There are at least five major myths about crime that exercise a powerful influence over criminal justice policy, despite the fact that they are demonstrably false. They are:

Myth 1: Street Crime Is Increasing

Reality: As studies have shown, street crime dropped slightly. In the last twenty years, robbery has dropped 17 percent, forcible rape dropped 30 percent, and murder has stayed the same. Overall, rates for most categories of crime have been either stable or slightly declining.

Myth 2: Street Crime Is More Violent Today

Reality: Street crime is no more violent today that it has been in other periods in American history. The serious violent crime rate for the United States stands 16 percent below its peak level of the mid-1970s. In the mid-1800s, several cities were convulsed by urban riots far deadlier that those in Los Angeles in 1992. Juvenile gangs commonly beat and mutilated Chinese immigrants in San Francisco in the late 1800s. Homicide was the eleventh leading cause of death in 1952. Today, it is tenth. Moreover, the overwhelming majority of contemporary crime is nonviolent. Injuries occur in just 3 percent of all reported crime.

Myth 3: More Police Officers Are Being Killed

Reality: Policing is highly stressful, but it is not the most dangerous line of work. Farmers are twice as likely as police officers to be killed on the job. Largely because of bulletproof vests, killing of law enforcement officers dropped by half. Police officers spend most of their time doing routine administrative tasks or in peaceful contact with civilians. Most officers spend their entire careers without fighting a street battle with firearms.

Myth 4: Street Crime Costs More Than Corporate Crime

Reality: Corporate crime, like the savings and loan scandal, costs Americans far more than street crime. According to the Justice Department, all personal crimes and household crimes cost approximately $19.1 billion. The comparable cost of white-collar crime is between $130 billion and $472 billion -- seven to twenty-five times as much as street crime. Moreover, many more people die from pollution that from homicide. There are six times as many work-related deaths as homicides.

Myth 5: Criminals Are Different from the Rest of Us

Reality: Actually, criminals are not that different from the rest of us. Many Americans admit to having committed a crime punishable by a jail sentence sometime in their lives. These crimes include failing to report income, filing a false expense report, drunk driving, illegal drug use, stealing, and spousal assault.