Monday Morning Thoughts II: Crime Analysis Finds Crime is Not Rising Across the Country

Photo Credit: Reuters/Shannon Stapleton

The Brennan Center for Justice at the NYU School of Law has conducted an analysis of 2015 crime trends in the nation’s 30 largest cities and concluded “that reports of rising crime across the country are not supported by the available data. “

They write, “Major media outlets have reported that murder has surged in some of the nation’s largest cities. These stories have been based on a patchwork of data, typically from a very small sample of cities. Without geographically complete and historically comparable data, it is difficult to discern whether the increases these articles report are purely local anomalies, or are instead part of a larger national trend.”

This report provides a preliminary in-depth look at current national crime rates. It provides data on crime and murder for the 30 largest U.S. cities by population in 2015 and compares that to historical data.

They write, “This analysis relies on data collected from the Federal Bureau of Investigation and local police departments. The authors were able to obtain preliminary 2015 murder statistics from 25 police departments in the nation’s 30 largest cities and broader crime data from 19 of the 30. The data covers the period from January 1 to October 1, 2015. As this report relies on initial data and projects crime data for the reminder of the year, its findings should be treated as preliminary as they may change when final figures are available.”

There are two principal findings. The 2015 murder rate is projected to be 11 percent higher than last year in the majority of cities studied. Overall, 11 cities experienced decreases in murder, while 14 experienced increases.

However, the researchers argue that “this increase is not as startling as it may first seem. Because the underlying rate of murders is already so low, a relatively small increase in the numbers can result in a large percentage increase.”

Instead, they find, “Even with the 2015 increase, murder rates are roughly the same as they were in 2012, and 11 percent higher than they were in 2013.”

They also argue, “It should also be noted that murder rates vary widely from year to year. One year’s increase does not necessarily portend a coming wave of violent crime.”

On the other hand, crime overall, in 2015, is expected to be largely unchanged from last year, decreasing 1.5 percent.

The report defines overall crime as “murder and non-negligent manslaughter, aggravated assault, robbery, burglary, larceny, and motor vehicle theft. The increase in the murder rate is insufficient to drive up the crime rate, and using murder as a proxy for crime overall is mistaken.”

They continue, “It is important to remember just how much crime has fallen in the last 25 years. The crime rate is now half of what it was in 1990, and almost a quarter (22 percent) less than it was at the turn of the century.”

A few days ago, Slate Magazine ran an article that “roundly dismissed talk of a Ferguson Effect as an attempt to kneecap the Black Lives Matter movement by blaming it for a national crime wave more imaginary than real.”

Meanwhile, Attorney General Loretta Lynch, testified in the House that there is “no data” to suggest police are standing down.

Slate, however, writes, “The pushback against the Ferguson Effect theory should be applauded. While there is no doubt that the tense climate since Brown’s death has had an effect on police officers and how they do their jobs, the notion that protesters opposing police brutality are somehow responsible for rising crime rates is ludicrous.”

At the same time, they argue that we should not be ignoring what is happening in cities like Milwaukee and Baltimore, just because there is no Ferguson Effect.

They write that “considering that the overwhelming majority of the people dying in these cities are black and Hispanic, those among us who profess to care about racial equality and the opportunities afforded to people in poor urban neighborhoods need to acknowledge that this is happening.  “

The numbers, they write, “are stark and frightening.”

They note: “In Milwaukee, more than 130 people have been killed so far this year, whereas the total for 2014 was 87. Washington, D.C., has seen 143 murders since January, up from a total of 105 for all of last year. St. Louis had recorded 168 murders as of Nov. 16, up from 121 during the first 10 months of 2014.

“Baltimore, meanwhile, recently passed 300 murders for the year—a devastating milestone the city had not reached since 1999. According to the Baltimore Sun, the homicide rate in the city—which seems to have spiked in the immediate aftermath of Freddie Gray’s death at the hands of police in April—now stands at 48.97 per 100,000, higher than it’s ever been in the history of Baltimore.”

Slate continues, “It’s important not to misconstrue these numbers. They do not amount to a ‘national crime wave,’ as [Heather] Mac Donald and Sen. Ted Cruz claimed at this week’s Senate hearing.”

The analysis by the Brennan Center for Justice confirms this as well.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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  1. Anon

    The problem with the thesis of this article is not looking at individual cities.  There may be some cities, e.g. Baltimore, Milwaukee, Cleveland, Dallas, Tampa, Washington, DC, who are experiencing the “Ferguson effect”.  See:

    This does not mean there should not be a push to correct police training to reduce excessive use of force, racial profiling, etc.  But to deny that some of the demonstrations have caused some law enforcement departments to pull back on their efforts for fear of repercussions is to deny reality.  In fact, I would argue that is what the demonstrators want – less aggressive policing.  But with that comes an uptick in crime, because unfortunately criminals take advantage of circumstances.  The trick is going to be reaching a happy medium where police don’t use excessive force, but feel they can carry out their duties safely to protect innocent citizens – not an easy task to achieve.

    1. Davis Progressive

      you have a good point anon.  for me, if there is a ferguson effect, then the problem isn’t the protesters but the police.  the same is true if there isn’t – we are looking at the wrong thing here.  we need more oversight of the police and the police need to get over it – they are going to be second guessed like any other profession.

      1. Miwok

        we need more oversight of the police and the police need to get over it – they are going to be second guessed like any other profession.

