WASHINGTON ― The national homicide rate rose slightly in 2015, according to FBI crime statistics released Monday. But the report also indicates that overall, 2015 was one of the safest years on record.
The FBI found an increase of 3.1 percent from the 2014 violent crime rate estimate. But that year-over-year increase only tells part of the story. Looking at every year since 1996, the violent crime rate has only been lower in 2013 and 2014.
2015 was safer than any year during the presidencies of George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush or Ronald Reagan. Looking back at trends over the past five and 10 years, the total number of violent crimes in 2015 was 0.7 percent below the 2011 level and 16.5 percent below the 2006 level. Nevertheless, in a poll conducted earlier this year by The Huffington Post and YouGov, most Americans incorrectly believed that crime had risen overall in the past 10 years.
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, who has declared himself the “law and order” candidate, is widely expected to seize on the statistical uptick in the homicide numbers ahead of the first presidential debate on Monday night.
Ronald S. Sullivan Jr. of Harvard Law School says it’s important not to “read too much into year-to-year fluctuations” reflected in the FBI crime statistics.
“Two of the cities with homicide increases in 2015 are the District of Columbia and Baltimore,” Sullivan said. “Yet, already in 2016 we are seeing near double-digit decreases in both cities.” He also noted that homicides were more common in heavily segregated and impoverished cities.
John Pfaff, a law professor at Fordham University School of Law, said that even if the jump in the violent crime rate is similar to jumps seen in the 1990s, the actual effect of this one is much smaller.
“Crime was and remains quite low. Even in terms of worst case scenario with FBI numbers, things look similar to what they did four to five years ago,” Pfaff said. “At the time we celebrated those as being great.”
“The report shows that there was an overall increase in violent crime last year, making clear what each of us already knows: that we still have so much work to do,” Attorney General Loretta Lynch said on Monday. “But the report also reminds us of the progress that we are making.”
The report “shows that in many communities, crime has remained stable or even decreased from the historic lows reported in 2014,” she went on. “And it is important to remember that while crime did increase overall last year, 2015 still represented the third-lowest year for violent crime in the past two decades.”
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