Donald Trump invoked the increase in homicides in many major American cities last year, stating that the spike was the country’s biggest in nearly a half-century.
“We have an increase in murder with inner cities, the biggest in 45 years,” Trump said.
Trump was correct that murders have gone up across the country. As the FBI reported last month, violent crimes and homicides both went up nationwide last year. This uptick was largely fueled by increases in a number of big cities, including Chicago, Baltimore and Washington, which accounted for most of the spike seen in major cities.
Still, overall violent crime rates nationwide remain near historic lows, and the increase last year is so jarring because it follows two decades of declining crime nationwide. As Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch noted in her statement when the crime numbers were released, “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.”
Experts caution against drawing too great a conclusion from a single year’s data. And Trump’s remarks on crime often involve cherry-picked data and arbitrarily selected numbers, as when he claimed in the last debate that murders were up in New York City, even though they were up last year but down this year. (One criminologist said of Trump’s speech when he accepted the Republican nomination over the summer: “A good illustration of how to lie with statistics.”)
When Trump said tonight that the increase last year was “the biggest in 45 years,” he was technically correct if you use one specific way to measure the homicide increase — the year-to-year percentage uptick in homicides. But last year’s increase was less extreme if you look at other measurements, and it also paled in comparison to what the country saw just a quarter-century ago.
For instance, there were about 1,500 more murders last year than the year before, according to the FBI, which said the number of reported murders went up to 15,696 in 2015 from 14,164 in 2014.
In sheer numbers, there was a larger year-to-year increase in 1990, when nearly 2,000 more murders occurred than the year before — and when the population was far smaller. That year, 23,440 killings were reported, exceeding the 21,500 a year earlier. In 1990, the murder rate surged to 9.4 per 100,000 residents; last year, that number was 4.9 per 100,000 residents.
While there were more than 15,000 murders last year, the country saw roughly the same number in 2009, when there were 14 million fewer Americans. The gulf is even larger between the America of last year and a quarter-century ago: In 1990, there were about 8,000 more homicides than the country saw in 2015, even though the country’s population increased by about 72 million Americans over that span.