Crime and Murder Rates Drop in Most Big Cities

A Los Angeles County Sheriff's forensics photo evidence marker is positioned next to clothing littering a street in Altadena, Calif., July 6, 2016.

A Los Angeles County Sheriff's forensics photo evidence marker is positioned next to clothing littering a street in Altadena, Calif., July 6, 2016. AP Photo


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While the trend isn’t universal, Brennan Center for Justice research findings “definitively reject any claims” of the nation being in a “crime wave.”

Crime and murder rates are projected to drop in most large cities this year, with some of the biggest homicide decreases expected in Chicago and San Francisco.

A new report from the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law School looking at available local and federal data notes that these drops aren’t universal. Some cities are seeing increases in killings.

“Murder rates in some cities remain above 2015 levels, demonstrating a continued need for evidence-based solutions to violent crime,” the report notes. (For example, the murder rates are projected to rise by almost 40 percent in Washington, D.C. and 23 percent in Houston.)

For decades, crime in the nation’s most populous cities has been steadily dropping, but murder rates did increase in many cities in 2015 and 2016. Last year saw homicides go down again, however, and this year is expected to continue that trend, the report says.

In September, a preliminary analysis by the Brennan Center noted that the reversal in murders would “definitively reject any claims of the country being in a ‘crime wave’,” obliquely referencing comments by President Trump and other administration officials that crime has risen at alarming rates.

A big target for Trump has been the city of Chicago, which the Brennan report projected would see an 18 percent decline in the murder rate. In San Francisco the drop is expected to be 27 percent.

Murders are also expected to go down in Baltimore—a city that has struggled with fatal and nonfatal shootings in recent years. The rate could drop by more than 7 percent under the Brennan Center projections.

In a recent story by the Baltimore Sun, Mayor Catherine Pugh expressed cautious optimism about the positive direction for the murder rate, which is blunted by the fact that for the fourth year in a row the annual total could reach 300 homicides in the city. The elevated number of killings began in 2015, the year Freddie Gray died in police custody. 

“We are trending down in homicides in the city, not as fast as we would want to, not as low as we would want to, but we are still trending down,” Pugh told the newspaper.

Overall, the report found that the 2018 murder rate was expected to drop by almost 6 percent across the 30 largest cities, while violent crime would go down by 2.7 percent. In general, all crime in these cities was expected to decrease by 1.8 percent.

“The data show that talks of widespread increasing crime are unfounded, and fearmongering about crime shouldn’t derail important efforts like the pending federal sentencing reform bill that aims to make a more fair system,” said Ames Grawert, a senior counsel at Brennan Center who worked on the report, in a news release. That legislation, which Trump has said he supports, passed the Senate this week.

Laura Maggi is Managing Editor of Route Fifty and is based in Washington, D.C.

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