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New Analysis: Crime, Violence, and Murder Remain Near Historic Lows

Despite recent increases in some cities, crime dropped dramatically in America over the last quarter-century.

April 18, 2017

Crime rates have dropped dramatically and remain near historic lows, despite localized increases in some places, according to a new report from the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law analyzing data from the last quarter-century.

In Crime Trends: 1990–2016, a team of economics and policy researchers analyzed data from the Federal Bureau of Investigation and directly from police departments in the nation’s 30 largest cities. Several key findings:

  • Overall Crime Rate: Since its peak in 1991, crime has fallen by more than half, from 5,856 crimes per 100,000 people to 2,857 crimes. Crime in 2016 remains near historic lows. Though the murder rate has increased in some cities, there is no evidence that the hard-won public safety gains of the last two-and-a-half decades are being reversed.
  • Violent Crime: Since its peak in 1991, violent crime has fallen by approximately half, going from 716 violent crimes per 100,000 people to 366 crimes. Like rates of overall crime and murder, the violent crime rate has risen and fallen without disrupting the long-term trend downward. For example, there were small increases in 2005 and 2006, and then numbers resumed a downward trend. Researchers project the 2016 violent crime rate will increase 6.3 percent nationally and 2.4 percent in the nation’s 30 largest cities, remaining near historic lows.
  • Murder: From 1991 to 2016, the murder rate fell by roughly half, from 9.8 killings per 100,000 to 5.3. The national murder rate rose in 2015 and 2016, but this was caused by spikes in a few locations. For example, murder rates in the 30 largest cities increased by 13.2 percent in 2015, with half of that increase attributed to Baltimore, Chicago, and Washington, D.C. The murder rate went up an estimated 14 percent in 2016, with Chicago causing almost half of that increase. Additionally, with murder at historic lows, modest increases may appear large in percentage terms.
  • City-Level Analysis: The report provides detailed data on overall crime, violence, and murder for the 30 largest cities in America from 1990 to 2016. Numbers show that crime trends vary from city to city.

“Our analysis shows that crime has been going down the last quarter-century and remains near historic lows,” said Ames Grawert, a counsel in the Brennan Center’s Justice Program and an author of the analysis. “There are some local spikes that are concerning, but the numbers simply don’t back any claims of a national crime wave.”

“President Trump and his team have conjured up this image of ‘American carnage’ to bolster support for some of their most controversial policies,” said Inimai Chettiar, the director of the Justice Program. “It’s disingenuous and inaccurate to paint the whole country with a broad brush when crime has trended dramatically downward the last twenty-five years.” 

The new report builds on the Brennan Center’s series of yearly analyses, the most recent of which examined crime rates in 2016. All analyses can be found on the Brennan Center’s new Crime Rates in America webpage