Is violent crime rising again? (Probably not)

In the summer of last year some news media took note of a sharp increase in murders in some major cities, such as Baltimore and Houston, since the start of the year, and they suggested crime was on the rise again in America after a a quarter-century of decline. Some were more cautious, pointing out that murder rates were actually down in other large cities, such as Dallas and Los Angeles. For balanced coverage see this June article from CNN and this September one from The Washington Post.

It’s worth noting that comprehensive FBI statistics were not yet available at that point. In fact, the full report on 2015 crime rates is not due out for months. In January of this year, however, the FBI released a preliminary analysis covering the first half of 2015. In particular, take a look at these numbers from Table 3, showing the percentage increase or decrease for crime rates of various categories for the first half of the year relative to the first half of the previous year:

Year (Jan-Jun) Violent crime Murder Property crime
2012 +1.9 -1.7 +1.5
2013 -5.4 -6.9 -5.4
2014 -4.6 -6.0 -7.5
2015 +1.7 +6.2 -4.2

By “crime rates” I mean the number of crimes per 100,000 persons, not the total number of crimes.)

The murder rate in January-June of 2015 was 6.2 percent higher than in the same period in 2014, but it was still below the rate in January-June 2013. (This is more obvious if you work out the rates all relative to 2011 rather than to the previous year: It was down by 1.7 percent from 2011 in 2012, by 8.5 percent in 2013, by 14.0 percent in 2014, and by 8.6 in 2015.)

The violent crime rate increase was greater for the first half of 2012 than for the first half of 2015, but anyone in 2012 who looked at that increase and expected it to continue was probably surprised by the drops the next two years. (Also notice that property crimes, which had gone up along with violent crimes in 2012, fell in all three subsequent years, including 2015.)

We of course don’t know what’s going to happen next year. (We’re not even sure yet about the last half of 2015.) The point is that there’s no sound reason to assume with any confidence that things are going to get worse, and long-term trends give us reason to think the crime rates are more likely fall or stay the same for the near future than they are to rise.

Finalliy, we shouldn’t forget that today’s violent crime and murder rates are significantly below what they were in the 1970s, let alone at their peak in 1991. In fact, the murder rates in 2013 and 2014 were the lowest since at least 1960. This surprises a lot of people, as John Green notes in this Vlog Brothers post from late November:


(Revised 2016 April 23 to correct the 2012 property crime figure.)

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Is violent crime rising again? (Probably not) — 1 Comment

  1. Pingback: The latest on U.S. crime rates | D Gary Grady

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