This report examines crime trends at the national and city level during the last quarter century. It covers the years 1990 through 2016, as crime rates peaked in 1991. It analyzes data from the Federal Bureau of Investigation and from police departments from the nation’s 30 largest cities. Data for 2016 are estimated, as full year data was not available at the time of publication.
This report concludes that although there are some troubling increases in crime in specific cities, there is no evidence of a national crime wave. Key findings:
- Overall Trends: Crime has dropped precipitously in the last quarter-century. While crime may fall in some years and rise in others, annual variations are not indicative of long-term trends. While murder rates have increased in some cities, this report finds no evidence that the hard-won public safety gains of the last two and a half decades are being reversed.
- Overall Crime Rate: The national crime rate peaked in 1991 at 5,856 crimes per 100,000 people, and has generally been declining ever since. In 2015, crime fell for the 14th year in a row. Estimates based on preliminary data for 2016 indicate that the overall crime rate will remain stable at 2,857 offenses per 100,000, rising less than 1 percent from 2015. Today’s crime rate is less than half of what it was in 1991.
- Violent Crime: The violent crime rate also peaked in 1991 at 716 violent crimes per 100,000, and now stands at 366, about half that rate. However, the violent crime rate, like rates of murder and overall crime, has risen and fallen during this time. For example, violent crime registered small increases in 2005 and 2006, and then resumed its downward trend. In 2015, violent crime increased by 2.9 percent nationally and by 2.0 percent in the nation’s 30 largest cities. Preliminary data for 2016 also show a greater increase in the national violent crime rate, up 6.3 percent, and a smaller jump in the 30 largest cities, 2.4 percent. Crime is often driven by local factors, so rates in cities may differ from national averages.
- Murder: From 1991 to 2016, the murder rate fell by roughly half, from 9.8 killings per 100,000 to 5.3. The murder rate rose last year by an estimated 7.8 percent. With violence at historic lows, modest increases in the murder rate may appear large in percentage terms. Similarly, murder rates in the 30 largest cities increased by 13.2 percent in 2015 and an estimated 14 percent in 2016. These increases were highly concentrated. More than half of the 2015 urban increase (51.8 percent) was caused by just three cities, Baltimore, Chicago, and Washington, D.C. And Chicago alone was responsible for 43.7 percent of the rise in urban murders in 2016. It is important to remember the relatively small base from which the percentage increases are calculated.
- City-Level Analysis: Appendix A provides detail on crime in each of the nation’s 30 largest cities. The data demonstrate that crime rates and trends vary widely from city to city. In New York, for example, crime remains at all-time lows. Other cities, such as Washington, D.C., have seen murder rise and then fall recently, yet the rate is still lower than it was a decade ago. However, there are a small group of cities, such as Chicago, where murder remains persistently high, even by historical standards.