“The Good Old Times Were Not Necessarily Better”

Criminologist observes long-term trend towards falling crime rates

February 07, 2024

The last few weeks have seen some headline-grabbing crimes and acts of violence in the south-west of Germany. In an interview with SWR aktuell, criminologist Dietrich Oberwittler situates these incidents in a long-term context.

Several crimes and acts of violence in January 2024 have garnered media attention across Germany, including a hostage-taking, the killing of a school student, and a forced eviction that got out of hand and during which several weapons were found. This prompted broadcaster Südwestrundfunk (SWR) to pose the question of whether we are seeing a trend towards more violence. According to Dietrich Oberwittler, who has been conducting research on this issue for years, there has been no observable increase in severe acts of violence over the last 20 years. On the contrary, “all trends point downwards.”

While police statistics indicate that case numbers for violent crime, murder, and homicide were slightly higher in 2023 compared to 2022, no specific figures have been published yet. Oberwittler, a sociologist, considers this due to a sort of “post-COVID effect.” According to him, a sudden increase in severe acts of violence could be observed in the aftermath of the pandemic. That said, the numbers had fallen significantly in the years prior to the pandemic. For attempted homicide, figures indicate “an overall flat, slightly ascending curve,” whereas a clear downwards trend could be observed for completed homicides.

“The good old times were not necessarily better. When you look at long-term trends, then we have a safer society and crime has been falling,” the criminologist concludes. He considers the fact that people perceive there to be an upwards trend due to reporting by the media, who are “not always the best guide” when it comes to estimating the frequency of events.

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