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Even though France and Sweden have higher crime rates than the USA, why do I have an impression that the USA is more crime-ridden than other OECD countries?

Also, even though Russia has a much lower crime rate than the USA, why do I have an impression that it is a more violent country than the USA (e.g. Russian mafia, etc.)?

Is it because of Hollywood movies, media, or international politics?

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  • 3
    Who are "The World Population Review"?
    – WS2
    May 27 at 21:31
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    Probably should investigate the magnitude of these crimes ... May 27 at 21:41
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    Official crime stats give "damn lies" a bad name. There is little substantive that can be said from official crime statistics. Often they reflect the attitude to the police in recording and the population in reporting crime more than the actual number of crimes.
    – James K
    May 27 at 22:24
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    Regardless of actual crime rates, media portrayals certainly do play a role in perceptions of other countries in the US. In movies, Sweden and especially France are where people go for romantic vacations, whereas Russia is a source of menacing Mafiya gangsters. That is bound to influence perceptions in the US.
    – Obie 2.0
    May 28 at 3:04
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    This question would benefit from some sort of evidence that such a misconception exists. There's certainly a perception that "gun* crime is relatively rampant in the US, but that is objectively true.
    – Brian Z
    May 28 at 12:06

3 Answers 3

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It's largely about perception, and about how countries are portrayed in popular culture. For instance, consider the Bahamas. If you asked people in the United States how dangerous the Bahamas were, I would hazard a guess that they wouldn't consider them very dangerous. Why? Because the reputation of the Bahamas is as a relaxing vacation spot, where people go to enjoy the beaches and drink fruit-flavored alcoholic beverages. In reality, of course, the intentional homicide rate in the Bahamas in recent years has been well over twice that in the United States.

Europe in general, and France in particular, have a similar reputation as romantic vacation getaways. Consider the recent show Emily in Paris, a whole series about someone from the US confronting the gap between their idealized image of France and the reality of the country. As such, crimes are not on the front of most people's minds when they think about France or Sweden.

By contrast, after the Soviet period, one of Russia's primary roles in American media has been to serve as a source of apolitical villains, often from the Mafiya. Think Anton Ivanov, the heavily Russian-accented (though played by the very not-Russian Zach McGowan) villain on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Naturally, this leads to an impression of Russia as having more crime than would otherwise be the case.

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    There is also the nature of crime to consider. Where I live, in western Europe, an illegal gun is easily available to connected criminals. Those are about making money and keeping a low profile, mostly.
    – o.m.
    May 28 at 4:58
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    Indeed, the homicide rate alone is not an indicator of the perception of safety, but there is another factor: what kind of homicide it is. The common person doesn't have to fear high-level crime organizations if he doesn't get mixed up and doesn't use its "services" (illegal drugs, gambling, loansharks, etc.), but common street thugs do present a danger. So even if high-profile crime organizations caused more death and injury than common street thugs, muggers, etc., the average citizen is more affected by the latter than by the former.
    – vsz
    May 29 at 12:07
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    @vsz Which is why Americans aren't up in arms about our high murder rate--most of them are criminals killing criminals and virtually no threat to those who don't associate with criminals. People evaluate crime by the risk they face, not the overall risk. May 30 at 0:44
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    @LorenPechtel unless you are unfortunate to live in place with high population of "criminals", in which case the possibility of getting hit by a stray bullet or be caught in a crossfire would become very real. Not that the general public cares about "unfortunates" either.
    – Dan M.
    May 30 at 16:15
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I got my answer.

Some crimes are more visible than others as they are always registered by the police, and also, brought up by the media on a regular basis. Two of them are murders, and robberies (both armed and unarmed).

According to the above link, the USA has the highest murder rate in the OECD. Russia has the highest murder rate among the white countries (i.e., countries with a dominant racially white population).

Also, according to the above link, the USA has the 6th highest robbery rate in the OECD while Russia is at the bottom of the list.

Hence this impression.

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    Maybe add some comment about why this gives a better idea than the statistic cited by OP. Their statistic uses all crimes reported to the police. So it completely disregards severity of the crime and especially for minor crimes what is and isn't reported to the polic varies widely by country.
    – quarague
    May 28 at 6:34
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    Also worth noting great interstate variation within the U.S. (12.4 per 100K in Louisiana but 1 per 100K in NH), and that U.S. homicides are down about 50% from their peak in the 1990s. Recent history and extremes drive perceptions. See, e.g. worldpopulationreview.com/state-rankings/murder-rate-by-state and macrotrends.net/countries/USA/united-states/…
    – ohwilleke
    May 28 at 8:41
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    How are these figures gathered? The Crime Survey for England and Wales was set up to provide a better reflection of the true level of crime than police stats since it includes crimes that haven't been reported to or recorded by, the police. Over a third of reports of violent crimes are not recorded by police. It captures crimes that people don't report because they think the crime was too trivial or the police could not do much about it. It also provides a better measure of trends over time since it has a consistent methodology and is unaffected by changes in reporting or recording practices. May 28 at 18:35
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    @quarague The poster is the OP! (But your very good point still stands.) May 29 at 0:43
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    What are white countries?
    – user121330
    May 29 at 15:11
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From the site you linked:

Overall crime rate is calculated by dividing the total number of reported crimes of any kind by the total population

So on that visualization, shoplifting counts as one crime, so does murder. Comparing a specific type of crime is more meaningful (as your own answer noted) for example the rate of murders:

https://worldpopulationreview.com/country-rankings/murder-rate-by-country

So your impression that "the USA is more crime-ridden than [France and Sweden]" is probably accurate. The issue is that the "Crime Rate" statistic does not represent how "Crime Ridden" a country is very well.

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    This is more of a comment on the question rather than an answer.
    – Alexei
    May 30 at 7:31
  • I added another paragraph to tie it back to the question 👍 May 31 at 5:04

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