The dark footprint of state violence: A synthetic approach to the American crime decline

Aaron Roussell, Lori Sexton, Paul Deppen, Marisa Omori, Esther Scheibler

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This project combines the conversation on the national crime rate with emerging discussions on the violence that the state perpetrates against civilians. To measure US lethal violence holistically, we reconceptualize the traditional definitional boundaries of violence to erase arbitrary distinctions between state- and civilian-caused crime and violence. Discussions of the “crime decline” focus specifically on civilian crime, positioning civilians as the sole danger to the health, wealth, and safety of individuals. Violence committed by the state—from police homicide to deaths in custody to in-prison sexual assault—is not found in the traditionally reported crime rate. These absences belie real dangers posed to individuals which are historical and contemporary, nonnegligible, and possibly rising. We present Uniform Crime Report data side-by-side with data on police killings, deaths in custody, and executions from sources such as Fatal Encounters, the Washington Post, the Guardian, and the Center for Disease Control to produce a robust discussion of deaths produced through the criminal legal system. We ground this empirical analysis in a broader conceptual framework that situates state violence squarely within the realm of US crime, and explore the implications of this more holistic view of crime for future analyses.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)326-346
Number of pages21
JournalTheoretical Criminology
Issue number2
StatePublished - May 2022
Externally publishedYes


  • crime control
  • crime trends
  • crimes of the state
  • critical criminology
  • definitions of crime
  • homicide
  • police and policing
  • police homicide
  • state violence
  • violent crime

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Law


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