Attorney General Jeff Sessions speaks during a news conference at the Justice Department in Washington on Dec. 15. (Carolyn Kaster/AP)
Opinion writer

The progressive Brennan Center at New York University School of Law is out with its annual crime report. It found:

All measures of crime in the 30 largest American cities — the overall crime rate, violent crime rate, and murder rate — are estimated to decline in 2017 according to a year-end analysis by the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law. … The overall crime rate in the 30 largest cities in 2017 is estimated to decline slightly from 2016, falling by 2.7 percent. The violent crime rate will also decrease slightly, by 1.1 percent, essentially remaining stable. The 2017 murder rate in the 30 largest cities is estimated to decline by 5.6 percent. Large decreases this year in Chicago (down 11.9 percent) and Detroit (down 9.8 percent), as well as small decreases in other cities, contributed to this decline. New York City’s murder rate will also decline again, to 3.3 killings per 100,000 people.

Even without giving into the Trump administration’s bullying over sanctuary cities — based on the myth that illegal immigrants are causing a crime wave — Chicago saw gains. However, enthusiasm should be tempered: Its murder rate “remains 62.4 percent above 2014 levels.”

This does not mean there aren’t places where crime is increasing. “Some cities are projected to see their murder rates rise, including Charlotte (54.6 percent) and Baltimore (11.3 percent).” However, at least in major urban centers where President Trump has tried and failed to scapegoat illegal immigrants and threatened to cut federal support for local law enforcement, it seems the crime rate is going in the right direction.

Several takeaways are worth noting. First, the slight uptick in violent crime between 2014 and 2016 appears to be, as criminal-justice-reform advocates claimed, largely statistical noise. Second, where crime rates are rising or remain abnormally high, local circumstances — number of police, community relations, policing practices, etc. — all need to be examined. With such wide variation in local conditions, conservatives — of all people — should encourage localized crime approaches, resisting a one-size-fits-all mandate from the Trump-Sessions Justice Department. Third, declining crime rates do not seem to justify extraordinary measures pushed by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, such as civil forfeiture. Fourth, in all fairness, we should be wary of wholesale changes with the label “criminal justice reform” slapped on them, given the steady decline in crime rates over a quarter century. Fifth, the notion that crime is spiking because respect for the police is down after riots protesting police violence — a popular theme during Trump’s campaign — is, once again, shown to be pure nonsense.

If you want to see what really affects crime, New York City is a good place to start. New York One reported: “With less than two weeks to go, the city is likely to end 2017 year with the fewest number of murders in any year since at least the 1950s. NYPD officials say a major reason is an approach to policing that began when crime was rampant in the city nearly 25 years ago.” Police officials attribute their success to CompStat (for Comparing Statistics):

It began in the 1990s as a data-driven approach to crime fighting. Crime statistics are compiled, computerized and analyzed each week to look for patterns and problem areas which are then targeted. … Over the last 25 years, the NYPD has rolled out numerous crime fighting strategies: Pressure point, Operation Impact, stop-and-frisk, gang takedowns, and neighborhood policing to name a few.

But the CompStat process is the one constant. It hasn’t changed much since its introduction.

Police say it’s the biggest reason why the city is on track to end the year with fewer than 300 murders for the first time since at least the 1950s.

A far cry from the record of 2,245 murders in 1990.

“Crime is down to ridiculously low levels,” said NYPD Chief of Department Terence Monahan.

So why is the attorney general hassling New York and other cities, trying to get them to divert resources to rounding up illegal immigrants? One can only conclude it has more to do with the administration’s agenda on immigration than with crime. If we are going to make significant changes in our criminal justice system, we should be careful to keep what is working and discarding what is not. It has to be based on actual data, not fear-mongering promoted with a specific agenda.