The Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law, utilizing FBI crime statistics and city police records, found:
Crime has dropped precipitously in the last quarter-century, reported the Washington Post. While crime may fall in some years and rise in others, annual variations are not indicative of long-term trends. While murder rates have increased in some cities, this report finds no evidence that the hard-won public safety gains of the last two and a half decades are being reversed.
The national crime rate peaked in 1991 at 5,856 crimes per 100,000 people, and has generally been declining ever since. In 2015, crime fell for the 14th year in a row. Estimates based on preliminary data for 2016 indicate that the overall crime rate will remain stable at 2,857 offenses per 100,000, rising less than 1 percent from 2015. Today’s crime rate is less than half of what it was in 1991.
The general trend for violent crime and for murder is similar. With regard to murder, however, here is the wrinkle:
From 1991 to 2016, the murder rate fell by roughly half, from 9.8 killings per 100,000 to 5.3. The murder rate rose last year by an estimated 7.8 percent. With violence at historic lows, modest increases in the murder rate may appear large in percentage terms. Similarly, murder rates in the 30 largest cities increased by 13.2 percent in 2015 and an estimated 14 percent in 2016. These increases were highly concentrated. More than half of the 2015 urban increase (51.8 percent) was caused by just three cities, Baltimore, Chicago, and Washington, D.C. And Chicago alone was responsible for 43.7 percent of the rise in urban murders in 2016. It is important to remember the relatively small base from which the percentage increases are calculated.
We don’t know with certainty what has caused the 25-year drop in crime, although many researchers, including those at the Brennan Center, say it is related to better — and more — policing, an aging population and decreased alcohol consumption. But rather than paint the entire country and all cities as awash in murder and violence, policymakers and voters should look at several data points.
First, it is important to remember that crime rates can be volatile, bouncing up and down for reasons that are not readily discernible. The overall trend, however, remains the same. For example: “In Las Vegas, the violent crime rate has been especially volatile. The rate surged between 1990 and 1994, then steeply declined until 2000. Yet, from 2000 to 2007 crime followed a largely upward trajectory, reaching another peak in 2007. Then crime fell until 2011, and followed another largely upward trajectory until 2015. Yet, the estimated 2016 rate dropped nearly 13 percent from 2015, and now is roughly at the same rate as in 1998.”
Second, the national murder rate is down — by a lot. “After peaking in 1991 at 9.8 murders per 100,000, the national murder rate remains near the bottom of a 25-year trend. In 2016, the estimated murder rate was 5.3 per 100,000, a decline of 46 percent. The murder rate in the 30 largest cities has fallen faster than the national rate, declining by more than 60 percent since 1991, from 28.8 to 11.4 killings per 100,000 people.”
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