
Perspective" Providence House Pub., Franklin, TN, 1999
Page Two
U.S. Juvenile Crime Is Falling,  Not Rising

    On the previous page of this review, we observed that Surgenor's argument rests upon three assumptions: that juvenile crime is increasing, that large numbers of parents are raising children without spanking, and that these unspanked children are responsible for nearly all of the alleged rise in juvenile crime.

    First, let us examine Surgenor's claims about juvenile crime.  He writes:

"According to the U.S. Department of Justice, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation's Uniform Crime Reports, juvenile crime is increasing rapidly."  (p. 89)
As we shall soon discover, the above statement was false at the time Surgenor wrote his book and is false now.  Juvenile crime in general has been decreasing markedly for years.  Yet Surgenor continues to make this demonstrably false claim in other venues.  For example, in a February 25, 2001 book review on, Surgenor writes, "The Uniform Crime Reports published by the FBI clearly indicate that juvenile crime has reached the epidemic stage."  Anyone who actually reads the Uniform Crime Reports for themselves will quickly learn that they indicate nothing of the sort.  This review is designed to make it as convenient as possible for one to view the relevant sections of the Uniform Crime Reports (UCR) and National Crime Victimization Surveys (NCVS) and draw one's own conclusion concerning the accuracy of Surgenor's statements.
"There's a saying that 'liars figure, but figures can't lie.'  To a certain extent that is true.  But anyone with any intelligence at all knows that sometimes statistics can be manipulated to suit the manipulator's needs." (p. 46)
    Surgenor's statistics come primarily from the UCR along with a few anecdotes from case files as a Detective for the Juvenile Division in the town of Berea, Ohio.  Berea is part of Cuyahoga County, a large district which includes the City of Cleveland.  In his book's fourth chapter, "Kids and Crime," Surgenor presents several pages of graphs which show rising arrest rates of juveniles for several categories of offenses: domestic violence, murder, disorderly conduct, arson, vandalism, and weapons possession.  The domestic violence graph (p. 50) provides data from 1983 to 1997, indicating that Surgenor had access to 1997 UCR figures at the time he compiled these statistics.  However, his graph of juvenile arrests for disorderly conduct (p. 52) stops at the year 1996, even though 1997 figures were available to him.  His other graphs stop at 1994.

    In each of the following tables, a link to each appropriate section of the Uniform Crime Reports from the FBI's webpage is included for the convenience of readers who would like to verify these figures for themselves.  Readers are encouraged to do so.

    Surgenor claims that the UCR shows juvenile crime is rising.  I assert that the UCR shows juvenile crime is falling.  Clearly, one of us isn't telling the truth.  The only way to know for sure is to go to the original source.  You will need adobe acrobat reader to view the documents in the above link.  (Pre-1995 Uniform Crime Report Data is not available on the web and hence the 1994 numbers below have no clickable links but may be accessed at your local public library in bound volume form).

    Let us now examine each of Surgenor's six categories of juvenile arrests one at a time.  As the first table shows, arrests of minors for disorderly conduct in the USA took a sharp downward turn after 1996, and have continued downward in ever since.  This is clearly not the message Surgenor wants to send to his readers, which may explain why he omits post-1996 disorderly conduct data from his graph (p. 52).
Total Juvenile Arrests for Disorderly Conduct, USA 1994-1999

               <15             <18                  18+               All Ages

   1999        42,467        113,303            308,359        421,662   Source  (Table 38,  page 222)
   1998        46,491        132,410            369,456        501,866   Source  (Table 38,  page 220)
   1997        51,212        148,926            412,695        561,621   Source  (Table 38,  page 232)
   1996        53,726        159,951            466,967        626,918   Source  (Table 38,  page 224)
   1995        46,221        130,467            431,175        561,642   Source  (Table 38   page 218)
   1994        48,868        137,328            463,674        601,002   Source: FBI UCR 1994, Table 38 page 227

