Crime in 2016: A Preliminary Analysis
**Update: Corrections made below on 9/21/16
Overall crime rates in 2016 are projected to be nearly the same as last year, with crime remaining at an all-time low, according to a new Brennan Center analysis.
The report — released in the Center’s “Election 2016 Controversies” series — presents data from the 30 largest cities in the United States analyzed by a team of economics and policy researchers. The findings undercut media reports referring to crime as "out of control," though they do call attention to increased violence in some cities, specifically Chicago.
Earlier this year, the Brennan Center analyzed crime data from the 30 largest cities in 2015, finding that crime overall remained the same as in 2014. It also found that murder increased by 14 percent, with just three cities — Baltimore, Chicago, and Washington, D.C. — responsible for half that increase. All told, 2015’s murder rate was still near historic lows. The authors concluded that reports of a national crime wave were premature and unfounded, and that “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.”
This report updates those findings. It collects midyear data from police departments to project overall crime, violent crime, and murder for all of 2016. Its principal findings are:
- Crime: The overall crime rate in 2016 is projected to remain the same as in 2015, rising by 1.3 percent. Twelve cities are expected to see drops in crime. These decreases are offset by Chicago (rising 9.1 percent) and Charlotte (17.5 percent). Nationally, crime remains at an all-time low.
- Violence: The violent crime rate is projected to rise slightly, by 5.5 percent, with half the increase driven by Los Angeles (up 13.3 percent*) and Chicago (up 16.2 percent*). Even so, violent crime remains near the bottom of the nation’s 30-year downward trend.
- Murder: The murder rate is projected to rise by 13.1 percent this year, with nearly half of this increase attributable to Chicago alone (234 of 496 murders). Significantly, other cities that drove the national murder increase in 2015 are projected to see significant decreases in 2016. Those cities include Baltimore (down 9.7 percent*) and Washington, D.C. (down 12.7 percent*). New York remains one of the safest large cities, even with the murder rate projected to rise 1.2 percent* this year.
Nationally, the murder rate is projected to increase 31.5 percent from 2014 to 2016 — with half of additional murders attributable to Baltimore, Chicago, and Houston. Since homicide rates remain low nationwide, percentage increases may overstate relatively small increases. In San Jose, for example, just 21 new murders translated to a 66.7 percent* increase in the city's murder rate. Based on this data, the authors conclude there is no evidence of a national murder wave, yet increases in these select cities are indeed a serious problem.
- Chicago Is An Outlier: Crime rose significantly in Chicago this year and last. No other large city is expected to see a comparable increase in violence. The causes are still unclear, but some theories include higher concentrations of poverty, increased gang activity, and fewer police officers.
- Explanations for Overall Trends: Very few cities are projected to see crime rise uniformly this year, and only Chicago will see significant, back-to-back increases in both violent crime and murder. The authors attempted to investigate causes of these spikes, but ultimately were unable to draw conclusions due to lack of data. Based on their research, however, the authors believe cities with long-term socioeconomic problems (high poverty, unemployment, and racial segregation) are more prone to short-term spikes in crime. Because the pattern across cities is not uniform, the authors believe these spikes are created by as-of-yet unidentified local factors, rather than any sort of national characteristic. Further, it is normal for crime to fluctuate from year-to-year. The increases and decreases in most cities’ murder rates in 2015 and 2016, for example, are within the range of previous two-year fluctuations, meaning they may be normal short-term variations.
These findings undercut media reports referring to crime as “out of control,” or heralding a new nationwide crime wave. But the data do call attention to specific cities, especially Chicago, and an urgent need to address violence there. Notably, this analysis focuses on major cities, where increases in crime and murder were highest in preliminary Uniform Crime Reporting data for 2015, so this report likely overestimates any national rise in crime. It also represents a projection based on data available through early September 2016.