Reporting crime rates is important because it gives the public a sense of how dangerous their world is. Crime rates can also affect public policy, whether it is by pressuring Congress to pass new laws or by encouraging attorneys general to engage in crackdowns. Therefore, it’s important for crime rates to be reported fairly and accurately — and academic groups play a role in that.
The respected Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law recently released a report on this year’s crime rates in the nation’s 30 largest cities. Based on the available data, which is from 20 of those cities, they estimate that the final tally will show the overall crime rate fell by 2.7 percent from 2016 levels.
Murder and other violent crimes are also down, the report says. Violent crimes have dropped by 1.1 percent over last year, while the murder rate is down by an impressive 5.6 percent. Violent crime data was available from 28 cities, while murder data was available from all 30 of the largest U.S. cities.
This information undercuts claims made by some in the Trump administration that the nation is experiencing a crime wave.
Some Justice Department officials have concluded that violent crime and murder have actually risen in the U.S. this year. A Justice Department spokesperson told NPR that these crimes were on the rise in 2015 and 2016 and that the trend continues in 2017.
Instead of accepting the Brennan Center’s projections for now, he told NPR that the Justice Department is waiting to see the FBI’s 2017 numbers, which won’t be available until next fall. He called the FBI statistics “reliable data.”
It’s hard to see, however, how the DOJ finds a crime wave in recent FBI data. Again, violent crime did rise in 2015 and 2016, but the rise was over 2014, which had the lowest murder rate in decades.
The 2016 murder rate was still 6 points lower than in 2007; violent crime was 18 points lower. The violent crime rate in the U.S. peaked in the 80s and early 90s. The 1991 violent crime rate, for example, was double the 2016 rate. Since then, the violent crime and murder rates have been on a more or less consistent decline.
It’s more accurate to describe the 2015 and 2016 increases as small or moderate, rather than referring to any crime wave.
Nevertheless, Attorney General Jeff Sessions recently said, “I am committed to combating the surge in violent crime.” He has been traveling the nation drumming up support for a crackdown on the alleged crime wave.