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Crime Trends: 1990–2016

Key Fact: The national crime rate peaked in 1991 at 5,856 crimes per 100,000 people, and has generally been declining ever since.

Published: April 18, 2017

Exec­ut­ive Summary

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.