     Aside from the category "offenses against children and family," (which will be discussed on Page Four of this review), and the disorderly conduct data, all other categories of juvenile crime for which Surgenor provides graphic data peaked in 1994 or earlier, and have trended downward ever since.  Undaunted by data which flies in the face of his central thesis, Surgenor truncates each of these four graphs at 1994.  Below are the most recent figures from the F.B.I. for murder arrests.
Total Juvenile Arrests for Murder and Non-negligent Manslaughter, USA 1994-1999

              <15           <18               18+                 All Ages

   1999        114               919              8,808              9,727          Source  (Table 38, page 222)
   1998        139            1,470            10,865            12,335          Source  (Table 38, page 220)
   1997        183            1,731            11,033            12,764          Source  (Table 38, page 232)
   1996        257            2,172            12,275            14,447          Source  (Table 38, page 224)
   1995        346            2,560            14,141            16,701          Source  (Table 38, page 218)
   1994        379            3,102            15,397            18,497          Source: FBI UCR 1994, Table 38 page 227

    The drop in juvenile arrest rates for murder is quite striking.  At the time Surgenor prepared his graphs, the juvenile murder rate had been falling for several years..  The following graph comes from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention of the U.S. Department of Justice.  This graph displays data on the number of victims of juvenile perpetrated homicides rather than the arrest rates as the above table does, but the same distinct downward trend is evident in both sets of data.  Data for 1998 and 1999 is not shown in the graph below, but juvenile homicide rates fell to even lower levels in those years.  (Click on the following link for a December 15, 2000 Associated Press wire story: "Juvenile Murder Rate at 33 Year Low.")

Source: Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention of the U.S. Department of Justice

    The sharp decline in juvenile-perpetrated murders after 1994 is clearly evident in the above graph.  Surgenor's readers viewing his graph (p. 51)  see only data from 1988-1994, and are left with the erroneous impression of a mounting bloodbath spiraling out of control.  Surgenor can then blame this imaginary menace on teenagers who have never been spanked as children and hence have "no fear" deterring them from committing an alleged ever-rising wave of homicides.

    The 1988-1994 period is Surgenor's favorite time frame for quotable statistics on juvenile crime, even though his book was written no earlier than late-1998.  During the 1988-1994 period U.S. national arrest rates for homicides and other violent crimes by juveniles did rise sharply.  But a significant amount of the rise was caused by extreme levels of gang-related violence in a handful of inner city neighborhoods nationwide rather than an increase in murder rates by U.S. juveniles in general.  According to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, even as recently as 1997 more than 1 in 4 juvenile homicides occurred in just 8 of the USA's 3,000+ counties (Source: Juvenile Offenders and Victims - 1999 National Report, p. 57).  Arrests of juveniles also increased during this period as a result of the "War on Drugs," and concerns (later found to be groundless) about the possible  future emergence of juvenile "super predators."  In turn, this led to a "get tough" attitude towards juvenile offenders and a resultant increased policy emphasis on arrest and punishment as opposed to less heavy handed measures.

    Like his graph for juvenile-perpetrated murders, Surgenor's graph (p. 53) for juvenile arrests for arson also stops at 1994.  The following table and graph provide more recent data showing that the allegedly rising rates of juvenile arson, which Surgenor attributes to the menace of unspanked children on the loose, had actually already been declining for several years at the time his book appeared in 1999.
Total Juvenile Arrests for Arson, USA 1994-1999

                    <15              <18                  18+           All Ages

   1999        3,874            5,791                5,020            10,811         Source  (Table 38,  page 222)
   1998        4,199           6,324                5,820            12,144        Source  (Table 38,  page 220)
   1997        4,601            6,914                6,917            13,831         Source  (Table 38,  page 232)
   1996        4,887            7,302                6,453            13,755         Source  (Table 38,  page 224)
   1995        5,268            7,834                7,131            14,965         Source  (Table 38   page 218)
   1994        6,289            9,268                7,496            16,764         Source: FBI UCR 1994, Table 38 page 227


Source: Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention of the U.S. Department of Justice

        The graph in Surgenor's book (p. 54) purporting to show soaring juvenile vandalism rates leaves out all years after 1994.  Note that in every subsequent year after 1994 the arrest rates for vandalism fell rather than rose.

