Decline in Crime Rates Holds Steady


An analysis of crime trends from the Brennan Center for Justice shows that, contrary to reports of rising crime nationwide, crime in America’s largest cities was roughly the same in 2015 as in 2014, and is actually projected to decline by 5.5 percent.

Using data through December 23, 2015, researchers found that the evidence does not support claims of a widespread “crime rise” in 2015. The report explains that the projected 14.6 percent increase in the murder rate in the nation’s 30 largest cities is misleading; in absolute terms, murder rates are so low that a small numerical increase leads to a large percentage change. In fact, murder rates in 2015 were roughly the same as in 2012. And because murder rates vary widely from year to year, an increase in one year’s numbers is not evidence of a coming wave of violent crime, researchers said.

The report projects that overall crime rates in 2015 will be largely unchanged from last year. The authors explain that using murder as a proxy for crime overall is mistaken; the increase in the murder rate is insufficient to raise the overall crime rate, which is now half of what it was in 1990.

In addition, the report shows that the increase in the murder rate is not widespread. Two cities, Baltimore and Washington, DC, account for almost half of the national increase in murders. Examining five cities with especially high murder rates – Baltimore, Detroit, Milwaukee, New Orleans, and St. Louis – researchers found significantly lower incomes, higher poverty rates, higher unemployment, and falling populations relative to the national average, suggesting the sharp rises in murders in these cities can be traced to community conditions.

Media reports of increased murder rates in some big cities this year prompted speculation about an imminent crime wave, which could slow bipartisan criminal justice reform efforts. The Brennan Center’s analysis of the complete data set for 2015 shows that, while Americans in urban areas experienced more murders in 2015 than in the previous year, they are safer than they were five years ago and much safer than they were 25 years ago. The report concludes that the data does not support claims that higher murder rates will persist in the future or that increased murder rates are part of a national trend.