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September 6, 2017

Encouraging new Brennan Center data on 2017 crime trends ... let the spinning begin

The Brennan Center for Justice has this notable new report titled simply "Crime in 2017: A Preliminary Analysis," and its first section starts this way: 

Based on new data collected from police departments in the 30 largest cities, this report finds that all measures of crime — overall crime, violent crime, and murder — are projected to decline in 2017. Indicators show that 2017 will have the second lowest rates of crime and violent crime since 1990.

These findings directly undercut any claim that the nation is experiencing a crime wave. In 2015 and 2016, overall crime rates remained stable, while murder and violent crime rose slightly. Now, in 2017, crime and murder are projected to decline again. This report’s main findings are explained below, and detailed in Figure 1, and in Tables 1 and 2:

• The overall crime rate in 2017 is projected to decrease slightly, by 1.8 percent. If this estimate holds, as it has in past analyses, 2017 will have the second lowest crime rate since 1990.

• The violent crime rate is projected to decrease slightly, by 0.6 percent, essentially remaining stable. This result is driven primarily by stabilization in Chicago and declines in Washington, D.C., two large cities that experienced increases in violence in recent years. The violent crime rate for this year is projected to be the second lowest since 1990 — about one percent above 2014’s violent crime rate.

• The 2017 murder rate is projected to be 2.5 percent lower than last year.  This year’s decline is driven primarily by decreases in Detroit (down 25.6 percent), Houston (down 20.5 percent), and New York (down 19.1 percent).  Chicago’s murder rate is also projected to fall, by 2.4 percent.  The 2017 murder rate is expected to be on par with that of 2009, well at the bottom of the historic post-1990 decline, yet still higher than the lowest recorded rate in 2013.  Notably, more than half the murder increase from 2014 to 2017 (55.6 percent) is attributable to two cities — Chicago and Baltimore.  This year’s decrease could indicate that the increases in 2015 and 2016 were short-term fluctuations in a longer-term downward trend.

• While crime is down this year, some cities are projected to experience localized increases. For example, Charlotte’s murder rate doubled in the first six months of 2017 relative to last year.

Before even starting to spin this new data, it bears emphasis that there could be developments in the last four months of 2017 that alter this prediction that crime will decline for the year.  But assuming these encouraging new crime numbers hold upon further developments and analysis, it will be interesting to watch different advocates making different claims about what a return to declining crimes means. I would certainly expect Prez Trump and AG Sessions to assert that their reversal of a variety of Obama era policies and practices is already having a positive impact, while advocates for progressive "smart on crime" reforms will surely claim that this data shows we can and should be able to continue to reduce prison populations and reduce crime at the same time.

Critically, whatever gets spun, these data are a cause for celebration and everyone should be rooting for the numbers to continue to trend in a positive direction in the months and years ahead.

September 6, 2017 at 10:56 AM | Permalink


"we can and should be able to continue to reduce prison populations and reduce crime at the same time"

Does that mean California's crime rates are going down after Brown v. Plata and McDonald v. Chicago?

Posted by: Fidget Spinner | Sep 6, 2017 11:15:31 AM

It is complicated. The Ferguson Effect caused the police to lean back. Stop enforcing the law. Take 911 calls, write the report. That is the safest course for them, given the witch hunt by the Obama administration and by Democratic Mayors, of the police.

As a result, illegal opiate use has increased. Most victims of the overdoses of prescribed opiates also have heroin and carfentanyl in their bodies. So 30,000 people died. Their crimes were prevented for this and future years. I am surprised the drops have been so small. The deaths of addicts should have a much bigger impact than the Ferguson Effect.

There is a possibility, the methods used in this study are faulty. We may have no idea if crime rates are changing.

Posted by: David Behar | Sep 6, 2017 12:24:53 PM

Regardless of "spin", and as much as we may hope that the crime rate drops, there is a sobering point left unsaid.

How many other crimes go unreported? The Pew Research Center opined recently that only about half of the violent crimes and only a third of the property crimes in the U.S. get reported to the police. www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/03/01/most-violent-and-property-crimes-in-the-u-s-go-unsolved/

"Cause for celebration"? Consider this instead: "But the sad fact is, most people don't look beneath the surface until it's too late."

Posted by: Cal. Prosecutor | Sep 6, 2017 4:01:06 PM

It is true lots of crimes go unreported, Cal Prosecutor, but it still seems to be a positive that reported crimes seem to be going down.

And Fidget, I believe Cal crime went down after Plata and McDonald with the state hitting record low (reported) crime rates in 2014. I believe crime has gone up in recent years, and more than the national averages.

Posted by: Doug B. | Sep 6, 2017 4:52:07 PM

Don't worry cal prosecutor, they'll be a never-ending over abundance of new and existing bullshit laws on the books with lots of perspective common folk (i.e. "low hanging fruit") to prosecute and incarcerate to keep your compatriots in full employment well into the future and on into those lucrative taxpayer funded retirement years.

Posted by: dave | Sep 6, 2017 7:56:36 PM

Cal. Prosecutor, the question I would have is whether there is any reason to believe the unreported crime rate has varied significantly over time. If it hasn't, then the reported crime rate tells us the overall trend, even if doesn't capture all crime. The only thing I reason I can think of for significant variation in unreported crime rate is increased failure to report from immigrant communities due to immigration crack downs. What else should we be considering from your perspective?

Posted by: NCDefender | Sep 7, 2017 9:09:45 AM

NCDef. The gold standard of crime rate measurement was the Household Survey of Crime Victimization. It was limited to only 8 common law crimes on the FBI Index. The UN adopted its methods for the measurement of crime around the world, independently of government interests and bias.

Obama "improved" it to a point where it had no validity, to cover up the massive surge of criminality under his administration.

Even when it was valid, the survey did not cover the 100's of long established and valid felonies, nor the 1000's of serious and real regulatory crimes, that cause physical and economic damage to our nation.

Even in the case of the most solved crime, murder, I question what happened to the 100,000 unresolved missing persons reports. The DOJ should fund a study of really tracking a small representative sample of those people. If they were murdered, and effectively disposed of, the murder rate is markedly underestimated.

Posted by: David Behar | Sep 9, 2017 12:50:00 AM

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