One wouldn’t know it if they read what some news outlets are reporting or listened to the words of some Republican hopefuls and pundits on television, but there isn’t any real evidence that crime is getting worse.
The Pew Research Center, in May 2013, noted that the gun homicide rate was down 49 percent since 1993, when it peaked. What’s more, non-fatal gun violence dropped by 75 percent over the same period analyzed. The Bureau of Justice Statistics, an agency in the Department of Justice, found similar figures, a 39 percent drop in gun homicides and a 70 percent drop in non-fatal gun violence, between 1993 and 2011.
Although instances of gun violence were falling, according to the Pew Research Center, 56 percent of Americans believed gun-related crimes were on the rise compared to 20 years before. The causes of this belief are certainly up for debate, but the media’s focus on shootings and coverage of politicians’ reactions could be a cause. After all, bad news sells.
At the end of August, The New York Times reported that “[c]ities across the nation are seeing a startling rise in murders after years of declines.” The Times offers data from several U.S. cities that have seen spikes in homicides. Some have interpreted the story as a nationwide spike in violent crime attributed to the so-called “Ferguson effect.” Heather Mac Donald pushed this theory in a May editorial at the Wall Street Journal.
“Since last summer, the airwaves have been dominated by suggestions that the police are the biggest threat facing young black males today,” Mac Donald wrote. “Almost any police shooting of a black person, no matter how threatening the behavior that provoked the shooting, now provokes angry protests.”
Others, including Bruce Frederick of the Vera Institute and John Lott of the Crime Prevention Research Center, have taken a more reasoned approach to the perceived spike in violent crime.
“[N]ot all of the increases cited by the Times are statistically reliable; that is, some of them are small increases, or are based on small numbers of cases, such that the observed increases could have occurred by chance alone. Among the 16 top-20 cities for which I found publically available data, only three experienced statistically reliable increases,” Frederick explained. “Only one of the top-20 cities included in the Times’ sample, Chicago, experienced an increase that was statistically significant.”
“Even where a statistically reliable increase has been experienced,” he noted, “a single year-to-year increase does not necessarily imply a meaningful trend.”
Writing in response to Mac Donald at the end of May, Lott pointedly contested her narrative, writing, “The bottom line is that across the largest 15 cities in the US the murder rate has fallen by by 12 from 749 to 737 (a 2% drop) or from 43 from 871 to 828 (a 5% drop).”
And while many are insisting that violence against police is becoming a trend, the Associated Press recently noted that shooting deaths of police officers are actually down by 13 percent. “There were 30 shootings last year and 26 this year,” the report explained. “Those figures include state and local officers, as well as federal agents.” The data used in the report came from the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund.
Each shooting, whether of an innocent person or a police officer, is a tragedy, but everyone needs to calm down about this supposed uptick in violent crime because the data suggest that 2015 is consistent with recent years. Even if by year’s end there’s an increase in violent crime, it’s far too early to call it a trend.