Looking at the New Crime Numbers

As longtime readers know, I’ve long been interested in crime rates and particularly murder rates in the United States – regional breakdown, causes, explanations of why they’ve risen and fallen over the decades and centuries.

The FBI just released the Uniform Crime Reporting data for 2016. I’m digging into the data. But I wanted to flag some key numbers. As always, I focus on the murder rate. Murder is the most grave and foundational crime. Other crimes are susceptible to under-reporting, over-reporting and changing definitions. While murder is defined by intent, and thus mutable as a subset of homicide, it is still the most foundational and unambiguous crime. It is also the greatest driver of fear and political change.

The key details are broadly what we expected. The murder went up significantly year over year in 2016 – from 4.9 murders per 100,000 people in 2015 to 5.3 in 2016.

There are two reasonable ways to look at these numbers. This is the biggest two year jump in the murder rate in 20 years. The rate went from 4.4 in 2014 to 5.3 in 2016. The rate has gone up before year over year over since 1997. In fact it’s gone up year over year for two years straight (2004-2006). But the overall rise is the biggest over two years since 1997.

At the same time, the actual increase is small by the standards of recent history. At 5.3 per 100,000, the rate remains slightly lower than it was in 2008 (5.4) and lower than every previous year back to 1997. These are great numbers compared to almost any other time in the last 30 years. And yet, the trend should not be dismissed.

Also notable was the geographical distribution of this uptick. In the Northeast, Middle Atlantic and Pacific regions and subregions the rates remained unchanged. The uptick was concentrated in the Midwest, South and Mountain West.

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