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Crime in 2015: A Preliminary Analysis

  • Matthew Friedman
  • Nicole Zayas Fortier
  • James Cullen
Published: November 18, 2015

An analysis of 2015 crime trends in the nation’s 30 largest cities shows that reports of rising crime across the coun­try are not suppor­ted by the avail­able data. 

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Major media outlets have repor­ted that murder has surged in some of the nation’s largest cities. These stor­ies have been based on a patch­work of data, typic­ally from a very small sample of cities. Without geograph­ic­ally complete and histor­ic­ally compar­able data, it is diffi­cult to discern whether the increases these articles report are purely local anom­alies, or are instead part of a larger national trend.

This report provides a prelim­in­ary in-depth look at current national crime rates. It provides data on crime and murder for the 30 largest U.S. cities by popu­la­tion in 2015 and compares that to histor­ical data. This analysis relies on data collec­ted from the Federal Bureau of Invest­ig­a­tion and local police depart­ments. The authors were able to obtain prelim­in­ary 2015 murder stat­ist­ics from 25 police depart­ments in the nation’s 30 largest cities and broader crime data from 19 of the 30. The data covers the period from Janu­ary 1 to Octo­ber 1, 2015. As this report relies on initial data and projects crime data for the reminder of the year, its find­ings should be treated as prelim­in­ary as they may change when final figures are avail­able.

This report’s prin­cipal find­ings, based on the data presen­ted in Table 1, are:

  • Murder in 2015: The 2015 murder rate is projec­ted to be 11 percent higher than last year in the major­ity of cities stud­ied. Over­all, 11 cities exper­i­enced decreases in murder, while 14 exper­i­enced increases. Yet, this increase is not as start­ling as it may first seem. Because the under­ly­ing rate of murders is already so low, a relat­ively small increase in the numbers can result in a large percent­age increase. Even with the 2015 increase, murder rates are roughly the same as they were in 2012, and 11 percent higher than they were in 2013. It should also be noted that murder rates vary widely from year to year. One year’s increase does not neces­sar­ily portend a coming wave of viol­ent crime.
  • Crime Over­all in 2015: Crime over­all in 2015 is expec­ted to be largely unchanged from last year, decreas­ing 1.5 percent. This report defines over­all crime as murder and non-negli­gent manslaughter, aggrav­ated assault, robbery, burg­lary, larceny, and motor vehicle theft. The increase in the murder rate is insuf­fi­cient to drive up the crime rate, and using murder as a proxy for crime over­all is mistaken. It is import­ant to remem­ber just how much crime has fallen in the last 25 years. The crime rate is now half of what it was in 1990, and almost a quarter (22 percent) less than it was at the turn of the century.

Crime in 2015: A Prelim­in­ary Analysis