The Radical Center
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The Radical Center

Long-term Decline in Crime Resumes

Over the last two years many, particularly conservatives, were shrieking about increasing crime rates. Pro-gun control advocates were pointing to rises in homicide rates as proof America was getting more dangerous—inspite of homicide rates having been cut in half since 1980.

At the time of the homicide increases in 2015 and 2016 I warned trend lines are rarely smooth and when one or two years of data go against the long-term trend we should bet on the longer-trend line as the one that will continue. Now data for the last two years is showing the long-term trend is reasserting itself. For those who want to increase policing or ban guns the decline in homicides is bad news.

President Trump pretended the blips were the long term trend and called for mass incarceration. Attorney General Sessions claimed violence was sweeping the nation blaming immigrants and calling for more policing and tougher policies.

CBS reports that according to reports from police chiefs in the largest cities, the total number of homicides in those cities dropped by 252 between 2016 and 2017.

The homicide rate in 2017 was 5.3 per 100,000 population. During the decade from 2000 to 2009 the homicide rate averaged 5.52 per 100,000. In December the New York Times reported:

The murder rate in the United States in 2018 is on track for the largest one-year drop in five years.

The numbers obviously aren’t final, and the F.B.I. won’t formally report 2018’s murder figures until September 2019.

Based on data available so far “murder has been down about 7 percent on average this year relative to the same point in 2017.” The Times said “the country is moving toward the largest national drop in murder since a 3.6 percent decline in 2013.”

Reprinted from New York Times

The trend line is down though individual years may increase followed by years of decline. For instance homicide rates increased in 2001, then again in 2003 but then dropped in 2004 to go up slightly in 2005 and 2006, but then dropped or remained steady for the next seven years only to increased in 2015 and 2016. But declines in 2017 and 2018 are taking rates down again. The general trend is down for the last four decades.

When homicide rates increased in 2016 and then 2017 some were predicting long-term trends based on those two years. But only long-term numbers matter with those trends and those have been downward.

Now the Brennan Center for Justice has released a new report verifying the drops and noting they were bigger than expected. Ames Grawert, senior counsel at the Brennan Center said, “These continuing declines show that increases in 2015 and 2016 were not the start of a new crime wave.”

Crime in the 30 largest U.S. cities is estimated to have declined in 2018, with decreases in the rates of violent crime, murder, and overall crime, according to a new Brennan Center analysis of the available data. Murder rates in particular were down by 8 percent from 2017, a significant drop. 2018 marks the second straight year that murder rates have fallen, too, after increases in 2015 and 2016.

While homicide rates peaked in 1980, general violent crime peaked in 1991 and both have been in decline since. The Brennan Center notes that general crime rates “have dropped dramatically since peaking in 1991” and in 2016 reported:

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.

These trends have continued since that report was issued.

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A blog for the Moorfield Storey Institute: a liberaltarian think tank.

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James Peron

James Peron is the president of the Moorfield Storey Institute, was the founding editor of Esteem a LGBT publication in South Africa under apartheid.