Final Crime Stats Show Crime Down, But Murder Rates Up in Major Cities

Photo Credit: Reuters/Shannon Stapleton

The Brennan Center For Justice released an update to their November analysis on crime, where they argue that “reports of rising crime nationwide are overblown and not supported by the available data.” Data from the 30 largest cities “show crime overall was roughly the same in 2015 as in 2014, and in fact is projected to decline by 5.5 percent, according to an analysis of crime trends from the Brennan Center for Justice.”

“The average person in a large urban area is safer walking on the street today than he or she would have been at almost any time in the past 30 years,” wrote Matthew Friedman, Nicole Fortier, and James Cullen in “Crime in 2015: A Preliminary Analysis.” “Although headlines suggesting a coming crime wave make good copy, a look at the available data shows there is no evidence to support this claim.”

But the crime rate is not the full story, because the 2015 murder rate is projected to be 14.6 percent higher than last year in the 30 largest cities, with 18 cities experiencing increases, and seven cities with decreases.

But the Brennan Center puts that murder rate in perspective, noting that even “with the 2015 increase, murder rates are roughly the same as they were in 2012. Since murder rates vary widely from year to year, one year’s increase is not evidence of a coming wave of violent crime.”

Moreover, it is a handful of cities that have seen sharp rises in the murder rates and just two of them, Baltimore and Washington, “account for almost 50 percent of the national increase in murders.”

The Brennan Center notes, “These serious increases seem to be localized, rather than part of a national pandemic, suggesting community conditions are a major factor.”

The preliminary report examined five cities with particularly high murder rates — Baltimore, Detroit, Milwaukee, New Orleans, and St. Louis — and “found these cities also had significantly lower incomes, higher poverty rates, higher unemployment, and falling populations than the national average.”

2015 Murder

And while Baltimore and St. Louis have been tied to high-profile police incidents, the other three have not.

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.”

Back in November, Slate reported, “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.”

One of the questions will undoubtedly be what is contributing to the spike in murders in a handful of cities? However, as Slate noted, “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. Davis Progressive

    this is from this summer: “But what’s been happening in Baltimore is different. The number of murders has doubled while shootings are up more than 80%, and most experts say that it’s at least partly linked to a reluctance by police to actively do their jobs.”

    some take this to mean, there are only two ways to approach policing – all or none.  the complaints about stop and frisk among other tactics don’t mean that the solution is police doing nothing.  it seems like new york has found a happier median where they have greatly lowered the number of stops and arrests but are still doing their jobs.

  2. Frankly

    As far as I can tell, the FBI data for 2015 has not been released yet.  Wait for it, wait for it…

    And I would add that it is too early to be drawing conclusions on the Ferguson Effect.  Wait for it, wait for it…

    And I will repeat that it is fascinating to see social justice liberals… and those that have a chronic dislike of law enforcement because of some point in their past a cop poked them the wrong way… jump on this bandwagon of no-increse-in-crime absolution.  IMO, it is going to very painful for them to backtrack, and very entertaining for the rest of us to watch them attempt to un-paint themselves out of the corner they previously and creatively put themselves into.

    I will take a stab at the source of the social justice liberal problem.  It has been identified by Johnathan Haidt… the propensity for those that identify as being liberal to have their thought filters overwhelmed by considerations of fairness and equality.  Hence, liberals… primarily the social justice type… tend to see criminals as victims of this and victims of that… and especially victims of harassment by the police.   If only the cops would stop harassing these people they would become productive members of society!  It is a quite foolish view, IMO.  It demonstrates that some liberals are possibly incapable of really understanding the human condition and the difference between good and bad and right and wrong.  They say they see the world through shades of gray… that they are nuanced intellectuals… but the truth is that they are often unable to overcome their obsession with feelings of fairness and equality to come to a rational determination… and the “nuanced shades of gray” dance is just an excuse for not being able to come to that rational conclusion.

    There are people out there with a broken moral compass that would rob, steal, beat, rape, kill and murder others without a twitch except for their own personal risk being caught by our brave men and women in blue.   Force those brave men and women in blue to stand down, and those with the broken moral compass will increase their criminal activity.

    From a macro sense, the primary source of crime these days is the breakdown of social capital… something that is primarily caused by the combination of growing secular left ideology that rejects traditional American family values.  Secondary causes are the decline in good paying middle-class jobs relative to the population (impacted by immigration), a crappy education system and an explosion in social welfare payments to people that don’t work.

    1. Davis Progressive

      the fbi report will be the next step.

      what i find interesting if that you have decided this is a social justice liberal issue.  it fits your narrative.  but what’s interesting and probably a reason things are changing is there is a segment of the right, not represented here, that is pushing for changes too.

      here’s a great example:

      Beyond the storm of commentary and criticism, however, quite a different reality presents itself. In the simplest terms, there is no war on the police. Violent attacks against police officers remain at historic lows, even though approximately 1,000 people have been killed by the police this year nationwide. In just the past few weeks, videos have been released of problematic fatal police shootings in San Francisco and Chicago.


