The crime crisis that wasn’t

The transition to a new FBI reporting system made preliminary 2021 crime data unreliable, creating a “massive gap in information … exploited by politicians in midterm election campaigns“. The FBI has now released updated, reliable crime data through 2022 (here) and YTD data through September 2023 showing the percent change compared to 2022 (here). These data show crime rates are on track to record multi-decade lows.

The violent crime rate (murder, rape, robbery, and aggravated assault) rose slightly in 2020 but fell in 2021 and 2022. The 2023 YTD violent crime rate is on pace for another 8.2% decline. That would take the violent crime rate down to the lowest level since 1969.  

The property crime rate (burglary, vehicle theft, and other felony theft) has seen a steady decline since the 1990s, and the 2023 YTD property crime rate is on pace for another 6.3% decline. That would take the property crime rate down to the lowest level since 1961.

The FBI did report a large spike in the murder rate in 2020, but the murder rate fell in 2022, and the 2023 YTD murder rate is on pace for another 15.6% decline. That would take the 2023 murder rate down to below where it was in 2016 and 2017.

The 2020 USA murder rate spike was associated with a stark departure from a very strong correlation between murder and robbery rates since the 1960s. FBI data show a steady decline in robbery rates since 2007, and the 2023 YTD robbery rate is on pace for another 9.4% decline. That would take the robbery rate down to the lowest level since 1962.

The USA murder rate spike during the pandemic was almost certainly unrelated to criminal justice policies because there was no corresponding spike in other crime categories. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) also reports that a global 2021 spike in homicides was in part linked to “repercussions from the COVID-19 pandemic” (here).

It is far too early to make predictions about the 2024 murder rate, but data reported by the following 15 cities show a remarkably encouraging start to the year: A weighted average 40% YTD decline in murders through January.

YTD Murders in 2024 vs. 2023
City20242023YTD % ChangeAS OF
New York City2939-26%4-Feb
New Orleans1723-26%4-Feb
Washington DC1122-50%4-Feb
Los Angeles1718-6%27-Jan
Columbus OH717-59%5-Feb
Kansas City MO515-67%4-Feb
Las Vegas414-71%26-Jan

Again, it is too early to make predictions based on January data for 15 cities. That said, is there any doubt that politicians and the news media would be howling about the “crime crisis” if January data for 15 large cities showed a 40% YTD increase in murders?

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