Crime Rates Remain at Historic Lows, Final 2015 Numbers Show

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.