Total Juvenile Arrests for Vandalism, USA 1994-1999

                    <15                <18                 18+           All Ages

   1999        33,736              76,319          105,724        182,043        Source  (Table 38,  page 222)
   1998        39,716              90,156          123,339        213,495        Source  (Table 38,  page 220)
   1997        42,288              94,097          125,397        219,494        Source  (Table 38,  page 232)
   1996        46,353            103,333          130,882        234,215        Source  (Table 38,  page 224)
   1995        49,308            104,425          128,277        232,702        Source  (Table 38   page 218)
   1994        60,250            122,085          137,494        259,579        Source: UCR 1994, T. 38 p. 227


Source: Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention of the U.S. Department of Justice

      Surgenor also provides his readers with no data about juvenile arrests for weapons possession after the year 1994.  Given the steady declines in these figures since that year, it is not hard to see why.  The following table gives absolute numbers of arrests, while the graph provides per capita data.  Both show the same pronounced downward trend in the years since 1994.

Total Juvenile Arrests for Weapons Possession, USA 1994-1999

                   <15                <18                 18+                   All Ages

   1999        8,945              27,596              86,284             113,880      Source  (Table 38,  page 222)
   1998        10,313            32,232            103,817             136,049      Source  (Table 38,  page 220)
   1997        11,160            36,345            116,023             152,368      Source  (Table 38,  page 232)
   1996        11,684            39,363            121,795             161,158      Source  (Table 38,  page 224)
   1995        13,135            43,211            144,026             187,237      Source  (Table 38   page 218)
   1994        16,661            52,200            161,294             213,494      Source: FBI UCR 1994, Table 38 page 227


Source: Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention of the U.S. Department of Justice

    The only UCR category of violent crime for which juvenile arrest rates actually were rising at the time
Surgenor wrote his book was "offenses against family and children," a category comprising a mere fraction of one percent of all juvenile arrests.  (The 1999 juvenile arrest rates for "offenses against family and children" actually do show a drop of over 9% from 1998, but in fairness to Surgenor, he did not yet have access to this data at the time he wrote his book.)   Once again, Surgenor attributes this rise in juvenile arrests to growing numbers of children who have never been spanked and therefore have "no fear."  His explanation makes little sense when viewed in the context of the sharp and continuing downward trend in all other categories of violent juvenile crime which we have enjoyed for most of the past decade. If Surgenor's alleged cohort of criminally incorrigible unspanked youngsters actually existed, their lack of fear and their violent antisocial tendencies ought to lead them to commit offenses against other victims besides family members.  Why should this cohort of unspanked young criminals commit more and more violence against members of their immediate families while robbing, assaulting, and murdering, fewer and fewer nonfamily members every year?  The statistics on juvenile domestic violence arrests constitute an especially interesting topic, and will be given special attention on Page Four of this review.

    Thus far, we have examined Surgenor's claim of a general rise in juvenile violence, and found it to be without merit.  Now let us turn to Surgenor's claims about the alleged rise in the percentage of crimes perpetrated by juveniles.  In each of his six crime data tables (pp. 50-55) Surgenor shows only periods during which juvenile crime was rising faster than adult crime.  As the following table shows, the juvenile Crime Index rate is falling faster than the adult rate for all five of the most recent years for which web-based UCR data is available.   The 1999 UCR defines the "Crime Index" as follows:

  "The Crime Index is composed of selected offenses used to gauge fluctuations in the overall volume and rate of crime reported to law enforcement.  The offenses included are the violent crimes of murder and nonnegligent manslaughter, forcible rape, robbery, and aggravated assault and the property crimes of burglary, larceny-theft, motor vehicle theft, and arson."
Source: Section II, "Crime Index Offenses Reported," F.B.I. Uniform Crime Reports - 1999
The percentage of serious crimes committed by juveniles has been growing smaller each year for several years now.  This trend was already well established at the time Surgenor wrote his book, in which he claimed that the opposite was happening and falsely alleged that the UCR data proved his point.
Annual Changes in Arrest Rates for Index Crimes in the USA - 1995-1999

