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.