More than half of the victims of violent crimes in the United States did not make a report to the police between 2006 and 2010, according to a recent report by the Bureau of Justice Statistics.
The finding accounts for about 3.4 million violent crimes that went unreported each year. Among the highest categories, an estimated two-thirds of household thefts and sexual assaults were unreported during the five-year period, according to the BJS report.
Collier County Sheriff Kevin Rambosk said underreporting of crimes limits law enforcement's ability to accurately map out where crimes take place.
"If we don't have that information, we can't properly assess where we can be," Rambosk said.
In the study, more than a third of the victims who did not report the crime said they dealt with it in another way or felt it was a personal matter. Other reasons victims didn't report crimes were because they felt it wasn't important enough, thought the police couldn't or wouldn't help, or feared retaliation or getting the offender in trouble.
In age categories, teenagers were the least likely to report crimes against them, according to the report.
Local law enforcement officials said in addition to putting assigned deputies in schools, they are using technology to reach younger residents who might be at risk of victimization.
Lee County uses a Student Crime Stoppers that allows for anonymous tips. In Collier, the Sheriff's Office started a text message tip line earlier this year in hopes of getting students to anonymously report crimes like bullying. Rambosk said his agency's junior deputies and SUMMERfest programs also engage students.
"All of these prevention programs are there to promote a comfort with going to law enforcement to ask for help when you need it," he said.
Lee County Sheriff Mike Scott said he suspects some of the unreported crimes are happening to criminals.
"If I'm a drug dealer and someone comes up and robs me, what am I going to do? Call the Sheriff's Office and say, hey, somebody came up to me and stole my drugs?" Scott said. "They are naturally a little more reluctant to call the police to their location."
Illegal immigrants are another occasional target, as they tend to be less likely to come forward and report crimes against them, Rambosk said.
In the Golden Gate and Immokalee areas, Rambosk said his agency increases patrols on pay days, when workers tend to be carrying a lot of cash. Rambosk said illegal immigrants should not be afraid they will be deported if they report being a victim of a crime.
"They can absolutely report a crime as a victim without a fear of engaging the 287(g) program," he said, referring to the Sheriff's Office's partnership with Immigrations and Customs Enforcement.
Sheriff Scott said victims can report crimes to Crime Stoppers or send information in the mail if they wish to remain anonymous.
"It's better to report everything — at least you've got a fighting chance. If it's not written down, it didn't happen to an extent," he said. "We're not mind readers, and we don't have crystal balls."
Other highlights of the BJS report:
From 1994 to 2010, the percentage of serious violent crime (rape, sexual assault, robbery, aggravated assault) that was not reported to police declined from 50 percent to 42 percent.
From 2006 to 2010, a greater percentage of victimizations perpetuated by someone the victim knew well (62 percent) went unreported to police, compared to victimizations committed by a stranger (51 percent).
The percentage of unreported violent crime victimizations that were not reported because the victims believed the police would not or could not do anything to help doubled from 10 percent in 1994 to 20 percent in 2010.
About three in 10 victimizations involving a weapon and injury to the victim went unreported to police between 2006 and 2010.
About 76 percent of violent crime victimizations that occurred at school were not reported to police.
Among unreported intimate partner violent victimizations, 38 percent went unreported because the victim was afraid of reprisal or getting the offender in trouble.