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Crime Rates Remain at Historic Lows, Final 2015 Numbers Show

Overall crime rates in America’s largest cities were nearly identical from 2014 to 2015, declining 0.1 percent, according to an analysis of final 2015 crime numbers by the Brennan Center for Justice.

April 20, 2016

New York, NY – Over­all crime rates in Amer­ica’s largest cities were nearly identical from 2014 to 2015, declin­ing 0.1 percent, accord­ing to an analysis of final 2015 crime numbers by the Bren­nan Center for Justice.

The final numbers show that crime rates remain at historic lows nation­ally, despite recent upticks in a hand­ful of cities.

The authors 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. The three areas accoun­ted for more than half of the national increase in murders last year.   

“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,” authors Ames Grawert and James Cullen wrote in Crime in 2015: A Final Analysis. “That does not mean there is not vari­ation across cities. In some cities, murder is up. However, there is not yet suffi­cient evid­ence to conclude that these levels will persist in the future or are part of a national trend.”

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 six 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. 

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