Crime in 2015: A Final Analysis

Overall crime rates in America’s 30 largest cities were nearly identical from 2014 to 2015, declining over that time period by 0.1 percent. The data show that crime rates remain at historic lows nationally.

April 20, 2016

[Download PDF of Final 2015 Numbers

Overall crime rates in America’s 30 largest cities were nearly identical from 2014 to 2015, according to an analysis of final 2015 numbers. Crime declined over that time period by 0.1 percent. The data show that crime rates remain at historic lows nationally, despite recent upticks in a handful of cities.
 
The authors of this report looked at changes in crime and murder from 2014 to 2015, using data through Dec. 31, 2015, and examined economic factors in Chicago, Baltimore, and Washington, D.C., that could explain why murder rates are up in those cities. Of the 30 cities studied, the three areas accounted for more than half of the increase in murders last year.
 
Among the updated findings:
  • Crime overall in the 30 largest cities in 2015 remained the same as in 2014, decreasing by 0.1 percent. Two-thirds of cities saw drops in crime, which were offset mostly by an increase in Los Angeles (12.7 percent). Nationally, crime remains at all-time lows.
     
  • Violent crime rose slightly, by 3.1 percent. This result was primarily caused by increasing violence in Los Angeles (25.2 percent), Baltimore (19.2 percent), and Charlotte (15.9 percent). Notably, aggravated assaults in Los Angeles account for more than half of the national rise in violent crime.
     
  • The 2015 murder rate rose by 13.2* percent in the 30 largest cities, with 19 cities seeing increases and 6 decreases. However, in absolute terms, murder rates are so low that a small numerical increase can lead to a large percentage change.
     
  • Final data confirm that three cities (Baltimore, Chicago, and Washington, D.C.) account for more than half (244) of the national increase in murders. While this suggests cause for concern in some cities, murder rates vary widely from year to year, and there is little evidence of a national coming wave in violent crime. These serious increases seem to be localized, rather than part of a national pandemic, suggesting that community conditions remain the major factor. Notably, these three cities all seem to have falling populations, higher poverty rates, and higher unemployment than the national average. This implies that economic deterioration of these cities could be a contributor to murder increases.

The new figures are an update to a Brennan Center November 2015 report, Crime in 2015: A Preliminary Analysis, authored by a team of economists and legal researchers. That report found similar conclusions. The Brennan Center also released a near-final update of the numbers in December 2015. 

*This number has been changed from 13.3 to reflect a transcription error.

Crime in 2015: A Final Analysis by The Brennan Center for Justice