Trump told the sheriffs, “the murder rate in our country is the highest it’s been in 47 years.” He blamed the news media for not publicizing this development, then added, “But the murder rate is the highest it’s been in, I guess, 45 to 47 years.”
The country’s murder rate is not the highest it’s been in 47 years. It is almost at its lowest point, actually, according to the FBI, which gathers statistics every year from police departments around the country.
The murder rate is defined as the number of murders and non-negligent homicides per 100,000 residents. Beginning in 1957, when the rate was 4.0 murders per 100,000 residents, the rate rose steadily to a high of 10.2 in 1980. It then steadily dropped, to 7.4 in 1996, to 6.1 in 2006, to 4.4 in 2014. It went up in 2015 to 4.9. But that is less than half the murder rate of 1980. The raw number of homicides in America has actually declined from 19,645 in 1996 to 15,696 in 2015, even while the population has risen from 265 million in 1996 to 321 million in 2015.
The violent crime rate in America also has plummeted over the years. Defined as murder, rape, robbery and aggravated assault, violent crimes peaked at a rate of 758 per 100,000 residents in 1991, and the rate was about 373 violent crimes per 100,000 in 2015, again a decline of more than half.
The statistics for 2016 are not yet available. Here is the FBI’s violent crime table for the years 1996 to 2015.
Trump made the same claim on the campaign trail on a number of occasions. Some suggested that he may have been confusing the one-year increase in the murder rate with the actual murder rate. In 2015, the murder rate rose 11 percent, which was the largest one-year increase in 50 years. But the rate itself, 4.9 homicides per 100,000 residents, remains far below the levels of the 1970s and 1980s.
Here are Trump’s exact words to the sheriffs:
“And yet the murder rate in our country is the highest it’s been in 47 years. I used to use that, I’d say that in a speech and everybody was surprised. Because the press [gestures to reporters] doesn’t tell it like it is. It wasn’t to their advantage to say that. But the murder rate is the highest it’s been in, I guess, 45 to 47 years.”
Note: This post has been updated to include links to the FBI’s data on crime rates from 1996 to 2015.