      While it’s too soon to tell whether there has been an uptick in violent crime in the post-Ferguson period, no evidence connects any possible increase to the phenomenon of police violence being exposed to the nation. What is taking place and what the police and their supporters are largely reacting to is a modest push for sensible law enforcement reforms from groups as diverse as Campaign Zero, Koch Industries, the Cato Institute, The Leadership Conference, and the ACLU (my employer).

      1. Frankly

        I agree.  Libertarians tend to be a bit conflicted on this.  On the one hand police are government and libertarians tend to see government as tending to become oppressive of the people and prone to eroding freedoms.  However, there is the other libertarian view that criminals tend to be oppressive and erode freedoms… and there is a need to enforce the laws on the books.

        The other conservative and libertarian view is that we can reduce the cost of government by reducing our criminalization of victim-less crime…  i.e. drug possession and use.   Interestingly there are a lot of liberals that agree with decriminalizing victim-less crime, but then the Democrat party relies on lots of public sector unionized labor to ensure political power… so they reject any reduction in the number of cops.  Democrats would tend to support de-criminalization of victim-less crime if law enforcement personnel could be re-trained and re-deployed as clipboard-carrying community service officers… but then you lose the support for conservatives that want to cut expenses.

        1. Davis Progressive

          the problem with your comment is you keep assuming the only way to reduce criminal behavior is through a heavy handed police force and by extension, a heavy handed judicial system.

        2. Frankly

          Funny.  I was just thinking that many of these criminals are fatherless.   Brought up without the heavy hand of a father keeping them from straying in these violent and crime-ridden neighborhoods.

          Many cultures and languages include a lot of differentiation between masculine and feminine traits.   American and language culture does not.

          Too bad because I think this explains some of the differences here.  It seems that some of you wanting to see the cops stand down are more tuned toward a matriarchal system of hugging and unconditional acceptance.   It is my belief that this is a foolish direction because these boys and men are basically out of control and will not respond well to anything other than the heavy hand.

          Do you know why the military is so successful turning directionless boys into responsible men?  Even that institution is heading toward decline because the increasing matriarchal focus.  There are some disturbing trends that I am aware of and I put them directly on this move away from the old patriarchal methods that work.

          In my mind the area for reform is the prisons.   I would reform every prison to be a bootcamp with intensive and hard development requirements and expectations.  Want a get of jail early card?  Then work your ass off to demonstrate that you have become a productive member of society.  Liberals will not like this and so we have prisoners pretty much lounging around looking for trouble just as they did on the streets.

          Both the education system and the prison system needs to adopt much of what the military has proven to work.  But then liberals would probably not be able to tolerate the harshness of this… even as it saves thousands of young men from a life of crime.

    2. Robb Davis

      Hence, liberals… primarily the social justice type… tend to see criminals as victims of this and victims of that… and especially victims of harassment by the police.   If only the cops would stop harassing these people they would become productive members of society!

      Maybe this liberal straw man you have erected lives somewhere–maybe s/he actually exists.  Meanwhile, real people–among MANY others Police Chiefs Darren Pytel and Joe Garza (Reedley), Judge David Gottlieb (Fresno), Police Lt David Nelson (Fresno) and a boatload of “social activists” named John Swenning, Tim Nightingale, Sheri Wiedenhofer, Ron Claassen, Diane Clarke, Orit Kalman, Elvia Garcia and many others–join hands to develop real programs to hold offenders accountable, enable victims to have their needs met, and reduce recidivism.

      At the heart of these restorative practices is a commitment to recreating social capital.  There is no “left/right,” “liberal/conservative” divide among these people.  They are rolling up their sleeves to create alternatives to the failed punitive system that incarcerates everyone and changes nothing.  Leave aside your tired “social critique” and join this movement. That would be helpful.

      1. Frankly

        The first step in fixing a problem is identifying the problem.  I see politics as a big contributor to the problems as well as the primary impediment and or opportunity to solving the problems.  And politics only exist because of the views of the people that vote.   And political opinions are very malleable and they have been and are more unduly influenced by the left march of our mainstream media and our college campuses.   So I am just a speck trying to push back on this mountain of  one-sided influence to see voters opinions return to reasonable.

        I don’t see the connection with the practice of restorative justice building back lost social capital.  Lost social capital is more massive and fundamental problem.  I am not willing to accept more crime with victims over a broken heart over the plight of criminals… especially since I think this back-end attempt to repair social capital with restorative justice is a pipe dream.  Restorative justice is just one tool in the tool chest, not the tool box.

        1. Davis Progressive

          i think there are a lot of problems with your comment, but i agree that politics is a problem, probably in an alternative way than you do.  politics made it appealing for politicians to wage a war of one-upsmanship on crime.  you won elections by being as tough on crime as possible – even to the point of ridiculousness.  the problem was by being tough, you put a whole bunch of people who weren’t very bad and didn’t do very bad things into jail for a long time in hopes of catching a small percentage who would one time possibly be very bad.

          now you write, ” I am not willing to accept more crime with victims over a broken heart over the plight of criminals” – but again, you are stuck in this broken dichotomous mindset that the only way to stop crime is a huge punitive system.

          robb is offering you another way forward and you are dismissing it out of hand based on your limited understanding of the system.

