The decline in reported crimes is a function of less reporting, not less crime.

News outlets claim that Americans mistakenly believe violent crime is rising. A Gallup survey last year found that 92% of Republicans and 58% of Democrats thought crime was increasing. A February Rasmussen Reports survey found that, by a 4.7-to-1 margin, likely voters say violent crime in the U.S. is getting worse (61%), not better (13%).

Americans aren’t mistaken. News reports fail to take into account that many victims aren’t reporting crimes to the police, especially since the pandemic.

The U.S. has two measures of crime. The Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Uniform Crime Reporting program counts the number of crimes reported to police every year. The Bureau of Justice Statistics, in its National Crime Victimization Survey, asks about 240,000 people a year whether they have been victims of a crime. The two measures have diverged since 2020: The FBI has been reporting less crime, while more people say they have been victims.

The divergence is due to several reasons. In 2022, 31% of police departments nationwide, including Los Angeles and New York, didn’t report crime data to the FBI. In addition, in cities from Baltimore to Nashville, the FBI is undercounting crimes those jurisdictions reported.

Another reason is that crimes reported to the police are falling because arrest rates are plummeting. If victims don’t believe criminals will be caught and punished, they won’t bother reporting them. According to the FBI, if you take the five years preceding Covid-19 (2015-2019) and compare them with 2022, the percentage of violent crimes in all cities resulting in an arrest fell from 44% to 35%. Among cities with more than one million people (where violent crime disproportionately occurs), arrest rates over the same period plunged from 44% to 20%.

Arrests for property crimes nosedived even more. FBI data show that in 2022, 12% of reported property crimes in all cities resulted in an arrest. In cities of more than one million people, only 4.5% of reported property crimes in 2022 resulted in an arrest.

Based on the National Crime Victimization Survey, only 42% of violent crimes, such as robberies or aggravated assaults, and 32% of property crimes, such as burglary or arson, were reported in 2022. While the Justice Department doesn’t track the number of prosecutions, the percentage of arrests that resulted in a prosecution appears to have fallen that year.

In large cities, the arrest rate in 2022 compared with the average from 2015-2019 fell by 38% for murders, 50% for rapes, 55% for aggravated assault, and 58% for robberies.

While the rate of reported violent crime fell by 2.1% between 2021 and 2022, the National Crime Victimization Survey shows that total violent crime—reported and nonreported—rose from 16.5 incidents to 23.5 per 1,000 people. Nonreported violent crime in 2022 exceeded the five-year average between 2015 to 2019 by more than 17%.

Data reflect the scant consequences criminals face. During 2022 in cities with more than a million people, only 8.4% of all violent crimes (reported and unreported) and 1.4% of all property crimes resulted in an arrest. Not all those arrests resulted in charges.

Initial estimates cited by some news organizations show murder rates dropping 13% between 2022 and 2023. Murders usually are reported, so they don’t have the same reporting flaws of other violent crimes. Yet last year’s projected murder rate was still 5.51 per 100,000 people, or 7% above its 2019 level.

Law enforcement has collapsed in America, particularly in big cities. With many Americans no longer confident that the legal system will protect them, about 22 million now have concealed handgun permits. Twenty-nine states have adopted constitutional-carry laws that allow citizens to carry a firearm without a permit. A Crime Prevention Research Center survey last year found that 15.6% of general-election voters carry concealed handguns all or most of the time. That’s three times higher than the level found in a 2017 Pew Research Center survey.

A recent Rasmussen Reports survey found that not everyone sees violent crime on the rise. Less than half of likely voters who earn more than $200,000 a year think it is getting worse. Yet a majority of all other income groups disagree. People of both sexes and every race also think crime is getting worse.

It isn’t surprising that affluent people can insulate themselves from spikes in crime—but that doesn’t mean it isn’t happening. Americans aren’t simply imagining that our streets have become more dangerous.

Mr. Lott is president of the Crime Prevention Research Center. He served as senior adviser for research and statistics in the Office of Justice Programs and the Office of Legal Policy at the Justice Department.

John R. Lott, Jr., “The Media Say Crime Is Going Down. Don’t Believe It: The decline in reported crimes is a function of less reporting, not less crime,” Wall Street Journal, April 24, 2024.