Final 2015 Crime Stats: Claims of Rising Crime Overblown, Evidence Shows

December 28, 2015

As year-end crime statistics come in, data from America’s largest cities show crime overall was roughly the same in 2015 as in 2014, and in fact is projected to decline by 5.5 percent, according to an analysis of crime trends from the Brennan Center for Justice.

The analysis, an update to a November preliminary study projecting 2015 crime data, shows that reports of rising crime nationwide are overblown and not supported by the available data.

Using statistics through December 23, 2015, a team of economics and legal researchers released updated data providing near-final crime numbers for 2015 from the nation’s 30 largest cities.**

“The average person in a large urban area is safer walking on the street today than he or she would have been at almost any time in the past 30 years,” wrote Matthew Friedman, Nicole Fortier, and James Cullen in Crime in 2015: A Preliminary Analysis“Although headlines suggesting a coming crime wave make good copy, a look at the available data shows there is no evidence to support this claim.”

Among the updated findings:

  • Crime overall in the 30 largest cities in 2015 remained roughly the same as in 2014. In fact, our projections show a decrease of 5.5 percent, meaning the crime rate will remain less than half of what it was in 1990.

  • The 2015 murder rate is projected to be 14.6 percent higher than last year in the 30 largest cities, with 18 cities experiencing increases and 7 decreases. However, in absolute terms, murder rates are so low that a small numerical increase leads to a large percentage change. Even with the 2015 increase, murder rates are roughly the same as they were in 2012. Since murder rates vary widely from year to year, one year’s increase is not evidence of a coming wave of violent crime.

  • A handful of cities have seen sharp rises in murder rates. Just two cities, Baltimore and Washington, D.C., account for almost 50 percent of the national increase in murders. These serious increases seem to be localized, rather than part of a national pandemic, suggesting community conditions are a major factor. The preliminary report examined five cities with particularly high murder rates — Baltimore, Detroit, Milwaukee, New Orleans, and St. Louis — and found these cities also had significantly lower incomes, higher poverty rates, higher unemployment, and falling populations than the national average.

The preliminary report, released in November, examined month-to-month and year-to-year crime numbers using data from the Federal Bureau of Investigation and local police departments. The authors concluded that rhetoric around a “crime rise” should not stand in the way of federal, state, or local reforms to improve our justice system and reduce prison populations.

**January 26: 2016: Corrections were made to the original file due to transcription or calculation errors. All changes are marked in the document with an asterisk.

[An analysis of data through Dec. 31, 2015 was released in April 2016. View the year-end numbers here.]