  3. Robb Davis

    Restorative justice is just one tool in the tool chest, not the tool box.

    Whoa… hold on their partner.  Yellow card for breaking one of the ten commandments of logic: “Thou shalt not misrepresent or exaggerate a person’s argument in order to make it easier to attack (straw man fallacy).”

    I never said RJ was the tool box.  Never implied it.  Think of it as one tool.  That’s all.

    As for social capital… you give me YOUR definition and then I will give you mine.  Then we can debate whether RJ enables (creates) or destroys it.  What I can say (without fully revealing my definition) is that RJ process is ALL about bringing community members together in the face of broken relationships to mend them and find a way forward for victim and offender.

    The really cool thing that seems to be happening right here and right now in America is that the POLICE are promoting RJ (see this as but one example).

    1. zaqzaq


      What is restorative justice and how does it work?  How does it work in the DA’s Neighborhood Court?  David has in the past mentioned Neighborhood Court and restorative justice and has failed to explain this system.  Can you do so?

  4. Frankly

    My definition of social capital is the level of strong family connections, political participation, civic participation, education participation, religious participation, connections in the workplace (need a job first), informal social connections, volunteering and philanthropy.

    It’s ironic that you put so much on RJ mending broken relationships you point to law enforcement promoting and adopting it… because I developed a sense at one point that the current national narrative on policing at this point in time is based on frustration over the missing father element that is largely fomented by liberal policies.

    Police behaving like surrogate fathers to fatherless angry young men… but in a more liberal matriarchal model.  Have we lost our mind here?

    It is my opinion that there is an inter-connected hierarchy of importance and resolution in the social capital list I provided.

    Once a child’s family connections are broken many other components of social capital start to unravel.  However, religious participation and education participation can help the child overcome early deficits in family connections.  And then connections in a workplace can help build on that.

    But at some age, I think, all or most is lost.  The resources required to pull a lost angry man back to become a productive and safe member of society would be enormous and failure-prone.  It is analogous to capturing all the oil spilled by the Exon Valdez and returning it back to the ship’s repaired tanks.

    I don’t hold out hope for material statistical public-side institutional remedies to crime through RJ because of what I know/understand about the human condition (i.e., human development) and the tendency for almost all government programs to be overly-bureaucratic and rules-based to destroy the ability to deliver service in the required individually-tailored mode.  I think we have lost generations that are lost generations and we should start focusing on the current children that will soon be lost too unless we make some significant changes.  And unfortunately for you and others, those changes mean a reversal of many liberal policies and programs you hold dear.

  5. zaqzaq

    I noticed in the chart that all of the California cities (Los Angeles, San Diego and San Jose) all had an increase in crime from 10% (Los Angeles) to 3.2% (San Jose).  This averages out to 5.7% and is a stark difference of over 11% from the national average in the chart.  Using the same analysis the murder rate is up over 12% in these California cities.  It looks like AB 109 and Prop 47 are having a negative effect on crime in California.  The real story here in California is the AB 109 and Prop 47 effect which David as an advocate of Prop 47 did not mention as it is contrary to his narrative.

  6. TrueBlueDevil

    Violent crime up 20% in Los Angeles this year (LA Times), property crime also up. This is the first time since 2003 (?) that both have risen in the same year.

  7. TrueBlueDevil

    While we have seen several decades of reduction in most crime, there are also some anecdotes and new trends.

    Marijuana use is increasing, the effects liberals seem to avoid or be ignorant about is the potential loss of IQ by up to 10% for teenage users. Driving while buzzed crimes have spiked in Colorado. The young lady who drove up on the sidewalk in Las Vegas was high on pot.

    Heroin use has exploded in places like New Hampshire and Simi Valley, leading to hundreds of deaths.

    There appears to be a lot of crime that goes unreported, especially in Latino neighborhoods. Part of this may be due to the local gangs and Mexican Mafia / drug cartels. Part may be due to immigration status.

    On multiple occasions I have witnessed individuals getting high near a court house (before traffic court), outside of an athletic event, in a parked car, etc. I don’t recall this frequency of behavior in past years. Drive to certain areas of LA and graffiti is everywhere. There are also some Latino neighborhoods where young girls occasionally offer sexual services in the summer as some way for quick easy cash. The consequences of this are hard to ascertain. (These are not career hookers.)

    The new crime numbers will be interesting to digest. The spike in crime in Los Angeles (see above) may be telling. The Ferguson Effect meets social media?

    1. David Greenwald

      I’ll note, I didn’t spin anything. I pulled from the article you cited which basically pointed out the crime rate stopped increasing in the last six months after the police adjusted their tactics. How is that spin?

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