At his swearing-in as the nation’s top law enforcement official in February, Attorney General Jeff Sessions picked up a thread that had run throughout Donald Trump’s campaign for president: America is experiencing an alarming crime wave.
“We have a crime problem,” Sessions said. “I wish the rise that we are seeing in crime in America today were some sort of aberration or a blip. My best judgment, having been involved in criminal law enforcement for many years, is that this is a dangerous, permanent trend that places the health and safety of the American people at risk.”
Preliminary analysis of crime data from the nation’s 30 largest cities released by the Brennan Center for Justice on Wednesday suggests that it isn’t. According to the center’s overview of crime and murder data, 2017 is on pace to have the second-lowest violent crime rate of any year since 1990.
From the report:
- The overall crime rate is projected to drop by 1.8 percent to the second-lowest point since 1990.
- The violent crime rate is projected to fall by 0.6 percent, also to the second-lowest point in over 25 years. (The lowest rate was in 2014.) “This result,” the report’s authors write, “is driven primarily by stabilization in Chicago and declines in Washington, D.C., two large cities that experienced increases in violence in recent years.”
- The murder rate is projected to be down 2.5 percent, on-par with the rate in 2009.
Explore the center’s data for each of the country’s largest cities.
While there was indeed a national uptick in violent crime and murder during 2015 and 2016, one of the underrecognized drivers of those shifts was the sharp increase in killings in two cities, Chicago and Baltimore, which combined made up more than half of the increase in murders in large cities from 2014 to 2017. This year, the number of murders in Chicago alone is expected to drop 2.4 percent. But it’s declines in New York, Houston and Detroit that are driving the overall decrease.
Inimai Chettiar, director of the justice program at the center, told The Post that the analysis suggested two things.
“First, the long-term trend toward safer cities isn’t going anywhere,” Chettiar said over email. “The evidence conclusively shows there is currently no national crime wave. Second, short-term fluctuations in crime are often driven by local factors.”
There are several cities that reinforce that point. The murder rate in Charlotte, doubled over the first half of 2017, for example, even as it fell sharply in other places.
Chettiar addressed Sessions’s concerns directly.
“Our data leads us to believe that the upticks in 2015 and 2016 were likely short-term fluctuations,” she wrote, noting that “not enough research has been done to identify the exact catalyst.”
The center, which is a part of the New York University School of Law, shared its report with Ronal Serpas, a former New Orleans police superintendent who now co-chairs an organization focused on reducing incarceration rates.
“In contrast to what we have been hearing from the president and attorney general, this new data from police departments shows that all measures of crime and murder are in decline this year,” Serpas said in a statement provided to The Post. “It’s irresponsible to incite public panic based on falsehoods, and it makes our police officers’ jobs harder.” Both Serpas and Chettiar noted that in places where violent crime had increased the Trump administration’s focus was best placed on that crime — as opposed to immigration violations, for example.
As the Trump campaign and then the Trump presidency cited localized increases as examples of the crime threat that Trump pledged to solve, independent observers frequently noted that, despite the uptick in crime in recent years, overall levels were still near recent lows following the sharp drop of the last 20 years. The Brennan Center’s analysis suggests that this trend will continue, leading the administration to a no-doubt vexing problem:
Is it too soon to claim credit?