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Analyzing the FBI’s National Crime Data on 2022 — With an Eye Toward 2023 Trends

The annual breakdown of crime statistics offered some encouraging signs after 2020’s sharp rise in violence.

October 18, 2023

On October 16, the Federal Bureau of Investigation released its annual report on crime in 2022. Long awaited by policymakers and members of the public, the report offers significant insight into how crime trends have developed since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic. Detailed data tables are available from the FBI’s Crime Data Explorer.

How to Read the FBI’s 2022 Annual Report

This year’s report comes amidst a major transition in the way police agencies report crime data to the FBI. On January 1, 2021, the bureau stopped accepting crime data submitted by police agencies through its decades-old Summary Reporting System and instead asked all agencies to exclusively use a newer protocol called the National Incident-Based Reporting System.

Many agencies could not make the transition in time, including most in large states like California and Florida, rendering the FBI’s annual report on crime in 2021 threadbare and heavily dependent on estimates. This year’s analysis makes up for that shortfall in two ways. First, more agencies have switched to the new incident-based reporting system. Second, the FBI decided to accept information in the old reporting format where necessary. As a result, the 2022 annual report now includes data from more than 85 percent of agencies (70.4 percent using the new system and 12.9 percent using the old system), covering 93.5 percent of the population. Had the FBI not decided to accept Summary Reporting System data, many large agencies — including the NYPD — would have gone another year without submitting data.

Some gaps remain, and a close read suggests some errors. The FBI’s data shows assaults in Chicago dropped by nearly 80 percent since 2020 — a possibility, however encouraging, that Chicago Police data disclaims. But by and large, this year’s report offers deep insight into recent crime trends and amounts to a welcome improvement over last year.

Key Findings

Nationally, the report shows that murder rates dropped by more than 6 percent, and violent crime also fell. But rates of motor vehicle theft climbed more than 10 percent, and larceny — which includes shoplifting — spiked too. The table below provides some key figures, but more can be found on the Brennan Center’s resource page on 2022 crime trends.

Last year’s drop in murder rates does not reverse the 30 percent spike in 2020. But a 6 percent decline in murder rates is far from trivial. Indeed, read in full and in context, the FBI’s data appears to mark a serious downward trend in violent crime.

For one, this report also revised the FBI’s estimate of 2021 murders downward. The FBI’s initial report on crime in 2021 suggested that the number of murders nationally had risen by around 4 percent (with a considerable margin of error). Revised for the 2022 report, the bureau’s 2021 data now shows a much smaller increase — so small that the murder rate actually fell in 2021, albeit very slightly. And there’s reason to believe that violent crime is poised to drop even further this year. Estimates from the Council on Criminal Justice show murder dropping by around 10 percent in selections of large cities in 2023 and a decline in aggravated assault. Similarly, a dashboard maintained by AH Datalytics showed, at the time of publication, a 12 percent decline in murders across a broad sample of cities.

Of concern, though, is a sharp increase in motor vehicle thefts, climbing more than 10 percent in a single year. That trend is also likely to continue, unfortunately, with data from one sample of cities showing a more than 30 percent increase through midyear 2023. The spike is even more pronounced in some major cities — in Washington, DC, motor vehicle thefts doubled through October 2023. While other factors may be at work, this spike appears to be motivated in part by a viral video that exposed security vulnerabilities in millions of vehicles.

The FBI’s report also shows a nearly 8 percent jump in larcenies, a category that includes most forms of theft, including shoplifting. It is the first such increase in years. But even with these increases, the rate of larcenies remains below both 2019 and 2020 levels. It is possible, then, that the 2022 data shows not the beginning of a trend toward rising property crime levels, but a rebound after an especially sharp decline in 2021, when larcenies fell by a little over 6 percent. More recent data seems to confirm the impression that larcenies appear to be falling in 2023.

To be sure, there have been serious and troubling increases in theft in individual cities. In New York, for example, retail theft rose sharply in 2022, a trend that has been building for years. Similar increases have grabbed media attention in Washington, DC, and San Francisco, to name a few. These developments may call for policy responses at the local level but are not necessarily visible in national data from 2022.

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There is no single reason why violent crime is falling now after rising so precipitously in 2020. It may well be that several factors combined that year to create a “perfect storm,” simultaneously destabilizing communities and weakening the systems that keep them safe. Those same factors may now be receding. But it is notable that 2022’s drop in violent crime further undermines politicized explanations for crime, such as blaming criminal justice reform.