        The initiative of video cams on officers will show many criminals who will show up time and again, for one thing, And their bad behavior will show up on these videos, something that any rerun of COPS RELOADED can show you.

        What I see is in these overcrowded cities and towns, like Davis, is that there is less margin for unruly people. What would get you off with a warning in Ukiah, will get you a ticket in Dixon and jail in Davis. Get you killed in Oakland.

  2. Alan Miller

    The trick is going to be reaching a happy medium where police don’t use excessive force, but feel they can carry out their duties safely to protect innocent citizens – not an easy task to achieve.

    Excessive force will be replaced by excessive electronic surveillance:  GPS tracking, street cameras, facial recognition, sonic city-wide listening devices, alogarithmic database cross-referencing, and pinpoint drone warhead removal of undesirable criminals.

    1. tribeUSA

      …and the loving caring overseers of our future animal farm communities will be able to better keep tabs on (just another version of real-time performance-monitoring, coming to a cubicle near yours) and manage the critters and keep them from getting too mischevious; get them back to work in their cubicle-stalls!

  3. Topcat

    They write that “considering that the overwhelming majority of the people dying in these cities are black and Hispanic, those among us who profess to care about racial equality and the opportunities afforded to people in poor urban neighborhoods need to acknowledge that this is happening.”

    Yes, what proposals do we, as a society, have to start to address the underlying issues that lead to the high crime rates among blacks and Hispanics?

        1. TrueBlueDevil

          We’ve spent Trillions upon Trillions, and it hasn’t worked out well. In fact, it can easily be argued that the government and do-gooders have made things worse, destroyed families and communities.

  4. Tia Will

    Can anyone name a “War on….anything ….” with regard to social issues that has worked out well ? Until we get rid of the “good” guys vs the “bad” guys mentality that underlies the “War on…..”mentality while ignoring the fact that virtually all of our social problems are multifactorial we will be stuck “fighting our wars” without solving our problems.

    1. tribeUSA

      Good accurate pont Tia–but grappling with the actual nature of problems, which are more often than not multi-factorial, is very difficult; easier to buy a marketing ploy that focus on a single facet of the problem will fix it and not create other problems. (part of out educational program that focuses on either/or with two choices, yes/no, right/wrong and other such polarities, multiple choice among factors where the correct solution is visible (where in real life the best range of choices is often invisible or very difficult to identify or bring to light for attention)

      Good to see you using a statistical term–I think it was Stanford that was the first or among the first of major US universities to have a requirement for at least one statistics class for all students, in order to receive their diploma, as one small step to better prepare them to assess information and deal with our major social problems at all levels, most of which are very complex in their inter-relationships.

    2. Topcat

      Can anyone name a “War on….anything ….” with regard to social issues that has worked out well ?

      Good point; George Bush’s “War on Terror” has obviously been a fiasco.  And then there was Nixon’s “War on Drugs”.  It does seem like politicians are prone to sloganeering and oversimplification when it comes to social problems.

      1. Frankly

        “War on poverty” is a great one… a perpetual war that according to the left, we are not only perpetually losing even as we spend trillion on it, but there is also a constant demand for yet another surge.

        The “war on women” is another one.  Interesting that since 1970 when Gloria Steinem and NOW really started this narrative of woman power and anger against men, measures of subjective well-being indicate that women’s happiness has declined both absolutely and relative to men.  Relative declines in female happiness have eroded a gender gap in happiness in which women in the 1970s typically reported higher subjective well-being than did men. These declines have continued and a new gender gap is emerging — one with higher subjective well-being for men.

        Also, since consistent studies show that conservative women are much happier than non-conservative women, and conservative women are more likely to be married, it appears that someone forgot to ask them if they believed there was a war on women.

        1. wdf1

          NYT, July 7, 2012:  Conservatives are happier than liberals; extremists are happiest of all

          There is one other noteworthy political happiness gap that has gotten less scholarly attention than conservatives versus liberals: moderates versus extremists.

          Political moderates must be happier than extremists, it always seemed to me. After all, extremists actually advertise their misery with strident bumper stickers that say things like, “If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention!”

          But it turns out that’s wrong. People at the extremes are happier than political moderates. Correcting for income, education, age, race, family situation and religion, the happiest Americans are those who say they are either “extremely conservative” (48 percent very happy) or “extremely liberal” (35 percent). Everyone else is less happy, with the nadir at dead-center “moderate” (26 percent).

          What explains this odd pattern? One possibility is that extremists have the whole world figured out, and sorted into good guys and bad guys. They have the security of knowing what’s wrong, and whom to fight. They are the happy warriors.

          Whatever the explanation, the implications are striking. The Occupy Wall Street protesters may have looked like a miserable mess. In truth, they were probably happier than the moderates making fun of them from the offices above. And none, it seems, are happier than the Tea Partiers, many of whom cling to guns and faith with great tenacity. Which some moderately liberal readers of this newspaper might find quite depressing.

          And I guess ISIS proponents are the absolute happiest of all.

        2. Frankly

          Well even in this conclusion the extreme conservatives were still happier than the extreme liberals.

          And I think there is a difference between extremists and activists.  Anarchists and collectivists probably don’t even register as extreme as defined with the standard benchmarks for the American left.  Even hard-left liberal Nancy Pelosi didn’t like those Occupy people.

          And how would you even match this up against anything on the American political right?  We would need a sizable Skinhead Nazi sub-party of the Republicans to make that comparison.

          [moderator] edited. Please avoid ‘cute’ names for politicians and political parties.

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