Thursday, September 29, 2016

FBI data show violent crime was up in 2015

FBI data show violent crime was up in 2015

All types of violent crime rose in 2015 over 2014.

In terms of the past twenty years, violent crimes have declined steadily and very significantly in the United States. It remains to be seen whether 2015 represents a reversal of the trend, or just a statistical outlier.


Trump and Clinton bickered about whether murder was up or down in NYC. In evaluating the specific success or failure of stop-and-frisk in New York City, the picture is more complex because the correct analysis hinges on definitions.

The overall number of major crimes was slightly down in New York in 2015, for example, but:

1. New York's number of violent crimes (rape, murder, felony assault) was up in 2015. The absolute number of the increase, however, was ever so small - just 40 more such crimes on a base of about 22,000.

2. The most violent crimes did increase by substantial percentages: the number of homicides was up 5%, and rape was up 6%. It is important to note, however, that these numbers are based on small bases. There were 352 murders, for example, compared to 333 the previous year, so the overall increase is just 19 crimes in a city of more than eight million people. There was a time in the past when New York had more than 2,000 murders per year.

3. The most recent crime numbers for 2016 to date indicate that the NYC murder rate has again reversed. (The number of murders is down 4.3% versus the same period in 2015.) The 2016 decrease, however, has not been as large as the 2015 increase, so the two-year trend is still slightly upward. Again we should note that we are talking about very small numbers in absolute terms: up 19 in 2015, down 11 so far in 2016 through September 18th.

4. If you think of New York as "Manhattan," which many people do, the overall crime rate was up in 2015.

So it is possible to make a case in every direction, if one words the claim carefully enough. Donald Trump's claim that "murder is up" in NYC is defensible, if one is comparing 2015 to 2014, or 2016 to 2014. On the other hand, a claim that "murder is down" is also defensible in a different context, like comparing this year to last year, or evaluating long-term trends. An objective analysis requires more context than a simple broad assertion.

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