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FBI says murder, violent crimes fell slightly last year after previous increases

A detective talks with a member of the Baltimore Police outside University of Maryland Shock Trauma, following a shooting in Baltimore on Sunday.
A detective talks with a member of the Baltimore Police outside University of Maryland Shock Trauma, following a shooting in Baltimore on Sunday. (Karl Merton Ferron/AP)

The number of murders and other violent crimes dipped slightly in the United States last year, according to crime statistics released Monday by the FBI that suggest the rise of violent crimes in recent years may be ending.

Rapes rose 3 percent in 2017, according to the data, while cases of manslaughter and murder decreased 0.7 percent compared with the previous year. Aggravated assault cases increased 1 percent, while overall violent crimes dropped ­0.2 percent.

The figures suggest that a rise in violent crime in 2015 began to reverse in 2017. In 2014, there were 1,153,022 violent crimes, which climbed to 1,250,162 in 2016. Last year, the figure dipped to 1,247,321, the FBI said.

The increase in violence in 2015 and 2016 prompted alarm nationwide, including from Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who warned of “the rising tide of violent crime” across the country. Experts have cautioned against reading too much into annual data, while others have pointed to the dramatic decline in crime over the past quarter-century to support the argument for criminal justice restructuring.

Violent crime increased in 2016 for second straight year

“Crime declined nationwide last year, consistent with our earlier analyses of 2017 data in the nation’s 30 largest cities,” said Ames Grawert, senior counsel in the Justice Program at the Brennan Center for Justice in New York, in a statement. “That’s the good news. The bad news is that even while crime is falling, the number of Americans incarcerated remains near record highs. Now is the time to address the problem.”

The Brennan Center reported in an analysis this year that violent crimes and murders dropped in the 30 largest U.S. cities, although some had homicide rates above the levels recorded in 2015.

Violent crimes and murders have plummeted since the 1980s and 1990s, federal data show. In 1991, the violent crime rate was 758.2 per 100,000 people, while the murder rate was 9.8 per 100,000 people. Last year, the violent crime rate was 382.9 and the murder rate was 5.3, FBI data show.

Even though violent crime dropped overall, the issue continues to plague cities — as does the lack of arrests in many homicide cases. A Washington Post analysis of decades of data from the 50 largest cities found that many had a lower arrest rate in homicides now than a decade earlier. The overall homicide arrest rate in the 50 cities was 49 percent, but numerous places see frequent murders and have pockets where killings result in far fewer arrests.

FBI data found firearms were a common factor in violent crimes, with guns used in more than 7 in 10 murders nationwide.

The South again had higher violent crime and murder rates than other regions of the country. The FBI reported 17,284 murders in the South last year, down slightly from the 17,413 reported a year earlier.

In Chicago, a city frequently singled out for its levels of gun violence, police say the numbers of shooting victims and murders declined this year.

The level of violence is ticking up in some major cities, with homicides up in Washington and Philadelphia as of Monday, according to police data.

According to FBI data, less than half of violent crimes — 45.6 percent — were “cleared” in 2017, meaning they involved cases where someone was arrested and charged or the case was closed some other way, including the death of the attacker.

The FBI’s crime data are based on information provided by thousands of state and local police departments, and officials have been working since 2016 to improve the types of data collected.

“With richer data, we can more easily identify crime patterns and trends, understand how and why certain crimes are happening, and find the best way to prevent them,” FBI Director Christopher A. Wray said in a statement.

Each year, more city police departments adopt the more detailed crime-reporting system, and the FBI says the new standards should be nationwide by 2021.