Skip Navigation
Analysis

Crime Rates in Largest U.S. Cities Continue to Drop

In 2018, crime rates in the 30 largest U.S. cities declined for the second straight year, reaching near-record lows.

June 12, 2019

Crime in the 30 largest U.S. cities is estim­ated to have declined in 2018, with decreases in the rates of viol­ent crime, murder, and over­all crime, accord­ing to a new Bren­nan Center analysis of the avail­able data. Murder rates in partic­u­lar were down by 8 percent from 2017, a signi­fic­ant drop. 2018 marks the second straight year that murder rates have fallen, too, after increases in 2015 and 2016. Over­all, however, U.S. crime rates have dropped dramat­ic­ally since peak­ing in 1991.

“These continu­ing declines show that increases in 2015 and 2016 were not the start of a new crime wave,” said Ames Grawert, senior coun­sel in the Bren­nan Center’s Justice Program. “If final estim­ates hold when the FBI releases its data in Septem­ber, 2018 crime rates will remain near record lows. However, even with these drops it’s clear that some cities, like Baltimore and Chicago, still suffer from high rates of viol­ence. Amid the broad declines, address­ing the viol­ence in these areas must be a key prior­ity for poli­cy­makers.”

Crime rates in the United States have fallen dramat­ic­ally

Crime has dropped precip­it­ously in the past quarter century. After the over­all national crime rate peaked in 1991 at 5,856 crimes per 100,000 people, it fell for 14 years in a row to less than half of its peak level, accord­ing to a 2017 Bren­nan Center analysis of FBI data on crime trends at the national and city level.

Despite these over­all declines, the Trump admin­is­tra­tion has often cited the 2015 and 2016 murder rate upticks out of context, as justi­fic­a­tion for its rhet­oric support­ing policies that would worsen or entrench mass incar­cer­a­tion. For example, during his tenure, former Attor­ney General Jeff Sessions sugges­ted that a viol­ent crime wave was sweep­ing the nation, while advoc­at­ing policies such as tougher poli­cing prac­tices, rein­stat­ing mandat­ory minimum sentences, and intensi­fy­ing immig­ra­tion enforce­ment.

However, the latest 2018 data rein­force the longer-term trend of a contin­ued decline in crime rates. This is consist­ent with the posi­tion of crim­in­o­lo­gists, who have sugges­ted that the 2015 and 2016 numbers might not have been indic­at­ive of a signi­fic­ant crime trend. In addi­tion, a 2015 Bren­nan Center report found that overly harsh crim­inal justice policies, such as increased incar­cer­a­tion, were not the main contrib­ut­ors to declines in crime.

There isn’t a broader crime wave emer­ging

Although the 2018 data suggests that crime rates are expec­ted to decrease nation­wide, some cities continue to struggle with viol­ence. “We’ve seen that cities that are poorer, more segreg­ated, and more unequal are more vulner­able to increases in crime rates,” said Grawert. Nonethe­less, the over­all trends continue to under­cut any claims about the emer­gence of a new nation­wide crime rate.

Read the full Bren­nan Center report, Crime in 2018: Final Analysis.

(Image: Prath­aan)