Year Adult arrests  Juvenile arrests
1999 -8% -10%

Source: F.B.I. Uniform Crime Reports - 1999

1998 -5% -11%

Source: F.B.I. Uniform Crime Reports - 1998

1997 -2% -6%

Source: F.B.I. Uniform Crime Reports - 1997

1996 -3% -6%

Source: F.B.I. Uniform Crime Reports - 1996

1995 0% -2%

Source: F.B.I. Uniform Crime Reports - 1995

    The following table further belies Surgenor's assertion that juvenile crime is increasing as a percentage of total crime.  In fact, it had been trending steadily downward for four years at the time Surgenor's book appeared.

U.S. Juvenile Arrests as a Percentage of All Arrests


Year % of Arrests of Juveniles
1999 17.4
Source: F.B.I. Uniform Crime Reports - 1999

1998 18.0
Source: F.B.I. Uniform Crime Reports - 1998  (p. 210)

1997 18.7
Source: F.B.I. Uniform Crime Reports - 1997  (p. 222)

1996 19.0
Source: F.B.I. Uniform Crime Reports - 1996  (p. 214)

1995 18.3
Source: F.B.I. Uniform Crime Reports - 1995  (p. 208)



    Surgenor claims that we live in a more violent society than in the past.

"Look around, folks.  What do you see?  Are children better behaved now than when we were young?... Implementation of  the liberal philosophical and psychological "theories" has resulted in a society that is more violent and less respectful of authority and the rights of others." (p. 14)
    Surgenor also argues that juvenile crime is in a long term upward trend.
 "Without any doubt there is a steady increase in crime by committed juveniles over the last twenty years." (p. 48)
    Surgenor is simply wrong.  Juvenile crime rates were much higher twenty years ago than they are now.  His book appeared in 1999.  Twenty years earlier, according to the Uniform Crime Reports, 1979 juvenile arrests for all crimes totaled 2,143,369 while in 1999 the total was only 1,082,022, a decrease of nearly 50% in comparison to twenty years earlier.   And this does not take into account the fact that the 1999 juvenile population was over 12% greater in numbers than the 1979 juvenile population (70.2 million versus 62.6 million).

    In other words, today's youngsters collectively commit barely more than half as many crimes as juveniles of twenty years ago, even though there are now more of them.

    Surgenor dismisses all evidence of a downtrend in crime by alleging that Uniform Crime Report data from 1992 onward is not reliable.   Nevertheless, he repeatedly cites post-1992 juvenile crime data for various categories of arrest rates whenever it shows increases of one sort or another, but labels it "inaccurate" whenever it fails to indicate a rise in juvenile crime, and he claims, without evidence, that

"Little does the public know that the crime rate is exploding.  It just isn't being reported" (p. 43).
How does Surgenor know about crimes which allegedly "aren't being reported?"    Only Surgenor knows for sure.  He does not supply his readers with any alternative source of national crime rate information to support his oft-repeated assertions about a rise in crime which the FBI figures allegedly fail to record.  And as we have already seen, Surgenor has publicly alleged as recently as February of 2001 that the UCR shows we are in the midst of a juvenile crime "epidemic," when it actually shows just the opposite.  There is simply no way he can honestly argue that the UCR proves we are currently in a juvenile crime epidemic, and then simultaneously claim that the UCR's data showing a continuing drop in juvenile crime is the result of "inaccuracies."  Either the UCR supports his claim or it doesn't.  Either its figures are accurate or they aren't.  Surgenor strives to have it both ways, depending upon his rhetorical needs of the moment.

    Page Three of this review shall examine Surgenor's argument for the alleged unreliability of the FBI's crime data.  As we shall soon learn, his argument is utterly without merit.

Page One: "No Fear"

Page Three: National Crime Statistics are Accurate and Contradict Surgenor's Claims

Page Four: Juvenile Crime is on the Decline Even in Surgenor's Home District

Page Five: Surgenor's Own "Research" Fails to Withstand Critical Scrutiny

Return to Home Page